'Bones' tries a backdoor 'Finder' spinoff, but did it work?
Geoff Stults, Saffron Burrows and Michael Clarke Duncan audition for their own series
In the past year, my parents have become fanatical "Bones" fans. I don't know if I actually believe their claims of occasionally watching four "Bones" repeats in one evening, especially with the Red Sox starting their season and the Celtics and Bruins both early in their playoff runs, but I know that more than a couple conversations with them have recently begun with, "On that 'Bones' repeat we saw the other night..."
My parents became "Bones" fans through TNT's relentless scheduling of wall-to-wall repeats. The show has also presumably attracted more than a few new viewers this spring thanks to its slotting on Thursday night after "American Idol."
After six seasons, 125 episodes and more than a few threatened moves to Fridays, "Bones" has become an "overnight" hit. FOX has sufficient confidence in "Bones" that Thursday (April 21) night's episode tried something rather unprecedented: Backdoor pilots are common, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time a series loosely based on one author's literary franchise has been used as a springboard for a hypothetical second series based on an entirely different different author's franchise. Kathy Reichs' books may not always take place in the same fictional universe as Richard Greener's "Locator" novels, but they shared the same 42 minutes on Thursday.
So how did the new series look? My impressions on the backdoor pilot after the break... I'm gonna assume you've watched the episode and won't care about spoilers, not that there's much that could really be spoiled...
As an episode of "Bones," it would be an understatement to call "Finder" a clumsily plotted hour of television. There was something about a body in a Florida swamp, a treasure map, a sunken ship and... the Jesuits? Morris from "24" may have been the killer, but I'm at a loss to care about how or why and I'm at an even greater loss to tell you why Booth and Bones were involved in the case or what role they played in solving it. It was a veiled reason for Booth to require the services of a man with "The Finder Power."
That man? Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults). Dude can find anything. He can help you find a missing person or a missing trinket or your lost faith. He's powerful. He's a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, frequently on retainer to the FBI and quirky and paranoid in equal measure. Joining Walter in this random other TV show that Bones and Booth wandered into are Leo Knox and Ike Latulippe.
Played by Michael Clarke Duncan with Voice of God authority, Leo is Walter's "legal advisor," which means he stands in the background and tells Walter when he's breaking laws and shakes his head with feigned disapproval when Walter ignores him. Walter is also a poet, philosopher and general badass.
Played by Saffron Burrows, Ike is a bartender, uncanny social observer and blue collar tough-girl. She's so blue collar that she speaks with a comically over-the-top working class British accent and spits out more malapropisms than Martha Plimpton's character on "Raising Hope." Her skill-set was vague in the episode, though I guess she's observant or something.
Thursday's episode could have been a good chance to peek in on what this new team does and how they do it, what makes them appealing and what makes them unique. Instead, it was mostly an exposition delivery system.
Walter is paranoid because of brain damage stemming from one of his stints in Iraq. That led to exchanges like this one:
Ike: We don't understand why you choose to remain handicapped.
Leo: How is he handicapped? He can find anything.
Ike: And he's so paranoid he can't enjoy a simple cup of coffee.
Could any of that information have been conveyed through character behavior and performance? Well sure. But why show things when you can have characters discuss them very pointedly? Well, the simple answer is that you need to underline for viewers that these characters they're watching aren't just the regular, run-of-the-mill guest stars who pop up and help the "Bones" team on a weekly basis. Lots of times, Booth and Bones get quality assistance for local law enforcement, but that's not the same as getting a boost from somebody with The Finder Power and having characters repeat over and over how gifted Walter and his team are.
"Once I start looking for you, I *will* find you," Walter told the tattooed hottie played by Mini Anden. And he was right!
The episode didn't do a great job of showing Walter's Finder Power in action -- he sat around a house naked, which I'm sure certain viewers relished, and he did a little basic research, but nothing he did was especially brilliant or intuitive -- but it was repeated constantly that he can find anything. So we have to believe it.
But wait! Not everything.
"The only thing Walter can't find is lasting love," Ike opined. See? "The Finder" isn't just a character-driven procedural. It's a Vocational Irony Narrative.
The most frustrating thing is that if FOX picks up the semi-spinoff as a series, all of this exposition will have to be explained again in first episode that'll premiere in the fall. We'll have to hear again about how Walter can find everything, but how he can't find love. We'll have to have people shocked that Leo is a lawyer or that Ike is straight. All the underlining into tonight's episode will be underlined and highlighted again come September, only with a full episode of repetition unadulterated by the need to occasionally look back in on the investigation underway at the Jeffersonian.
That frustrates me, because even if I may have given the indication that I didn't love Thursday's backdoor pilot, I'd definitely find myself watching "The Finder" (or whatever it ends up being called) if FOX added it.
