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From Across the Pond: BBC's "Bonekickers"

I was beyond excited to see BBC's new drama offering Bonekickers, an archeological mystery/thriller/action-adventure series. After all, the six-part series--which launched on BBC1 last week--came from Ashley Pharoah and Mathew Graham, creators of that iconic Brit series Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. So it had to be fantastic, right?

Sadly, that statement couldn't be further from the truth. I was expecting Bonekickers to be an amusing romp that didn't exactly hew closely to the actual, you know, science of archeology by any means; I didn't expect that it would be a moronic assemblage of hackneyed dialogue, unsympathetic and ridiculous characters, and painfully hammy acting. To call Bonekickers inane is to let it get off easy; it deserves to be buried under six feet of ground.

Let's backtrack a bit and talk about Bonekickers' whisper of a plot. Created by Pharoah and Graham, Bonekickers takes a look at a team of archeologists led by the brilliant Dr. Gillian Magwilde (At Home with the Braithwaites' Julie Graham), a gifted historian and adventurer living under the shadow of her archeologist mother who suffered some ailment (Alzheimer's?) after a lifetime of pursuing leads of such mythical places as Atlantis. Aided by her team, including Professor Gregory "Dolly" Parton (Miss Austen Regrets' Hugh Bonneville), a cliched mess of a lecherous prof who clearly regularly raids Indiana Jones' closet, erudite Dr. Ben Ergha (Hustle's Adrian Lester), and wet-behind-the-ears post-graduate recruit Viv Davis (Doctor Who's Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Magwilde sees herself as a bit of an explorer, historian, adventurer, and truth-seeker, rolled into one grubby-nailed, highly "unconventional" package that seems to conflict sharply with her well-suited boss Daniel Mastiff (Michael Maloney).

In the first episode ("Army of God"), Magwilde and the team uncover what appears to be the medieval remains of two knights locked in battle around the time of 1300 or so. Via some way too simplistic means, they're able to deduce that these knights were actually members of the Knights Templar, that old religious sect given to (A) protection of travels to and from the Holy Land and (B) the massacrers of many Muslims during the Crusades. Betrayed by King Phillip of France, the Templars were arrested and hunted to the ends of the Earth; Magwilde and the team believe that the knights were attacked by a band of Saracens in the middle of England, a highly dubious possibility made slightly less unrealistic by the discovery of some Middle Eastern coins in the dig site. Why were the Templars attacked? And by whom?

The answer of course (which I deduced about two minutes into this mess of a series) is that they were transporting the True Cross in order to hide it somewhere in England. Betrayed by their own men, they were slaughtered in order to steal back the Cross... which, according to Bonekickers, is now hidden--along with dozens of other crosses, in a secret chamber under a dovecote (which housed 666 doves to countermand the Beast) in a field... in the middle of England.

Adding to this nonsense is a radical evangelical, Edward Laygass (Paul Rhys) who is calling for the exile of all non-believers from England's shores; he learns of the discovery of the Templars' bones straightaway and attempts to buy the land and turn into a holy pilgrimate site. The media goes crazy when a nurse at the nearby hospice helps Viv unearth a fragment of wood (though Viv and any archeology student would know better than to let a layman into a dig site and help her unearth some artifact!) and gets a splinter of the True Cross embedded in her finger; from there, she believes she has healed a terminal patient at the hospice and goes on the local news!

Laygass meanwhile assembles his shock troops, seemingly mentally unbalanced men indoctrinated into the Templar belief system as children; now they're prone to wearing white t-shirts with the red Templar cross on it (yes, t-shirts!) and wandering around Wessex with broadswords, even going into a "Muslim place of study" to scare some non-believers, before casually beheading one during an improbable rendezvous (which I have absolutely no idea how it was arranged) and breaking into Magwilde's home in search of the cross. Why she would keep the True Cross at her home, I have no idea. Fortunately, Viv was sent there to gather a change of clothes for Magwilde and stumbles into her secret room, containing a celestial map, loads of pictures, charts, and colored string, and apparently an undiscoverable exit from the building, leading her to rush into the lab shouting something hilariously over the top along the lines of "two men with medieval swords just broke into your flat!" No, I could not make this stuff up.

I don't typically like to spoil stuff but I have to recount just how this travesty comes to a conclusion. After discovering the secret location of the True Cross under the dovecote, Magwilde and her team are ambushed by those two ridiculous Templar wannabes and Laygass himself. Laygass wants Viv to help him determine which of the hundreds of crosses is the one True Cross but Viv manages to save herself from Laygass' wrath by singing (yes, you read that correctly), causing a distraction that allows Magwilde--herself involved in a mid-air sword fight on ropes!--to set Laygass on fire with her homemade torch.

As Laygass and his Templar follower burn--along with the hundreds of other crosses in the chamber, not to mention the One True Cross (which is missing part of its crossbeam)--Magwilde and her team decide not to (A) call the police, (B) try and put out the fire in order to preserve what might be construed as the most important archeological find of the century, or (C) try and save Laygass, proving their own moral fortitute and the value they place on all life, even when it is in the form of a murderous, vile, and heavily Botoxed evangelical preacher. No, instead they dust themselves off, have a laugh, and decide to go down to the pub. Um, what?

