I say, dash it all it’s Bones in the UK

We just watched the two-parter season opener of Bones. Set in the UK. Oh yes, you know what that means.

Not any UK, of course, but that very specific one populated by red telephone boxes, London monuments, double-decker buses, Dukes, “Gentlemen”, Butlers and ‘Scotland Yard’ detectives. Janet successfully predicted that it would be all tied up with royalty before it even started.

Two of the young characters are named Cyril and Vera. Cyril’s favourite food is Eels. Every scene takes place in a stately home of some sort, except the ones with Michael Brandon as an American ex-pat which take place in a gleaming skyscraper. Every single actor, even the British ones, and regardless of their character’s background, have that particular “I shall do my utmost to accommodate you, detective” cut-glass accent that only exists in US dramas. Except the rough salt-of-the earth types who all sound like Dick Van Doike. Beer is served in pint glasses with handles, all the cars are boxy and twenty years old, and everyone is terribly concerned about class. At one point someone said “discombobulated” like it was an authentic bit of English slang. It was like watching Three Men and a Little Lady.

If you’re actually British it all adds up to a fantastic drinking game.

I shouldn’t mind really. For an alleged drama, Bones has a sit-com approach to characterisation. Even its forensics team talk in ridiculously formal, technical ways for no good reason. People suddenly become really dense or really perceptive as the plot or comedy punchline dictate. It’s a dumb, amiable show. Being set in the UK just makes it grate that little bit more than normal. 🙂

Coming Soon

Oh god, Bones is doing a two-part season opener set in the UK, aka the famous bits of London. This is not something US TV is noted for doing well, and Bones is not blessed with what we like to call “subtlety”. I’m expecting this to be full of Scotland Yard officers wearing tweed and bowler hats. (I wasn’t sure what to make of the previous season finale either, which featured a major twist in which one regular cast member acted completely out of character for the sake of the plot.)

Torchwood Season 3 will be a five part miniseries, and it’ll air on BBC One, stripped across one week at 9 p.m. in the same vein as the disappointing BBC1 drama Criminal Justice. BBC1, eh? The continued success of Torchwood is as meteoric as it is inexplicable.

Ronald D. Moore has another pilot TV Movie on the go, Virtuality, which sounds a) exactly like a holodeck-goes-wrong episode of The Next Generation and b) completely uninteresting. Virtual reality almost never makes for good TV because it has no consequences, meaning that consequences have to be unconvincingly slapped on: “If you die in the game you die out here too” / “If you unplug her she’ll die”.

I do seem to remember having a sneaking fondness for the short-lived VR.5, but that’s probably because it had Anthony Head and David McCallum in it. (Alternatively it may be because it’s “without doubt the best, most entertaining and thought provoking and compelling sci fi TV series I have ever seen, or can ever envisage being made” as someone on IMDB hilariously claims.)

I’m enjoying HBO’s seven-part Generation Kill miniseries at the moment. It took a little while to get to grips with the characters, and I’m still not entirely sure I know who everyone is, but over the first few episodes the series has deepened and become more absorbing. It’s esentially a cross between Band of Brothers and Jarhead, but based on a real journalistic account of the early days of the Iraq war. The production values are impressive, and the series looks for all the world like it was shot in Iraq during the invasion. It has the same sense of verité that David Simon and Ed Burns brought to The Wire, and a lot of clear parallels in showing flawed people at the mercy of petty and incompetent leaders. What’s remarkable is the sense of complete aimlessless and confusion in what should be a co-ordinated military campaign.

Lazily Drowning

Following the pretty pics from the new Babylon 5, AICN have a description of the rough-cut opening credits which gets all the nostalgic juices flowing. Whether B5 has anything more to offer the world than nostalgic remembrance of past glories is something that remains to be proven at this stage. The CGI image above has certainly got me keen to see what B5 can look like with modern effects work. The FX company’s showreel includes plenty of recent fare like Galactica and SG-1, and it’s sobering to remember that it’s nearly nine years since the end of the B5 series proper (five years since the distinctly low-rent Legend of the Rangers pilot). Where does the time go?

Still on our heap of TV to watch: six episodes of Studio 60, three episodes of Battlestar Galactica, three episodes of Waking the Dead, five episodes of Jericho, three episodes of Primeval, two episodes of CSI, one apiece of Time Team and Stargate SG-1 and a DVD of Doctor Who: The Aztecs. And those are just the ones I can remember. It’s possible we have a problem.

Part of the reason for our scary TV backlog is that we’re now fully caught up with Life on Mars, having watched every episode in one week from a standing start and liking it greatly. I thought the season 2 opener tripped over its feet a bit in its effort to re-establish the premise, but was otherwise as enjoyable as ever. I have to concur with the general opinion that Chris Chibnall’s episodes, particularly his second season offering, have been in a different league entirely from his Torchwood work (and featured not a single pterodactyl), so maybe his upcoming Doctor Who episode won’t be crap after all. Sadly our romp through Life on Mars has so far not been matched by our efforts with Primeval which I’ve yet to even start. Let’s hope I can summon up equal levels of enthusiasm for that series, although the opinions I’ve seen so far make this fairly unlikely.

Bones has delighted me by continuing to feature Stephen Fry in a recurring guest role which he was born to play, and if they’re laying on the Englishisms a bit thick, well, it *is* Stephen Fry. His scenes actually seem better written than the rest of the show. Which admittedly isn’t difficult.

EDIT: Sky One’s Continuity Announcer, before tonight’s episode of Battlestar Galactica: “Forget Sci-Fi, THIS is real drama.”

