A Bit of a Cowboy
It doesn’t bode well when an established television series changes locale. Though last year’s relocation of Nip/Tuck is the rare exception, the more typical example is Laverne & Shirley: when the gal pals moved from Milwaukee to Burbank in 1980, their former ratings powerhouse tanked.
The change for Bones is temporary, but even so, it occasions unnecessary jingoism and trite fish-out-of-water jokes. The two-hour Season Four premiere sends FBI Special Agent Seely Booth (David Boreanaz) and forensic anthropologist Bones Brennan to England, and the result is disappointing, lacking the series’ usual wit and cool science-y stuff.
Season Four Premiere
Emily Deschanel, David Boreaneaz, Michaela Conlin, Eric Millegan, Tamara Taylor
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET
US: 3 Sep 2008
Booth is in Great Britain to give a talk at Scotland Yard, while Bones is to deliver a lecture at Oxford University. When they’re not holding forth for their different audiences on the superiority of American science and detective work, the duo has the opportunity to experience the local culture. In other words, Bones’ interlude abroad sets up a host of British stereotypes and American narcissisms.
Just so: in “Yanks in the U.K.,” Booth attempts to navigate the London streets in a Mini Cooper (he “asked for an Astin and got an Austin”), driving on the left sides of streets, failing to negotiate traffic circles, and becoming increasingly frustrated with the foreignness of it all. Booth complains about the lack of good strong coffee and the “weakness” of tea. He tries to stare down one of the Queen’s Beefeaters outside of Buckingham Palace. The antics are so veddy, veddy tiresome.
It’s no surprise that it’s the swinging dick Booth who is so annoyed by English difference; Bones, on the contrary, an intellectual sophisticate, positively basks in English propriety. Even so, Bones does not give equal weight to these perspectives. Booth’s ugly Americanism looks sympathetic as well as comic, and Bones’ decorum just looks snobby.
This celebration of Booth’s energy and initiative is made politically specious by his juxtaposition with Scotland Yard counterpart Cate Pritchard (Indira Varma, of BBC’s excellent Torchwood) when, inevitably, Booth and Bones are drawn into a murder investigation. Pritchard repeatedly demurs to Booth, letting him take the lead in the investigation—despite the fact that he’s a visitor, without legal jurisdiction.
Booth’s questioning of social elites, for example, reveals his aggressiveness but also their over-sensitivity. And when Pritchard observes that Booth is “a bit of a cowboy,” Bones admits that he would like to hear that: he’s a rugged individual, after all. The problem is that Bones directly links Booth’s hubris and unilateral decision-making with his being American. Haven’t we, in the U.S. and in the rest of the world, had enough of such egotism passing for rightness after the past very long eight years?
All of this focus on Booth and his implications leaves the episode with precious little time for the rest of the ensemble. The forensic crew is shipped, emailed, and live-streamed various bits of evidence to process during the investigation, as if to remind us that they still exist. We get an update on the ongoing Angela (Michaela Conlin) and Hodgins (T. J. Thyne) nuptial difficulties, and a little introductory head-shrinking by new staff psychologist Dr. Sweets (John Francis Daley).
But such distractions are minor. The premiere is Booth’s show, even as it reveals again that he’s the least interesting character of the bunch. Visiting the old Empire, his unilateralism looks rather Jurassic even as it is all too familiar.