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Do some showrunners do their best work when they're running out of resources?

Earlier this week, Son and I watched the last two episodes of Bones Season 3: The Wannabe in the Weeds and The Pain in the Heart.

There's a certain amount of WTFery to this part of the story, because that was the year of the writers' strike. Most seasons of Bones have 22 episodes. Season 3 had 15. I'm not sure at exactly what point in the writing Hart Hanson was when a shortened season became inevitable, but it's clear from the pace of these episodes that he was rushing to reach the end of a story arc which should have had more chapters in which to unfold.

In about 85 minutes we get murder by neighbor with stalker as red herring, stalker transfers her attentions to Booth, stalker tries to murder Brennan but Booth takes the bullet, Booth "dies", everyone reacts to Booth's "death", Booth's "funeral", the revelation that Booth's death was faked to flush out an old Booth-nemesis, Brennan's reaction to the fakeout, the revelation of Sweets' breach of professional ethics and Brennan's reaction to that, the reappearance of Gormagon, the realization that Gormagon's apprentice must work at the Lab, general suspicion amongst the main cast and the angst of it all, an explosion in the lab which burns Zach's hands, B&B's realization that Zach is Gormagon's apprentice, Brennan's amazing elicitation of Zach's confession, Zach's plea bargain and Sweets' reaction to that, the beginning of Brennan's long mourning for Zach's loss.


The first time I saw the end of S3, I boggled. It seemed pretty whacked out, but I figured it was the best HH could do with the shortened time he was given.

This time... I realized that I actually prefer compressed storytelling like this.

In typical Bones episodes, we get a lot of humor, an episode plot which may or may not have substance, some great character development, good development of all sorts of relationships between characters, some angst, some action.

But in a typical ep, there's also a lot of fluff. Fluff that feels to me like filler, where a simple joke, often based upon a character's embarrassment, is expanded and lingered upon until it isn't all that funny anymore. Or the technical explanation of a bit of scientific analysis gets drawn out until even my geeky sensibilities are bored of it. It's like a cup of latte that's 2/3rds foam.

In The Wannabe in the Weeds and The Pain in the Heart, the fluff was trimmed away. We saw 7 episodes' worth of story compressed into 2 eps, and I got a rich espresso drink that filled the cup with just a bit of foam decorating the top.

Maybe it's because I watched a lot of Sorkin television in between my first viewing of these Bones eps and my last viewing, but I really crave the espresso.

Watching WitW and PitH reminded me of the last few eps of Firefly, where Joss Whedon was pretty certain the show was going to get cancelled. I wish I could find the quote -- I think it was in one of the commentaries, but I have no idea where to look for it -- where Joss said that they put everything they had into each episode because they thought it might be the last. Those eps of Firefly, too, are packed with all the things I love in a story.

I don't think Bones was in any danger of being cancelled during S3, but I suspect the writers' strike put a similar pressure on Hart to pack it all in before he ran out of room to tell his story.

That which doesn't kill us makes us eloquent?

Sorry, showrunners, but I'm really kinda hoping you get pressured like this every once in awhile. Because I love the results.


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May 2014

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