Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weak 'Bones'

Last year around this time, when i decided to take my blog seriously and post frequently, i asked on facebook for suggestions about getting an audience. one of my then-recent castle kids suggested i do reviews or discussions of current pop culture events, new movies or bands.  i kept that in the back of my mind, though the only bands i pay attention to are from the 1940s, and it's pretty much the same with movies.  but i do love at least one major form of pop culture--tv.

so far, however, to the extent that i've discussed tv here at all, it's been pbs or the msnbc lefties.  but the truth is, i'm devoted to more than just rachel maddow.  in the summer i teach a course on tv in american life, and both summer and fall a course on women in media, which is a bit topheavy with tv.  i get hooked on tv fiction series, and in fact will likely be posting a lot as the summer season gets started: for some reason the basic cable channels have a lot of women-centered summer dramas. among others, last year's drop-dead diva will return, as will, for one last season,  the wonderful closer, with kyra sedgewick.

i'm a little more scattered over the rest of the year, with no fiction shows i'm dedicated to watching regularly. but there are some i spend a fair amount of time with, and among these is bones.  for anyone who doesn't know, 'bones' is the nickname of forensic anthropologist  Temperance Brenner, who regularly solves cases with the help of her FBI partner, Seeley Booth.  as both are gorgeous [are there any ordinary-looking law enforcement professionals in tv land?] and around 30, there was bound to be sexual chemistry, especially since they disliked each other at first, which seems to be a prerequisite for tv romance.  that's fine--and kind of fun.  their characters are different enough, but based in shared values, that the sexual tension can be interesting.  last year, we knew that booth had strong feelings for bones when he had a brain-tumor-induced fantasy that they were married.  cool.  and it has been clear through most of the show's six-year history that the far more repressed, relationship-shy bones had stronger feelings for booth than she allowed herself to see.

all of this has been nice, complementing but not taking over the crime-suspense focus of the show.  and they are helped by a terrific secondary cast whose characters all have their own issues.

when we learned from entertainment news shows that the actor who plays bones was pregnant, it became clear that something would change for that perpetually pre-physical couple.  there were a number of ways that could be played out without resorting to the once-obligatory depiction of the pregnant hero surrounded by potted plants.  why then did the producers take the cheesiest way out that they could come up with?  at the end of this season's final episode,  with no hint that it was coming, bones told booth that she was pregnant, and he was the father. we were left with his half-smiling, half-stunned expression.

the audience were also  half stunned, but i suspect not all of them were smiling. i wasn't.  after 6 years of foreplay, we were suddenly given the information that somewhere along the line, the deed was done, and they forgot to tell us.  not a kiss, not a meaningful glance.  compounding the idiocy was the fact that the crime they had just solved involved their posing as a married couple.  okay, a trite devise: they have to pretend to be a couple and be kissy-cuddly enough to fool the perps, and we see their discomfort and embarrassment through the act, but we know, as they presumably don't, that on a third level they really wish they were a couple.  both actors did a fine job.  but that's how they played it.  had the characters had sex, it would have been played, or should have been played, differently, no matter what the direction was. if  there'd been a one-night stand they had both backed away from, they'd be a lot more awkward with their role playing. had they begun a relationship, they'd show a degree of satisfaction in the game that was only partly a lie.

setting up the audience for a surprise is a perfectly kosher way to move into to a cliffhanging season finale.  but only if they give us the clues.  you can't end the mystery with the-butler-did-it if there was never a butler in the first place.  having her simply tell him she was pregnant would be fine, and we could be comfortably guessing who the father was and how the pregnancy would affect the bones/booth relationship as well as her work.  or they could have given us in the third- or fourth-last episode the scene they'd been setting us up for in the last 6 years.  the kiss, the moment of recognition, the waking-up-together-the-next-morning.

personally, i would prefer they never acted on their attraction.  it wasn't totally inevitable.  i've really appreciated the way another crime show has handled a similar dynamic for years.  it's clear that there is some attraction between the partners in law and order:svu.  it's also clear that they have both chosen to leave it at that: they are partners and friends and they care about each other. he's married, but even during his separation and near -divorce, they didn't go there.  the show has been able to sustain this because we see, through the writing, directing, and acting, that these people deeply respect each other and would do nothing to jeopardize their relationship, whose intensity is based not as much on sexual attraction or romance but on the importance of their work.  their nearly choreographic understanding of each other plays out in numerous  tracking-down-the-bad-guy depictions in which they are attuned to each other's every word and gesture.  they must be and are routinely prepared to save each other's lives.

i'm not sure bones could achieve that, and by now its audience is used to thinking of them as an incipient romantic couple.  nothing wrong with that.  but it can be done well, even elegantly.  this certainly wasn't.


Sarah Jean said...

I don't watch Bones, but I think I would be pretty pissed if I did. 'Castle' fans have been waiting for Beckett and Castle to get together for three seasons now, and I sure hope the writers never pull anything like this on us.

karen lindsey said...

i haven't watched 'castle,' for no special reason, and i should watch an episode or 2 before my summer class in tv in american life starts in july. castle is widowed, right? does that have something to do with the drawn out courtship?