I've been a semi-regular "Bones" viewer for its full run, contingent mostly on FOX putting the show in a place I can watch it. On Thursdays, "Bones" will never get primary placement on my DVR. There are always two and often three or four shows airing opposite it that take precedent. But every time my DVR announces that it's got a little wriggle room, I record and watch "Bones" and I happily watch repeats. Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan have crafted one of the most likable ensemble procedurals on TV. I'm actively uninvested in the idea of Bones and Booth as a romantic pairing, but I'm fully engaged in the interactions within the Jeffersonian family. Plus, I occasionally crave a putrefying body in a bathtub or a liquified corpse oozing out of the core of a chocolate bar.
I trust Hanson enough to follow him to "The Finder" and there was enough charm from the cast and new setting to keep me curious.
Part of the reason Stults has so frequently failed as a leading man and why so many vehicles featuring Stults as a leading man have failed is that they've made the mistake of casting him as an ordinary guy. But Geoff Stults isn't an ordinary guy. He's a cartoon version of The Handsomest Guy in the World, more Hanna-Barbera than Central Casting. Asking him to play a scaled-to-real-life character doesn't accomplish anything and it never did. But asked to play the sort of larger-than-life character whose skills other characters refer to in hushed whispers? This may actually be his niche. I don't know if he's funny. He's rarely been funny previously, even when guesting on comedies like "How I Met Your Mother." But in this backdoor pilot, he showed that he's willing to be a little off-kilter and strange. That's encouraging. Less encouraging were the nods to psychological realism and the suggestion that we're going to explore Walter's battered brain. We've seen Stults' limitations in straight-forward drama, though I highly doubt that's the direction the show would go.
[Sepinwall claimed to notice striking similarities between Stults and Boreanaz. I wasn't as overwhelmed, especially since "Bones" previously featured the much more Boreanaz-esque Eddie McClintock. I just think that Stults and Boreanaz are both part of a dying breed of American Alpha Males who keep getting replaced by Australians and Brits with bad generic accents. I thought Stults had more in common with Timothy Olyphant -- another member of the endangered American Alpha Male species -- at least in the squint-and-whisper department.
Michael Clarke Duncan remains the most random Oscar nominee since Pat Morita, but I've always enjoyed his work when he goes against his mammoth stature. When he just plays the burly muscle, he's dull, but if you can make use of his sensitive side and his sense of humor, he works. This role should make use of the "Green Mile" star's strengths after they can stop explaining who and what Leo is and they can just start writing him as a character.
I'm less sure about Ike and Saffron Burrows. This is the role I'd bet dollars to donuts will be the most changed if "Finder" returns as a series. Remember Fiona's accent from the "Burn Notice" pilot and how it magically vanished by the second episode? It wouldn't surprise me to hear Ike's accent undergo a major overhaul. And just as Virgina's tortured English has become less and less broad on "Raising Hope," I'd imagine Ike's malapropisms will dry up in a hurry. I'm sure some of this affectation comes from the books, but I also don't care. It doesn't work here, or maybe it just doesn't work for Burrows, whose actual manner of speaking is markedly more genteel.
Burrows, Stults and Duncan are all actors who have stymied casting directors over the years, which might be part of the pleasure in seeing them together as a trio. The backdoor pilot made explicit reference to The Mod Squad, but we saw limited action from them as a group. I enjoyed their silly games -- Samurais vs. Ninjas? Drowned Kitten or Fat Girl Smoking? -- as well as the tone of their back-and-forths (if not the exposition-laden substance). I bought them as professional associates and friends and that sort of chemistry isn't easy to get immediately on a TV show. Even "Bones" had to work a while before the Squints became more than just nerdy accompaniment to Bones and Booth. Three regulars won't be enough to sustain the show and I'd gladly welcome Danny Trejo's treasure-loving bishop back any time producers realize they're in Florida and need a regular Hispanic presence.
The backdoor pilot benefitted hugely from filming at least partially in Florida. It may not have been much (I'm not exactly sure how much), but the location work gave director Dan Sackheim a slightly different range of light and color and he responded by making "Finder" a bit broader and bigger than a normal "Bones" episode. I don't know Richard Greener's books, but an ideal version of "Finder" might be straying in the tonal direction of Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, which would work just fine for me.
Anyway, that's a lot to attempt to gather from what amounted to 25 minutes of backdoor pilot. Walter Sherman feels like he'd be a good match in FOX's schedule for Gregory House or Walter Bishop or for Booth and Bones, so even with as many fall commitments as FOX has already made, "Finder" ought to be a wise bet for the network.
What'd you think of "Finder"? Are you interested in a Stults/Duncan/Burrows series?