We control the horizontal and the vertical

Having no internet did at least allow us to catch up on some TV. We just watched an episode of Bones which featured not only Bill S. Preston Esq. as a sleazy porn magnate but also Stephen Fry, playing himself a psychiatrist. An English psychiatrist with a fondness for tea and esoteric trivia. Very entertaining, although as a TV show it does feel like an extremely friendly but not particularly bright puppy.

The second season of Rome is well underway, and is following the pattern of the first very closely, in that the episodes written by Bruno Heller are character-driven and interesting, and the others… not so much. However they do fling in random sex and violence in the hope of keeping your attention until the next good episode. Overall the good bits more or less outweigh the bad, even if it’s not quite the show it could have been. As a depiction of Ancient Rome in all its squalor and nobility it’s probably a good deal more true to the essence of the era than Richard Burton in a toga.

Heroes continues to dazzle with its momentum, although I occasionally have that second-season Twin Peaks feeling that some characters have outlived their storyline and are casting about for a new one. At times like these I suspect that the writers are not so much planning ahead as frantically paying out train track ahead of the locomotive. Nevertheless there’s a general feeling that they know where the season is going to end up; certainly the first half of the season made overall sense even if the finer details were a bit blurry. I remain optimistic for the rest of the season. An extremely entertaining series. (I think I’m right entirely wrong in saying that Heroes started last night on the UK Sci-Fi Channel. fba notes that it starts next week with a double episode.)

Veronica Mars has so far impressed me greatly this year, striking just the right balance between the complexity of a story arc and the accessibility of weekly storylines. It also keeps the momentum going without sacrificing each episode’s individuality. The writers of Battlestar Galactica could learn a trick or two here. There’ve been a couple of clunkers, sadly, but overall the classic Mars spark is definitely present and I’m enjoying it more than Season 2. The worst I can say is that the supporting characters go AWOL so often that they’ve given up trying to explain their absence.

Spurred into action by a combination of Coalescent and a £15 Amazon deal, I’ve started watching season 1 of Life on Mars for the first time. Three episodes in and I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s an odd mixture of 95% crime show and 5% SF, but somehow it works. At times it reminds me peculiarly of Quantum Leap: on one level it’s an absolutely straightforward (even lightweight) pastiche of a 70’s crime show, but at the same time the time travel conceit adds a post-modern distance. Like Quantum Leap, the often nominal SF elements give you permission to enjoy the drama, and the show is able to highlight and exaggerate the differences between 1973 and the modern world. The constant hints that Sam may or may not be in a coma are becoming slightly wearing already, but again they add a level to the series and the central character that’s definitely interesting. Episode three managed to milk the ambiguity quite nicely for some fairly obvious metaphor in which the struggles in the past are a means to keep Sam fighting in the present. It’s hard to see, even at this early stage, how they can possibly resolve the ambiguity of the premise in any way which is satisfying. My preferred ending at the moment would be for both versions of reality to be true; Sam really is in a coma, but he’s somehow back in time as well, and having a verifiable impact on history. Alternatively they can leave things open, a technique I often enjoy but suspect might be simply infuriating here. Either way, I’m pleased that the second season is the last as it prevents the writers from having to string out the premise too far.

Telly

Saw a trailer for the new season of Doctor Who last night. It looked rather nifty, with a couple of moments that made me wince slightly. So same as always, then. 🙂 It’s on the website too.

I’m not a massive fan of the Mission: Impossible movies, though the first one had its moments, but I get nostalgic about the TV show. So I’m heartened to read in this interview with JJ Abrams (he of Alias fame) that he’s written the third film to be more like the TV show:

“The fun of “Mission: Impossible” was always the teamwork. One of the beautiful things in this movie is that we’ve got Maggie Q, Ving Rhames, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Billy Crudup, Keri Russell, Simon Pegg … this credible supporting cast. The teamwork, for me, was always the greatest part of the “Mission” TV series. And in “Mission I” and “II” — with some exceptions in “Mission I” — they’ve really been Ethan-Hunt-as-spy movies.”

It’s exactly what I need to hear to move me from apathy into active interest in the film, especially since the trailer was pretty uninspiring. Also he talks about an iconic piece of background music from the TV show (not the main theme) that he’s insisted they work into the film. I think I can picture the music he means, and it should be great.

CSI:NY last night featured a plot about a writer that, even as I look back on it, was the least plausible thing ever. And a plot about rollerskating that, even as I look back on it, was the second least plausible thing ever. However I did catch most of the pilot of NCIS beforehand, which was a great deal more engaging – even if ultimately not very, y’know, plausible (freakishly it’s a Donald P Bellisario show, the first I’ve seen since Airwolf, and his company logo at the end is still exactly the same! Ah, nostalgia…) The original CSI remains better than the rest of ’em by some margin.

Another show riffing on the same basic genre is Bones. We didn’t watch this for ages, but have started catching up with it: it’s oddly clunky but quite endearing, and the two leads work well together. Boreanaz is basically called upon to be laconic and long-suffering with every fibre of his being, and fortunately that’s well within his comfort zone. We’ve only seen the first few episodes, so the show is still in the painful early stage where the characters feel the need to explain their backstory to one another on a ten minute rotation. Also it has a 3D holographic display which does realtime simulations of things in the most ridiculous detail. But we’ll overlook that because it’s that kind of show.

And House continues to be massively entertaining and funnier than most comedies, if slightly less plausible than all of the above shows put together. But it doesn’t matter because it’s that kind of show. It’s like there are two kinds of television – the quality kind where I actually care when it’s crap, and the potboiler kind that amiably passes the time which can get away with all sorts of liberties1. With House the characters are king, and if the plot happens to be a formulaic mass of contrivance, illogic and bad science well, er – look! Hugh Laurie!

1 I suspect that Doctor Who has one foot in each camp.