Painkiller Jane: Season One
Currently one of the most fertile sources of films and television series now is the graphic novel. Back when I was growing up back in the fifties they were called comic books and they sold for a dime. Now, they are glossier and much pricier so the proper term is graphic novel. Every genre is benefiting from the innovative ideals coming out of this medium but the science fiction and fantasy is booming. One of the latest in this trend is the Sci-Fi Channel original series ‘Painkiller Jane’. The story follows a young woman who immediately heals from any injury making her practically invulnerable. The catch is she still feels the pain inflicted by the damage. This character has been a long time coming to get to prime time television. It started in 1995 as the graphic novel created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada. Since this was successful in that format it was only a matter of time before releases in other media was considered. It took a decade but in 2005 the Sci-Fi Channel produced a made for television film by the same name. Most fans of the original panned the film since it made major departures from the original storyline and character arcs. Fortunately the concept and premise were strong enough for the network to consider a weekly series. This time they went back to the source, returned the protagonist’s name and most of the back story.
Jane Vasco (Kristanna Loken) is a highly regarded field agent working for the DEA. Along with her partner Maureen Bowers (Alaina Kalanj) they have brought down more than their share of high level drug dealers. While on a particularly intriguing case she crosses paths with Andre McBride (Rob Stewart), the leader of a government agency so secret that even with her DEA clearance Jane has no idea of what it is. Jane had come across a person who could cause people to hallucinate anything. McBride was chasing him but for far different reasons. The man in question was a Neuro, people with a variety of different super-human abilities that are due to some strange quirk in their genetic makeup. Since Jane now knows about Neuros and she has a set of impressive investigative and martial arts abilities McBride offers Jane a position on his team. She is reluctant at first but soon not only joins she brings Maureen in as well. Jane and Mo are taken to the team’s headquarters, a deserted subway station. There they meet the other team members. Connor King (Noah Danby) is a huge mountain of a man with a dubious past. He is the ultimate field agent, resourceful and deadly. The team’s physician and research scientist is Dr. Seth Carpenter (Stephen Lobo). It is up to him to patch the team members back together after missions and supervise the administration of the chip, a device that when shot into a Neuro neutralizes their abilities. Riley Jensen (Sean Owen Roberts) is the team’s computer hacker extraordinaire. Sitting at his expansive panel of computers, many of his own design, he can tap into any data source there is. He also acts as the coordinator of the team monitoring communications from the base. Lastly there is Joe Waterman (Nathaniel Deveaux). He is a former senior maintenance engineer for the transportation department and takes care of the physical plant of the headquarters.
Jane’s first official assignment is to go undercover at Vonotek, a huge pharmaceutical company that McBride suspects has a Neuro connection. He is correct; one of the senior staff has the ability to control anyone nearby. While on the trail undercover the neuro has someone toss Jane out of a forty story window. Much to her surprise she awakens in the morgue without any lasting injuries. She makes her way back to headquarters where the doctor tells Jane about the instant healing ability she possesses. In order to take down the Neuro Jane has to get shot repeatedly in order to get close enough to the Neuro to chip her. The audience gets a closing shot of a hidden floor at Vonotek that has dozens of people hanging from the ceiling in a lab. There is a hint that Jane has something to do with the mysterious plot afoot. In her next mission they track down a Neuro who is causing people to steal military weapons and force them to play war games for his amusement. In another episode they team have to find a Neuro capable of stealing memories. He has taken all the computer knowledge out of Riley’s head and blackmails the team into stealing a painting that is important to him. Jane feels sorry for the Neuro who is terminally ill and fakes chipping him. Jane and her teammates fight Neuros of all sorts, investigating one that fakes a haunted house, another who frames Conner and one that ages people to stay young.
There were times when this series appeared to be going down the horrible path of the freak of the week format with every week presenting a stand alone story and quick resolution. There was nothing said about the Vonotek connection until the last few episodes. I have discussed this with many of my friends and the general consensus is the series was too slow. I can see their point and even agree up to a point. Some of the season long plot points were subtly progressed. Many in the audience are used to television series that hit you over the head with character development so when one comes along that takes it time it is unexpected. It is true that the series has many flaws but this is hopefully just the start of the story. At the time of this writing it looks doubtful that this series will get a chance to improve. Once again potential takes a backseat to ratings. The episodes were redundant and that is what hurt this series the most. If they had highlighted the overall character development more this could have been a much better show.
Kristanna Loken is best known for her role in the third and worse Terminator movie. She has also had a prolonged character arc on the ‘L Word’. Here she underplays her character. There was some opportunity to show the effect this ability had on Jane but Loken seems to drift through those scenes. There were aspects of the stories that delved into Jane’s romantic relationship outside of work as well as her developing interaction with her coworkers. Part of the potential that was wasted here was when Jane discovered that she also has increased cognitive abilities, agility and perhaps will not age. The emotion impact of this news just didn’t come across. One thing that Loken did manage to get out was some of the moral dilemma about chipping Neuros when it turns out she just might be one herself. In many scenes concerning this co-star, Rob Stewart, comes across much stronger. Overall he plays the conflicted head of the team very well. When he discovers that his superiors have a hidden agenda he reacts in a much more entertaining fashion.
The first and most probably only season is released to DVD by Anchor Bay. It contains one extra, a making of featurette that is pretty standard. This series was reasonably good but could have been a lot better. It is closer to the original Graphic Novel and far above the made for TV flick.