14 August, 2008

"Bonekickers": A case for the defence

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that Bonekickers is not guilty of the crime of being rubbish but was actually quite good.

It would be foolish to pretend that the pilot didn’t present plenty of evidence for the prosecution. The teaser was too on-the-nose and rather than attract me, it repelled me. The characterisation went from dodgy (Dolly) to non-existent (almost everyone else). But as most critics acknowledged it was watchable despite the flaws. That was perhaps the weakest episode of the series and it got better each week, with more character layers.

I was looking forward to Harley Street more than Bonekickers but Harley Street was a cross between the two safest and long-running BBC series Doctors and Casualty and I gave up on it ten minutes into episode 2. Bonekickers took risks and was like nothing else.

OK, that’s not always necessarily a good thing but Pharoah and Graham deserve some kudos for trying something other than cops and docs.

One complaint was about how preposterous the show was as a concept and the bonkers stories. Normally I’m first in the queue to complain about such things but it mostly held together for me and made sense. I don’t feel the show demanded too much suspension of disbelief, although more depth to the characterisations would have helped carry viewers through.

I acknowledge that the characters were perhaps exposed to more national and international danger than most university archaeology departments but you might as well complain about the Midsomer murder rate.

Bonekickers required more thinking about than, for instance, an Ashes to Ashes episode. It’s one thing choosing and researching the historical events you want to write about but quite another to weave a plausible action-packed story around that.

Foolishly, during the last episode I found myself googling made up bollocks I thought was true. But I actually liked them mixing up stuff I know is true and stuff I wasn't so sure about.

Bonekickers might not have been a heavyweight classic but there's nothing wrong with lightweight enjoyable entertainment - if it's well-written enough.

Therefore I urge you, the jury, to vote the show not guilty of being rubbish.

First 10 Minutes
What the Papers Say


J Johnston Jacob said...

Unfortunately I don't agree. The problem is that 'Bonekickers' had so much potential - fantastic writers, a decent budget, an exciting, rather unusual premise.

But instead of being the groundbreaking result the idea promised it's a half-arsed copy of American 90s basic cable television - including the cheese, lacking the "special something". It's Knight Rider without the car, Baywatch without the boobs and Renegade without Lorenzo Lamas' pigtail. Ever watched "Heat Vision and Jack"? 'Bonekickers' really reminded me of that. In a bad way.
-> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lWgXDOAJ5s

But well, there still is potential. Change can happen.

Robin Eveleigh said...

I couldn't bring myself to watch BK on the basis that the premise seemed so ludicrous, so can't comment on whether it's shite or genius. I'd have a good guess though.

You say that there's nothing wrong with a bit of lightweight enjoyable entertainment. Fair enough. But I've had lightweight swilled down my gobhole for about as long as I can take. I'm gagging on cheesy lines, crap acting, those cringeworthy 'you're great, and so am I!!' moments. I've had enough.

With the exception of House of Saddam there are zero home grown offerings that match the class production, quality acting and understated, honest, REAL writing of US imports. The last Saddam episode is upon us and thus far it's the only show I've considered worth watching all week. Is it telling that this one was a joint venture with HBO?

What's going on and can someone fix it, please, fast?

Tom Murphy said...

I was very disappointed after the opener, but after giving it a second chance I found there was something captivatingly gleeful about the wilful absurdity of the whole thing. I ended up really enjoying it.

I think - importantly - it pretty much maintained its tone throughout. Yes, Adrian Lester had to deliver some painfully on-the-nose exposition, but before long we were expecting it and would have felt cheated it it hadn't turned up.

Good Dog said...


Sorry fella, but....


It was gormless nonsense, which might have worked as an old ITC back in the 1960s/70s, but by today's standards it's simply swill.

Chip Smith said...

Robin - you are quite clearly demented! ;-) On the basis of the first episode I gave up with it, as the tone of the thing was simply all over the place - one moment it was a teatime romp, the next a semi-serious treatise on religion with a bit of Muslim beheading thrown in for good measure. Utter piffle!

Robin Kelly said...

J3 - I totally agree, which may surprise you, but rather than mourning the show it could have been if the scripts went to another draft, look at what the show is in the context of current British TV drama.

Rob - I was curious how they would make such a ludicrous premise work and ended up watching the whole thing. It's certainly not genius but it's not shite either.

I can guess what's going on. For instance, every first draft has the obvious exposition that was in Bonekickers but we try and get rid of them in the subsequent drafts. There isn't the time (or motivation) to do that in British TV.

Tom - Exactly. Sometimes absurd is fun if you're willing to go along with it and the absurdity doesn't stretch credulity too far.

