Warning: spoilers and ranting off the port bow!

So.

OK.

So. 

My devotion to Bones has been firmly established for some time now. Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been any ups and downs to the relationship: not so long ago, there was a dethroning moment of suck so heinous as to constitute the Worst Crossover Ever. Even so, Season 5 went a long way towards repairing the wounds of Season 4 and its oh-so-lamentable attempts at novelty murder, unbelievably shitty characterisation and wacky hijinks via a judicious application of episodes that actually made sense. Look: I am sympathetic to the bestial nature of television writing, which demands increasingly higher stakes and exotic scenarios the longer a show stays on the air. I understand that, past a certain point, They Fight Crime inevitably becomes less the motive and more the background, such that the imaginative slack needs must be picked up elsewhere. (Or at least, that it’s perceived to be needed to be picked up, but that’s a whole ‘nother argument.) So even as I roll my eyes at the proliferation of bizarre and improbable crimes with which the Jeffersonian team are increasingly presented – and by this I mean, crimes which either:

(a) require the investigation and simultaneous deconstruction of a subculture;

(b) have been executed in a bizarre fashion using mysterious props; or

(c) whose discovery and solving involve under-cover dressups of any kind

– I have nonetheless been willing to tolerate their presence, on the sole condition that these episodes otherwise meet the criteria of consistent characterisation, good writing and eventual solutions which do not cause me to go all squinty and swear at my laptop. Of course I make exceptions for the odd dud episode. I can deal with that, because sooner or later, even in the best shows, it’s inevitable. What I don’t want to see is a pattern of laziness, obviousness and bad scripting such that I start to grind my teeth at the sheer tackiness of it all.

Possibly you see where I’m going with this.

I tolerated the devil thing. I was even willing to overlook the whole naked witch fiasco despite the hideous product placement – that is to say, the centering of an entire plotline around something the Toyota Prius does – because it’s also the episode where Angela and Hodgins tie the knot. God help me, I was even amused by the Avatar worship episode, on the grounds that a little meta never hurt anyone, no matter how much free advertising it gives to James Cameron. And it’s not like Season 6 hasn’t delivered some of the best episodes – if not the single best episode ever – to help balance things out. But the negativity has been building, too: a subtle pattern of increased product placement (hello, cars and computer software!), lowest common denominator gags (“Canadian, or afraid?”, Hart Hanson? REALLY?), a backsliding on previously established (and, crucially, left-wing) characterisation and – again – ludicrous plot elements. Even so, I’ve been coping: this is, after all, a favourite show of mine, and despite all my bitching and moaning, I have a high pain threshold for narrative.

And then came The Finder.

I just.

I don’t even.

So, we all know what a spinoff series is, yes? Where one or more of the primary supporting characters from an existing show get upgraded to protagonists elsewhere? Like Angel from Buffy, Torchwood from Doctor Who, Joey from Friends, Frasier from Cheers? We are all familiar with this concept. It is sort of a big thing! SO WHY THE HELL HAS HART HANSON SUDDENLY INTRODUCED THREE ENTIRELY NEW CHARACTERS ADAPTED FROM A DIFFERENT SET OF NOVELS FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF HAVING THEM APPEAR ONCE – JUST ONCE! – SO HE CAN CALL THEIR NEW SHOW A BONES SPINOFF?

Deep breaths, Foz. It’s just a TV show. I shouldn’t care this much.

And yet, I DO care. I am actually furious – not because forty minutes of my evening was stolen away by a trio of characters I’ve never met before and don’t give a shit about under the guise of watching Bones, or even because Hart Hanson is apparently unfamiliar with the universally established definition of what constitutes a spinoff series. No: I am furious because the show I watched was clunky, badly scripted, sexist and unoriginal, comprised of cast members whose entry into the Bones-verse was so forced and unnecessary that it was like watching the writers prise open their own continuity with a crowbar and dump in a sackload of Awful.

Cases In Point:

1. Our new lead, Walter Sherman, is an imitation Booth. Iraq veteran with brain damage? Check. A Catholic whose beliefs are challenged by his line of work but who otherwise keeps faith? Check. Sexually interested in Temperance Brennan? Check. Works on intuition rather than science? Check. Surrounded by people who owe him their lives? Check, check and check.

