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A Bone to Pick with Bones: When TV Writers Don’t Do Their Job

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer


ImageFall TV is back and I am one of the happiest people because of it. Summer TV wouldn’t have kept me going for long. Between the second season of Burn Notice (a show you simply MUST check out!) and Project Runway high jinks (“I love leathuh!”) I was killing time revisiting the eight seasons of Charmed, and that is only partially a good idea.

So I was psyched that one of my favorite shows was one of the first to kick off their new season a few weeks ago. FOX’s Bones returned with a two-hour premiere that started out well but then went back to old problems and the subsequent episodes didn’t bring any relief.

Now, I have been watching every episode of this show since day one, and in that, I fear, I am one of the few, because it surely has given the viewer enough reasons to quit it over the years. So here’s an analysis of how Bones could be a great show, but is merely a good one.

I started watching the show for David Boreanaz. I was curious to see if he could be anyone else besides Angel. I am a Joss Whedon buff, so I was one of the toughest people to convince to let go of Boreanaz’s Angel persona. But he convinced me within three episodes. And so I stayed for him and Emily Deschanel (who I think is a way more talented actress than her sister Zoe). But over the years no other show that I follow as loyally has given me so many reasons to be frustrated as Bones has.

As David Boreanaz never tired to point out in interviews, Bones is a character-driven show and not your typical procedural. Sure, they have a case each week, but these cases are mostly neither as twisty-bendy complicated to figure out as the ones on the various CSI installments (divers getting poisoned underwater!!!), nor do they take such precedence in the runtime of an episode. Furthermore, the dynamic between the characters directly plays into them being able to solve their cases. The problem is though, that the writers or creators of Bones can’t seem to figure their own characters out. Or more accurately put: they don’t look at them as real people. The characters on Bones never surpass their own mold, they never really come alive and I blame this squarely on the writers.

It fair wonders me that having “graduated” from Whedon Academy an actor like David Boreanaz, who now serves as exec producer on the show as well, hasn’t intervened in the sometimes crappy, crappy writing when it comes to the characters’ emotional lives.

Let me point out some examples that come to mind:

In Season Two the show gave us one of the best episodes to date, when Bones and Hodgins were abducted by “the Gravedigger”. They were then trapped in Bones’ car and buried alive under three feet of sand and gravel with 12 hours of air. That was all the time the other team members had to figure out where they were and to maybe even catch the Gravedigger. Of course they managed to save Bones and Hodgins just in time, not without their ingenious help from underground that is, but the Gravedigger remained on the loose. Not only would this have been the perfect opportunity to have an overstretching story arc for the rest of the season, but it was also a brilliant chance to change the dynamics between certain characters and give others a lot more depth.

(The writers eventually realized that having a larger story arc featured over an entire season was something helpful, but I will come to how they screwed that up in a moment.)

The Gravedigger was, however, never again featured in an episode of Bones. What’s worse, Bones and Hodgins got over the trauma of being trapped in that car underground in the last five minutes of that same episode. Now, while I get that Bones is the type of person to block these things out for a while, Hodgins actually showed how much it affected him in the end of the episode, relying on Angela to make him feel safe, and yet in the next episode he was back to his saracstic, microscope-wielding ways without so much of a trace of trouble coping left. Now that is just bad, bad serial television going back to the old days of the anthology show. To make characters real, you have to give them memories. They have to remember events from the week before just like the audience does. That is a concept to stick to unwaveringly, no matter how difficult it may make a writer’s job. Anything else is being lazy and taking the easy way out.

Now, on to the horrific way Bones handled having a villain to fight for a whole season. Season Three featured the Gormagon, or as Booth called him: Gorgonzola. It was a bone-collecting, cannibalistic, criminal mastermind, who always had an apprentice at his side. Season Three did have the disadvantage of suffering from the writer’s strike, so it was interrupted and there was little time to play out events like they had previously been planned. The smart thing to do on the writers’ and producers’ part would have been to carry over the Gormagon storyline into Season Four. Instead, they decided to arbitrarily “solve” the mystery in the last episode before the summer break in the most unsatisfactory of ways. Dr. Brennan’s assistant Zach Addy was made to be the apprentice and responsible for the latest killing. This wasn’t the shocker it was meant to be, it simply made no sense at all. Apparently Gorgonzola convinced Zack with some sort of faulty logic, which for some curious reason our super brain Zach wasn’t able to see through yet Brennan did in an instant. It was the most contrived and forced season twist I have seen on TV in years.

