Childhood Hero

One of my favourite TV shows as a kid was ‘The Bionic Woman’ starring Lindsay Wagner. Jaime Sommers was my hero. She was smart, she was resourceful, she was super-strong, and she generally managed to rescue herself without any help from the men, because if she got locked up somewhere she could just punch her way out. I remember bounding around the play ground in slow motion pretending to be the bionic woman – because in the show (for some reason) whenever super-fast bionic running happened, it was done in slow motion.

I had the bionic woman action figure as a kid. It was one of my favourite toys, and it came with a bag of cool accessories – a wallet full of dollar bills; maps; mission instructions; make-up. All doll-size. When I played with my Jaime Sommers doll I made her jump over the sofa, making that clicking noise that generally indicated she was using her bionic powers.

My husband bought me the box set of The ‘Bionic Woman’ on DVD for Christmas last year, and it features all three complete seasons, plus the four episodes she originally appeared in from ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. Her first appearance was in a two-part series. She was Steve Austin’s fiancee and a tennis pro, then she gets seriously injured in a skydiving accident, and Steve convinces Oscar Goldman to shell out the millions of dollars needed to bionically rebuild her. All goes well at first, but Jaime’s body rejects the bionics and she dies at the end of the second episode. But when ratings are high enough TV deaths are always reversible, and Jaime Sommers proved so popular, she was brought back from the brink of death and a second two-part episode in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ has Steve discover that Jaime is still alive. But alas – she’s lost her memory and doesn’t remember being in love with him.

And so from there spun a separate series that ran for three seasons, and I’ve been working my way through them chronologically. There are few things I’ve noticed about watching a show for the second time 40 years later.

Firstly: I watched every episode as a kid, but as young as I was at the time, I enjoyed the action, but I didn’t follow every nuance of the story line. I am re-watching episodes I remember watching when I was six years old, but I realise I was misremembering them.

Secondly: I realise that watching this show sowed the seeds of feminism in me at an early age. Even in the 1970s, in a less politically correct time, Jaime Sommers was a fantastic role model. As already mentioned, she was able to get herself out of pretty much any situation, as the villains always underestimated the strength of this ‘mere woman’. An early episode in season 1 has Jaime take her class of schoolchildren (for the day job she works as a teacher) on a picnic. When the boys refuse to let the girls play softball “because everybody knows girls are no good at sports” Jaime bargains with them that if she can score a home run, the girls get to play. So of course with her bionic arm she hits the ball and it flies for miles, she proves her point and the girls get to play baseball.

But I am also realising, in this retro re-watch, that actually it’s not a very good show. Apart from the appalling seventies fashions (orange and brown wallpaper? How did anyone think that looked good?), we have cardboard cut out villains, wooden acting, and implausible storylines. And then of course there are a few logicistical problems with the whole concept of bionics. Bionics are effectively cybernetics, something that I guess was a fairly new and exciting thing in the seventies. Having two bionic legs and a bionic arm are all well and good, but without a bionic spine, if you try to lift a car you’d do yourself a serious injury! And given the fact that Jaime’s bionic limbs are complete replacement for her biological ones, which got crushed beyond recognition in the skydiving accident, there is absolutely no scarring. There are a couple of episodes in which she wears swim suits, and there is no mark at all to indicate where her real skin ends and her bionic body parts begin.

But as a kid I didn’t think about any of this. I was just enraptured by the show. I found it scary at times. The last episode of season one involves a young girl (played by Kristy McNichol) obsessed with her dead mother, who was apparently accused of being a witch, and spooky things keep happening. I haven’t got to that one yet in my re-watch but I remember being creeped out by it the first time I watched it. I also haven’t got to the episodes featuring the ‘fembots’ – female robots who set out to kill Jaime. But the scenes in which the fembots walk around with no face masks, revealing a pair of staring eyes amongst circuit boards and wires terrified me as a child. I had nightmares for weeks about fembots. Hopefully they won’t creep me out quite so much forty years on.

I am enjoying my trip down memory lane in rewatching this series, and having a slightly more objective take on the impact it had on my childhood – good and bad. As I finish this blog post with the theme tune of ‘The Bionic Woman’ I’d like to open the floor to all of you reading. What TV shows from childhood had an impact on you, and have you ever watched that show in adulthood? If not, would you want to? Or is it better to keep memories of childhood firmly buried in the past, instead of running the risk of shattering one’s illusions by realising that the show you thought was amazing was actually rubbish?

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