2. Clunky exposition-laden dialogue. OH MY GOD THE CLUNKY. Such that Ike and Leo, Walter’s offsiders, actually have a conversation with each other about how they’ve been put with Walter (by God or destiny) to help him use his gift, and how they both owe him their lives, and how they fear what will happen on the terrible and inevitable day that Walter can’t find what he’s looking for, until which time they’d better just stick right by him, quirks and all. In the first ten minutes.

3. Oh, and we wrap with Ike, a prime candidate for the inevitable UST, actually saying how ironic it is that the one thing Walter can’t find is lasting love. You guys, SHE ACTUALLY SAYS THIS.

4. Presumably so as to demonstrate his quirkiness, Walter breaks into the house of the dead guy and snoops around for clues. OK, fine: but is it really necessary for him to strip down to his boxers, too? Well, duh: how ELSE would we get those lovingly executed panning shots of his perfectly sculpted abs? Or, better yet, the coup de gras, wherein he sits naked on the toilet and chats on the phone, with only a strategically-angled sink to shield his genitals from the cruel gaze of the public? (Excuse me while I facepalm and strangle Hart Hanson in effigy.)

5. The sexism. By which I mean, Walter goes to a tattoo shop and describes a girl with ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattooed on her chest, and is instantly told by the owner (after a lengthy exposition about how of course he owes Walter everything because of the rare tattooing needles he found for him that one time) that the girl in question is self-loathing, has daddy issues, and is probably a lesbian. Because OBVIOUSLY, these are three related problems! Never mind he’s going off the tattoo alone when he says this; never mind that I actually wanted to reach through the screen and strangle him. No, it’s cool. Daddy issues + self loathing = lesbianism. BRILLIANT. Which sets up an in-joke in the next scene, where Walter tries to get Ike, played by Saffron Burrows, to go and distract the suspected lesbian with her feminine wiles. To which Ike replies, “I’m not a lesbian! I just have a confident demeaniour!” – the in-joke being that Saffron Burrows actually is a lesbian. And before you’re wondering: yes, I misspelled ‘demeanour’ on purpose, in keeping with the fact that Ike’s character, in addition to being possessed of a glaringly fake chav accent, apparently mispronounces words of more than two syllables. You know, to balance out her intelligence and make her less threatening. LOVELY.

6. And yet more sexism! Such as: Walter propositions Bones within moments of being introduced to her. Later, on meeting Angela and Hodgins and being told that the pair are married, he asks whether Hodgins is rich. His reasoning? Angela rates an eleven on a scale of one to ten, whereas Hodgins is only a seven: his being rich, however, would “explain the disparity.” (Because intelligence and personality couldn’t possibly enter into it.) Later still, the Do Not Resuscitate girl – whose character, Brittany, is played by model Mini Anden – abases herself in conversation, claiming she can’t understand why Walter would want to talk to her because she isn’t pretty enough. And then he tells her no, she’s beautiful, which simple statement is apparently so gratifying and unprecedented that she kisses him right there and then. (She is, of course, murdered in the next scene, the better to Add To Our Hero’s Emotional Angst while painting him as a Sensitive Soul Who Falls Right In Love With Troubled Women, even though he says at the end of the episode that Tempe could really be The One And Only For Him. Riiiight.)

And so on.

The whole time I was watching, my jaw was literally tense with anger. I tried to calm down – it’s why I waited before writing this up – but my temper hasn’t abated. Because in the end, it’s not the prospect of a new and crappy spinoff hitting the air which bothers me, or the fact that my regularly scheduled viewing was interrupted to make way for a half-assed pilot of same. It’s that the people who write Bones – a show I have hitherto associated with good female characters, intelligent scripting and believable ensemble quirkiness – have not only produced a piece of television which shares none of those characteristics, but one which they’ve presented as being equal in theme and content to their previous, better, output. And so I’m angry, because more and more, it feels like the things I love about Bones are showing up only by habit, or worse yet, accident: that the product placement, bad characterisation, shitty plots and offensive logic aren’t just the unfortunate consequences of season fatigue, but the result of deliberate planning on behalf of the creators. That this is one more example of intelligent, fun television sliding into the tainted Gutter Of Crap.

And now, because I’m exhausted and cranky and can’t think of anything else to say that’s relevant, I’m off to bed.

Comments
  1. Maggie says:

    Aha! Brilliant! I was too tired and mad to articulate any of this and you did a better job than I would have anyway. Though it’s interesting that we disagree about which episodes are good…hmmm. Well, it would make a great long shouty fun argument over drinks.