It's moments like those that prove just how laughably bad Bonekickers truly is. There is an interesting kernel of an idea here--an archeological team investigates possible paranormal phenomena--but the execution is just so sub-par that it was impossible to watch without pointing and laughing the entire time. To land such talented actors with such creaky material is bad enough but the awful dialogue, inane plotting, and lack of any logic, common sense, or reality is just absolutely sinful. The attempt was clearly to blend CSI and Indiana Jones and it fails on both accounts, offering neither a gripping procedural plot or high-flying adventure.

When faced with Bonekickers' hysterically bad dialogue, wooden delivery, and logic-less plots like these, it might be best to just let these bones just lay where they are. Suffice it to say, I won't be tuning in again and I can only hope that BBC does the right thing and buries this mess as quickly as possible.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: NCIS (CBS); Celebrity Family Feud (NBC); Beauty & the Geek (CW); Wipeout (ABC)

9 pm: Big Brother 10 (CBS); America's Got Talent (NBC); Reaper (CW); I Survived a Japanese Game Show (ABC)

10 pm: Without a Trace (CBS); Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC); Primetime: Family Secrets (ABC)

What I'll Be TiVo'ing

8-10 pm: Britcoms on BBC America.

I don't know about you but by Tuesday night, I'm usually in need of some comedy in my life. Why not stick around on Tuesday nights for BBC America's new comedy lineup, consisting of classic episodes of Coupling, new comedy Not Going Out, and Absolutely Fabulous? You'll thank me in the morning.

10 pm: Flipping Out on Bravo.

Season Two continues tonight with a brand-new episode ("Tear Down"), Jeff is forced to decide if this is the end of the road for Chris Elwood, after giving him so many chances in the past. Will Chris be permanently banished from Commonwealth? Find out tonight.


Anonymous said…
That was the funniest review I have read all year. Even if we never get to see BONEKICKERS here I will forever imagine how much you laughed while watching it, especially the bit about the Templar t-shirts and pub. I thought BBC made good shows?
Dan said…
The BBC are consistently excellent at costume dramas and wildlife documentaries. Everything else is just as hit-and-miss.

It's just that the best stuff gets sent over for BBC America -- and, truth be told, a lot of BBC America's output didn't even originate on the BBC in the UK! Like the upcoming Primeval, which is an ITV show (and "rival" for the BBC's Dr Who!)

So you have a bit of a warped view in the US. Strange how its best show (Dr Who) debuts on Sci-Fi, too! And Planet Earth on Discovery only, with Sigourney Weaver replacing Sir David Attenborough. Ridiculous! :)
Anonymous said…
Don't forget how awesome it is when they step on, drag about, or treat with pure disregard any historic object. Including the manuscript from "ooo 1300 or so" that they remove from that amusing "safe chamber" (Exposed to full light, but locked with a key!) and proceed to drive it about the countryside while poking their dirty fingers all over the text and pigments.
Of course, why not- since apparently the library keeps other old stuff shoved on the shelves, labeled under "old books with no covers."
We thought it was so bad, we can't wait for the next one.
I would like to see the original script for Bonekickers to know if the writing truly was that atrocious (which would be surprising and sad considering that these are the same writers who brought us Life on Mars) or if changes were made to dumb it down. That was what bothered me the most...the fact that this show clearly had no respect for its audience. Well, that and the Knights Templar T-Shirts which appeared to be straight out of a Monty Python film. All they were missing were two coconuts to bang together.
UKTVFan said…
Dan, Why do you think BBC America gets the best British programs when right now it's airing episodes of Dragon's Den, which were on Fox Reality two years ago, the comedy Not Going Out, season 6 of Top Gear, The Graham Norton Show, and Robin Hood. I believe everything else is repeats or news programs. I can't believe that's the best of British television. Where are all the comedies, mysteries, and quality dramas? Not on BBC America... BBC America also tends to cancel programs before all the seasons have aired--Playing the Field, The Lakes, Clocking Off, Bodies, Green Wing, The Smoking Room, Monarch of the Glen, Hotel Babylon and MI-5/Spooks are just the programs I can think of off the top of my head that BBC America has dumped. They are moving away from quality British program and toward cheaper reality rubbish.
Anonymous said…
Whether you liked, laughed at, loathed or hated Bonekickers -personally, I was suitably entertained.

And for that fact alone, I liked it. There were some cool bits amongst the mumbo jumbo and (for my mind) plenty to enjoy, especially in the later episodes. Heck, despite it's shortcomings Jace identified, I'd take stuff like this over more sub-par reality pap any day of the week.

Cracking blog as usual though man - just catching up on posts now!

Philippa said…
You're pretty much spot on the money there. I watched the whole series for the crack value.

'I have an Etruscan spear and I'm not afraid to use it!' (honest!!)

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