08 July, 2008

Preview: "Bonekickers"

"From the award-winning co-creators of Life On Mars comes a new six-part series about a dynamic team of archaeologists who, each week, uncover an intriguing mystery from the past."

Tuesdays, BBC1, 9:00pm

Official site
Ashley Pharoah/Matthew Graham interview


Those of us going for the Red Planet Prize could watch this pilot critically, looking at what works and what might not work so well.

I suggest paying particular attention to how the characters are introduced and how early the story starts. It's a returnable rather than a serial so what elements have been put in place by the creators to ensure lots of potential storylines?

Also I like to read the reviews after to see what things I missed that will be worth thinking about when writing my own pilots.


RobertPav said...

The people who wrote Bonekickers have nothing to teach anyone about writing drama.

Robin Kelly said...

You're not alone in believing that but it's rare that something is completely bad with nothing good about it at all.

It's useful to identify what elements made it get commissioned in the first place or would appeal to a different type of audience, if not ourselves.

And whether you think 99% of it was rubbish or 1% was rubbish we can still learn from what didn't work.

If we practice identifying it in drama, it'll be easier to spot in our own scripts.

Bingethink said...

One major error is the consistency of tone. How far is its tongue in its cheek? At the end of this episode, I still don’t know.

There’s a sense that it’s a playful teatime family romp. It’s sort of silly. If it feels like anything on British TV, it feels like Primeval, but that clashes to the point of real distaste with the subject matter – right-wing Christian zealots decapitating Muslim students right up there on screen??!! Sorry, an event of that cultural significance demands more than comic book logic and characterisation.

The whole show also seemd to run counter to a maxim which I think I’ve read on this site before – a simple plot with complicated characters works better rather than simple characters in a complicated plot.

These were real 2D characters, though. Unlikeable. (And, yes, you can be unlikeable and still be engaging – Cracker, House, etc etc – but these didn’t seem to be either.)

Take Julie Graham as the hot-headed team-leader. I’d have loved someone to play the sceptic to her ball-breaking zeal: to point out she isn’t Lara Croft, she’s basically a history teacher at a provincial university, and stop being so fucking rude and self-aggrandising – if it’s Gene Hunt in the middle of a serious murder enquiry or Gregory House trying to find the cure to some dreadful disease then I can buy gallows humour or quick temper. When you bring the same attitude to the digging up of old stuff, then you are being a pompous prick. (And then, when she’s swinging from a rope with a flaming torch in her hand trying to stop her team being murdered - i.e. actually is acting as Lara Croft - then the character has a bit of change and growth in ep 1.)

Hugh Bonneville character was supposed to be a kind of academic Jeremy Clarkson, wasn’t he – a breath of fresh air railing against stuffy political correctness, but is actually just a fat middle-aged man leering at a young woman’s bosom. I suspect Jeremy Clarkson, on meeting the feisty new work experience girl at Top Gear, would know better than to comment to her face on the state of her tits. And, even if he did, I would hope that she would make a witty disparaging remark about his bloated corpulence or shit haircut. Or at the very least tell him to go swivel. As it stands, with new girl’s coy smile, she just looks weak, and he just looks creepy and bullying.

Bingethink said...

The other thing I meant say was, I will be watching next week. I think I sort of enjoyed it...

Robin Kelly said...

All good points, Binge, especially about Dolly.

In your version there would have been some edge and conflict within the team. It didn't have to be a big sub-plot just more like what would happen in real life.

And, although I didn't buy everything, I think I sort of enjoyed it as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin

I am going to try to be positive about Bonekickers.

I'm not disagreeing with Binge, but I think the counterpoint character to Julie Graham's character is Dr Ben. I think he is a Mr D'Arcy-esque character who is standing back while the female character goes about doing what she has to do before they can settle down and be together again. (The Bonekickers website says that they were an item at University, so I'm guessing that Magwilde's quest is the cause of their parting. And he does know about her quest: her comments to him about the sword in the picture, "Look at the sword.") When she held up the cloth revealing the Templar Cross, he supportively held her by the shoulders. He was letting her take the limelight. I think he is sceptic to what she says and does by his silence and coolness. Like the way he helps Viv just after Magwilde has given her a tongue thrashing on her arrival. He is paternal-like.
But like Binge, I just wish somebody would have told the gobby, scabby, wee digger to go stick a trowel in it!

I hope we are all getting fooled by the writers. This is a programme about digging beneath the surface. So, I'm guessing that this episode is meant to be all about surface. Structure reflecting theme. I realise that this is probably me clutching at straws, but it's a positive thought.

I think Bonekickers is all about the three women: the grandmother, the mother and the daughter. I think Viv is Magwilde and Dr Ben's daughter. (Which, if you think about it, means that the dig team is a kind of family, with Dolly being a kind of Uncle Dolly figure, which, if you think about it, makes his comments about the girl's breasts even more disgusting! (That was such a bad line. I cant think of anyway to excuse it.)) Viv is definitely in the team to do her own digging, the Director pointed this out to us when she arrived: he juxtaposed her arrival with shots of trowels digging and unearthing.

The Bluebeard moment: Magwilde tells Viv to go to her house to pick up some clean clothes. (Would somebody in her position in a university team treat someone like that? Maybe, but I don't think so.)"And don't touch anything" She said. We of course know she is going to touch something and that makes anything she touches significant. She lifts a photo of Magwilde's mother. This is the moment when all three women are together: the photo, the flat, the girl.

The writer's made their intentions quite clear in the opening conversation between Dr Ben and the builders. He was talking about layers being laid down, Roman, Norman, then he said your mother, my mother. At first I thought this was just another example of the feminising of drama on UK tv. No man thinks of his lineage through his maternal line. A man would say his father. So the writers were saying that this is all about women. (You could even say two mothers mentioned: grandmother, mother.)

One last positive: God came out off it quite well, I thought. Organised religion didn't get a good press, but God was held in good regard. Unusual for these days, I suppose.

Overall, I thought that it had an awful feeling of being under-developed. Maybe you know if this is true, Robin, but did the BBC, unexpectedly, want Ashes to Ashes because Life On Mars had been so successful. Do you think that the writing and filming of AtoA could have had a negative impact on the development of Bonekickers?

I'm going to watch later episodes, too, but on i-Player.


Robin Kelly said...

Derek, some good points there. Even if you're being over-positive and the writers aren't doing that I think your prediction is still valid and the way to go when creating in terms of adding layers and depth.

I actually much preferred Bonekickers to the Ashes to Ashes pilot.

Remember Life on Mars was years in development before it was made and I suspect that Bonekickers has had a bit of a gestation period as it doesn't seem like a complete rush job.

The only under-development thing seems to be in working out all the character relationships for all of characters, including Dolly and Viv.

But that, and other things I didn't like, could just be a matter of taste and the audience will lap it up.

Anonymous said...

Hi Robin

Matthew Graham talks about Bonekickers:


An interesting read.


Robin Kelly said...

Yes it was interesting and does explain things. Gene Hunt is a popular character because he's not PC but that character works because you had the relationship with Sam who was PC and so reacted and countered it.

Hunt's popularity was an accident which they didn't anticipate and may have influenced the Bonekickers creation. But it's not enough to have the same type of character, you need to have the relationships worked out as well, as I said before.

Parton has no-one to challenge him so what was meant to be a funny scene wasn't. You could have had him saying the exact same things but a reaction from another character would have made it funny.