It's Ladies Night at the fights tonight, and the main event promises to be a good one.
In the NBC corner, wearing a black leather jumpsuit and a glass eye, is Jaime Sommers. With her mechanical arm and two hydraulic legs, she's one tough cookie, but you'd expect nothing less from somebody who's called Bionic Woman.
Over in ABC's corner, wearing a white lab coat, is her opponent, Dr. Addison Montgomery, former chief of neo-natal surgery at Seattle Grace Hospital. Looking to get a new start in life, she's left Seattle behind for Santa Monica, Calif., where she's gone into Private Practice.
With two very different series featuring strong female lead characters set to premiere at the same time (9 p.m.), it's likely that only one will survive. But which will win the hearts and the imaginations - and more important, the eyeballs - of viewers? A quick look at both shows may provide some clues.
Bionic is basically a darker, edgier "re-imagination" (NBC's word) of the goofy but popular '70s action series that starred Lindsay Wagner. In the title role this time around is 23-year-old British actress Michelle Ryan, who's cute but a bit on the stiff side, at least in the initial episode.
She starts out as a struggling bartender and surrogate mother to her whiny teenage sister, but everything changes when she's involved in a horrific car accident that comes close to killing her. Luckily, her boyfriend is a surgeon, and he's able to save her.
Unluckily, however, he's employed at a vaguely sinister, top-secret government facility, and in order to save Jaime, he's had to replace much of her body with enough exotic robotic gadgetry to make the Terminator jealous. And with her new, souped-up circuitry, she's suddenly faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings - you get the idea.
The tradeoff, though, is that Jaime is now expected to go to work for that shadowy government agency, as some sort of super commando. And to make matters worse, she's targeted by an earlier version of a bionic woman, a deliciously fouled-tempered lass (Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica) who evidently got up on the wrong side of the workbench.
Sackhoff might be the bionic bad girl, but so far she, rather than the goody-two-shoes Ryan, seems to be the one following in the flying footsteps of Jennifer Garner (Alias) and Jessica Alba (Dark Angel) as a beautiful, uber-athletic kicker of butts.
In a way, Private Practice, a spinoff of the popular series Grey's Anatomy, has been rebuilt just as thoroughly as Jaime Sommers' body. Practice had an unofficial introduction last May, kind of a "backdoor pilot," as a special episode of Grey's, but it was so lame, and fans howled so loudly, that creator Shonda Rhimes completely revamped it.In the revised pilot, Practice is still a medical drama but with a decidedly lighter tone. It begins with Addison (the very likeable Kate Walsh) leaving McDreamy, McSteamy, and Seattle behind to take a job at a private, upscale California clinic run by her best friend from med school (Audra McDonald, Kidnapped).
The Oceanside Wellness Center is already staffed with a bunch of unorthodox doctors played by a veritable All-Star team of TV veterans: Tim Daly (Wings, The Nine), Amy Brenneman (Judging Amy), Taye Diggs (Day Break), and Paul Adelstein (Prison Break). None is thrilled that Addison was brought on board without their consent, but she quickly wins them over, both with her technical skill and her spirit.
Near the conclusion of an impassioned speech about working at the clinic, Addison suddenly pauses, then staggers to a close. "I thought I had a big finish," she says sheepishly, "but I don't, so I'm done." Then she meekly sits down.
Private Practice will doubtlessly attract its share of loyal Grey's Anatomy fans, but other viewers might also find something to like. In addition to its stellar cast, the show boasts a good balance between humor and melodrama.
Not to mention the best semi-clad solo dancing scene since a young Tom Cruise cavorted in his underwear in Risky Business.