    It’s so difficult to love this show so much, when the things we love might not be at all what they intended. Well, and because Brennan can be completely different from one episode to the next, yet Booth is miraculously always written the same. Hmm again.

    Anyway, thanks for saying it so well!

    • fozmeadows says:

      It’s definitely something worth talking about! And yeah, Brennan’s characterisation is really problematic. For the record, I did like some of the S4 episodes I listed to make my point, like the thrash metal one (Stephen Fry!) and the one on the plane – aaaand I’ve just noticed that I linked to the wrong episodes on the ‘unbelievably shitty characterisation’ line. GodDAMMIT. *fixes* (I had the metal one there, which is definitely wrong – I meant to put The Double Death of the Dearly Departed, wherein Bones, who has already attended, like, a bajillion funerals, suddenly forgets how to behave at them. UGH.) But, yeah: shouty pub arguments FTW!🙂

      “It’s so difficult to love this show so much, when the things we love might not be at all what they intended.”

      Yes. This.

  2. mel says:

    I don’t watch the show, but it sounds as though you might be in a bad relationship with “Bones”. Will you stay or will you go? (Sort of kidding, but not really.)

  3. Iain Hall says:

    My wife and I LOVE Bones but rather than watch it on TV we wait until it comes out on DVD so we only saw season five recently. I tend to agree with you that the plots are sometimes really OTT but the strength of the show has to be the way that the characters and their relationships are drawn. Anyhow I will keep what you say about this ep in the old memory vault Until we watch it in a few months when we see it.
    That said any long running series has to have some dud/annoying eps or even seasons (like season 6 of Stargate SG1) with Bones the problem seems to me to be that they seems to want to go more and more for the “yuck factor” in the cases that are the backbone of the plot so we have been getting more and more gruesome and fleshy remains. The problem with this is that once you ramp the amps up to 11 there is not much further to go.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Ramping thing up to 11 is a good way of looking at most long-term TV arcs. Not to pine for the Glorious Days Of Yore or anything, but sometimes I wish we didn’t exist in a day and age where running awesome narratives into the ground, rather than quitting while you’re ahead, is the default setting.

  4. Iain Hall says:

    I suspect that the problem with much episodic television is that it is written by committee which can work if you have a consistent team but look at the writing credits and the authorship is often all over the place.
    The yanks have a tendency to try to milk a franchise for all its worth and sadly it shows in some of the long time programs.

    That said there can be some damn good shorter series like “the Room” which stared Peter Krause

  5. Maggie says:

    Oh, you linked to the wrong eps! That’s so cool! Because I liked the metal one. I see what you mean about the funeral one–they are SO INCONSISTENT with Brennan, it makes me crazy. Like how she knows and respects everything about Japanese culture, even obscure things, but she’s a hateful jerk about Iranian culture with that one intern. But I forgive the funeral one because it’s very funny and a full ensemble piece.

    Well, I could go on all day about Booth constantly correcting Brennan to be more mainstream normal and how the show seems to validate that, when actually that’s pretty sick and wrong. And what’s great about Brennan is her outlying characteristics. Isn’t that the whole premise?

    I do love this show but get Very Wrought Up about it because it’s so problematic. But then I love the ensemble together and how amazing Brennan is and all the good things about Booth. And Max! Max is great.

    • Iain Hall says:

      Maggie

      Well, I could go on all day about Booth constantly correcting Brennan to be more mainstream normal and how the show seems to validate that, when actually that’s pretty sick and wrong. And what’s great about Brennan is her outlying characteristics. Isn’t that the whole premise?

      I don’t read Booth as trying to do that at all. The Booth Brennan frisson is all about the dichotomy between faith and reason as I see it and I also think that Brennan’s character is really a very good portrait of someone with Aspergers syndrome she just does not naturally pick up on any sort of emotional cues from those she interacts with, which gives rise to some of the very amusing social faux pas’ she constantly commits. Reason and science is not just her shield developed to cope with a dysfunctional childhood, its the only way she knows to deal with the world Booth on the other hand is all about raw emotion and a deep faith in God
      They are each the perfect foil for the other which is in my humble opinion make the show really work. as you suggest a great cast of secondary characters helps too I particularity like the plot device where they have a rotation of interns that give variety to the lab scenes.

  6. alison grahame says:

    …”but sometimes I wish we didn’t exist in a day and age where running awesome narratives into the ground, rather than quitting while you’re ahead, is the default setting.”

    Totally agree. John Cleese got it right with Fawlty Towers. He left us wanting more.

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