GD - No doubt the show could have done with some more gorms but considering the state of British TV drama, I feel that something that takes a risk and doesn't completely fail shouldn't be condemned in the same terms as something which takes no risks at all and does completely fail on every single level.

Chip - You raise a good point about the tone, as that is pretty crucial, but I eventually got what they were trying to do. They can't be blamed for our false expectations when they are trying something so different.

Besides, us demented people pay our license fee as well and are entitled to demented shows ;-)

Bingethink said...

I think I've got as far as episode four now. Or, more precisely, half-way through episode four because it's all a bit of a chore.

The question "How can you make a precinct drama out of the lives of a team of archeologists?" seems to have the told-you-so answer: "With great difficulty."

The format for the drama is all wrong for a TV show. Yes, archeologists are at heart investigators, but their investigations do not follow the narrative-friendly rules of a cop show or medical drama. The huge hole in the structure of the idea as a weekly episodic TV show is that the human dramas inherent in the stuff that's being dug up took place hundreds of years ago. The mysteries archeologists solve are actually why is this here? who used it? what is it? what does it tell us? Bonekickers wants to explore how old stuff is important to us today, but it has not developed a structure in which a range of interesting stories of that nature can be told.

In fact, episode four (Iraqui politician aims to reunite his country through the symbolic power of some artefact which turns up in Bath) already seems like a carbon copy of episode two (US politician aims to run for office through the symbolic power of some artefact which turns up in Bath), doesn't it??

The answer, for me, would be to punch up the "historical" scenes and make them into a proper narratively satisfying historical mini-drama (like a Lost season one flashback) complete in itself, whilst making the present day elements less absurdist/wannabe cop show (i.e. no murders). Of course, you link thematically between the stories you tell in the past and the stories you tell in the present, but maybe the present day stories are distinguished by the veneer of civilisation we slap onto our society (e.g. story of bloody insurrection in some ancient Saxon army contrasts with story of "bloody" office/personal politics in present day).

Not that, but something like that. But not that.

Robin Kelly said...

Bing, there is something to that. I admit I'm giving bonus points for the difficulty of the routine and the plucky attempt but the bare bones of a good structure is there - for the genre. While I would probably enjoy your version a lot more, wouldn't it require a change of genre? They tried to make an action-adventure (or absurdist/wannabe cop show) and it should be judged on that.

I noticed the similar stories thing too but they played out differently in the end. But I have wondered if they will have the stories for a second series. (Especially as, traditionally, they will have even less time to write it than they had with the first series.) Although there is thousands of years of history to explore, I suppose.

Bingethink said...

The action-adventure could still be there, but would come in the appropriate setting: the past. Sword-fights, horse-riding, hut-burnings, impalings, musket-shootings, raping and pillaging etc.

The present-day academic setting would be more along the lines of phoning, filing, digging, tidying, shagging etc.

I admit I may not have completely thought this through. But then, neither have they...

Bingethink said...

Incidentally, interesting to see that the show has entered the public consciousness as an example of a failed programme:

A joke on last night's Mock the Week commented on massive losses at the Royal Bank of Scotland caused by them "investing all their money in Bonekickers' action figures."

Robin Kelly said...

Here's a quote taken from Broadcast:

Lab Rats, BBC2
"Lab Rats is the Bonekickers of comedy."
Paul Whitelaw, The Scotsman

That's a funny line but Lab Rats is the worst sitcom I have ever seen (outside of BBC3). Bonekickers is nowhere near the worst drama I have ever seen (outside of BBC3).

J Johnston Jacob said...

I think my problem is that they based all and everything on the premise, not even investing five cents into good characters or a strong hook other than "It's rarely been seen on TV". Quality? Doesn't matter. It's new, remember.

But even the worst of all screenwriting books will teach us: don't ever rest on your idea. The hook doesn't make a show work. And the fact that it's never-seen-before television doesn't give you an excuse to deliver lines that could come from the "awful stuff, don't bother" spec script pile.

So, yes: it was different. It wasn't your average cop show. But that's it. The execution was utter crap, and what remains is a kickass logline - a television bubble that bursts on page one of the screenplay.

I really don't want to insult the authors, but I seriously doubt Bonekickers would make it past round one of the Red Planet competition.

Robin Kelly said...

Serendipitously, my iGoogle quote of the day is by Seth Godin, "Letting your customers set your standards is a dangerous game, because the race to the bottom is pretty easy to win. Setting your own standards--and living up to them--is a better way to profit. Not to mention a better way to make your day worth all the effort you put into it." 'Customers' being networks/prodcos.

There's a fine line between cynicism and pragmatism but quality doesn't really matter unless it matters to us or someone who's paying us.

The key is to stay positive and still believe in doing quality work even though the schedules are full of stuff where it's clear they really couldn't give a toss.