The fact that in episode five of the current season they are now taking this development back by having Zach confess that he did not in fact kill someone but merely supplied the information on where to find the guy makes this a worst case scenario of television writing. Don’t put something into a script you don’t feel completely confident about and then take it back because of the backlash hitting you from viewers! Not only does it taint the already crappy season finale even more, it also makes the writers look as if they have no idea what they’re doing. It already feels like the writers of Bones are trying to one-up each other, no one paying attention to the developments someone else may have put into an episode but merely trying to put their own stamp on the show. Wavering storylines are only going to intensify this impression.

Case in point: the emotional lives of the characters on Bones.

Most often the emotional development the characters have is rushed to fit into an episode or two (the way Angela and Hodgins fell in love took three episodes, their break-up took one and a half without much hints at either beforehand). Other times emotions are hinted at in one episode and then entirely dismissed afterwards (like the previously described anxiety Hodgins felt after the Gravedigger experience). And I can’t shake the feeling that both of these treatments of emotions result from none of the writers having a plan for the show’s direction beyond the next couple of episodes.

Now, I understand that sometimes writing a TV show can feel like “trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube while falling down a flight of stairs” (as Hugh Laurie recently put it), but the important thing to remember for a writer is that nothing on a TV show that wants to be taken seriously can be a “just a”, i.e. you can’t raise the stakes of a show by having “just a short abduction” or “just a case of the crazies”. Whatever you put into the script has to have consequences. On a crime show this is infinitely harder than on a drama, because to raise said stakes you have to put one or two or three of the main characters in danger or distress. Simply having another victim or another gruesome case won’t change the dynamics of a crime show, since that is the every day business/plot of it. So I understand the writers’ urge to make the crimes more personal by involving the main characters, but the execution of it is sloppy as I have pointed out with the Gravedigger storyline.

And to top it all off, in an effort to hide the sometimes shallow emotional realism of the show, the writers brought in a psychologist. Dr. Sweets started out as Bones’ and Booth’s therapist (again, why exactly they needed this couple’s therapy wasn’t made entirely clear) and is now a fixture on the show, called in to help solve the cases and everything, when psychology used to be Booth’s forte and the one thing he was really good at (reading people, predicting behaviors etc.). What bothers me most about the Sweets character is that he has nothing to say that isn’t obvious. As a viewer I feel slapped in the face every time Sweets opens his mouth. It’s as if the writers are telling me that I am too stupid to get the psychological patterns and behaviors of the characters without someone explaining them to me point blank. The fact that other characters on the show keep remarking how “good” Sweets is at his job despite being only 23 years old is yet another slap in the face. What he contributes to the show is redundant, he doesn’t bring any new insight into the characters, he simply explains them. What the writers should do is make the characters act according to what they want them to feel instead of having a psychologist tell them (and us) how they feel.

Everybody knows the relationship between Booth and Bones is a substitute for a romantic relationship and even for other friendships (which they both pretty much lack). We don’t need Sweets telling them that. Little things can make the internal lives of characters obvious to the viewer, like a total stranger saying to Hodgins: “You shouldn’t be telling me your problems. You seem to have a lot of people around here that care about you.” This is way more effective than having Sweets explain to Hodgins the mechanisms with which he is trying to deal with the fact that his best friend committed a crime.

You catch my drift; the show has gone off the rails left and right. The writers took Bones out of the lab for most of the runtime of an episode, therefore effectively destroying what she previously contributed to solving a case, namely acute analysis of bones.

Now they introduced Sweets and effectively took away what Booth contributed to solving a case, namely to analyze suspects and behaviors with his knowledge of people and psychology.

Really, the only job Booth and Bones have these days is bantering (which is always hilarious and one of the main reasons I watch the show) and mechanically acting out the “we are investigating this crime so we need to take you into custody” portions of the show. All the actual “investigating” is done by the other team members figuring things out, analyzing bones, pictures and sand and deducing where to send B&B next.

 

As you can see from this convoluted complaint, I have a lot of problems with Bones every week and yet I keep coming back, as frustrating as it may be. I realize it is an especially hopeless argument with a show that runs on FOX of all networks, the one station with a “Fuck all of you, we know better anyway” attitude, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. Feel free to tune in a couple of times and then argue my case. I see the seeds of greatness in this show, but sadly I don’t see writers with watering cans in hand to make them grow.

 

P.S.: If any FOX executive or writer should stumble across this, I am available for hire to fix all your problems with this show.

Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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