on March 1, 2012

As I think many of us agree, film and television often screw up our favorite books. Often, this is because they mess with the characters. The characters we’ve grown to admire develop different traits or, worse, act out of character!

The first Kathy Reichs book I read was her debut novel, DEJA DEAD, and I’ve been a fan ever since. So when the television show BONES came on, I had no desire to watch it. I was certain they were going to ruin the books.

Everyone told me I should watch the show. Maybe because everyone said I should watch it, I was dead set against it. I convinced myself that romance writers recommended the series because David Boreanaz was in it and they were going through Angel withdrawal.

Because I very much liked the books, I didn’t want to corrupt my reading experience with a sub-par television show which could not possibly be as good. I held firm to this opinion after watching the first four episodes of Rizzoli & Isles. I’m a huge Tess Gerritsen fan, and I could not accept the changes in character. Other than the names, occupations, location and some backstory, Jane and Maura were nothing like the books. Though the actors were great, watching the show was like nails on a chalkboard – painful.

I put the show aside. Then one night I couldn’t sleep and decided to watch it again. After all, my mom kept telling me that season two was even better, and it was one of her favorite shows.

I reflected that with a television series we can’t expect the same depth we get in a book series where the characters have the opportunity for self-reflection. We can’t condense a 100,000 word novel into a 43 minute show. Once I consciously put aside the Jane and Maura I knew from the books, I could enjoy the television series for what it was—a good show.

And that newfound ability led me to BONES.

One plus is that I hadn’t read the last couple Temperance Brennan books (lack of time, not lack of desire!) so while I remembered her character well (the hallmark of a great writer and character), she wasn’t at the forefront. I put her character as much out of my mind as possible, and watched Season One, Episode One as if I had never read any of the books.

Needless to say, four seasons later, it worked.

There are some basic similarities in the books, but for the most part the television show is completely different. The change of location and key changes in character helped to separate the books from the series. I wasn’t looking for similarities and differences, I wanted to enjoy the series so I wasn’t trying to “catch” them screwing anything up. I watched the series with fresh eyes.

There are many reasons why this show is a hit and why I love it, and while I really want to talk about character, I think it’s a given that the show is a hit because of the terrifically drawn and acted characters and well-written mysteries. But as I started writing this blog (with the thought of a character study) I remembered a conversation with my mom about a show that is rumored to be cancelled, BODY OF PROOF.

It doesn’t surprise me that BODY is on the chopping block. I’m disappointed, because I enjoy the show, but I understand why: it’s just another crime drama.

There are four things that must be in a successful television crime series:

Character. Characters with depth, a complex or interesting backstory, fears and a realistic and compelling skill-set.
Acting. Actors with the talent to bring the characters to life.
Writing. Writers who can give the actors great material to work with, and a smart plot for me to enjoy.
Premise/hook. What makes this crime show different than the other crime shows out there?

(As an aside, the above are identical to what makes a great crime novel as well—replace “acting” with “voice” – voice and writing are different. Voice is HOW the author tells the story; writing are the style and mechanics of how she tells the story.)

BONES blends the FBI/crime drama with forensic science in a new and compelling way, plus has the added bonus of larger than life characters and no easy “fixes.” The conflicts are organic to the characters themselves, which is very difficult in any series to pull off. We, the viewer, can understand why the characters do what they do, and when they disagree, they truly disagree–sometimes without conflict, but sometimes the disagreement is so fundamental we feel their pain. Another plus, which comes from the writing and acting, is the dark humor intricate in the storylines. This can be so difficult to pull off, which is why when it’s done so well, people are riveted.

The successful franchise of LAW & ORDER worked because they found a compelling way to blend the standard cop show with the inner workings of the legal system. What I love about this show (I only watch SVU) is that again, they don’t go with the easy answer. Everything is not wrapped up in a pretty bow. Two characters you like and admire can have a fundamental disagreement. I love these moral complexities, because they are true to life.

So why is BODY OF PROOF in trouble?

It’s not the actors. Dana Delany is very talented, and I really enjoy her in this series. I like the supporting cast for the most part, though I feel they are a little too stereotypical. For example, with BONES and L&O the ensemble cast might on the surface appear like a stereotype (example: conspiracy theorists Hodgins and Munch) but there’s far more to each than on the surface. In BODY, other than the main character, there isn’t anything substantive beneath the surface of any of the characters. The writing is good, with interesting storylines, but nothing is edge of your seat. There’s no “ticking clock” which to me, takes it out of the realm of crime drama into straight drama. And, if you look at BODY as a drama, it’s essentially a medical drama. The killer is rarely a threat to anyone but the victim, and there’s no urgency. It’s not ER where each episode deals with life and death. Ultimately, there’s nothing that makes the show stand out from other medical dramas or crime dramas, and there’s no unique hook that isn’t specifically related to character.

I don’t want the show to be cancelled, but I won’t be surprised.

Two other shows were axed that I felt were unjustified (because I liked them, dammit!) DETROIT 187 and PRIME SUSPECT, but I understand the reasoning. They both had solid acting (though PRIME had the stronger, better developed ensemble cast, IMO,) both had strong writing, and both had intriguing and quirky characters. But neither had a hook that differentiated it from other crime shows out there. The “tough female in a man’s job” doesn’t really cut it anymore because we’ve seen enough cop shows with a woman in a leading role. The sad thing is that the characters were so interesting, I really wanted to spend more time with them. For DETROIT, the city was the hook, and it simply wasn’t strong enough. I liked it because of the characters, but it wasn’t different enough from other big city crime shows.

BONES works on multiple levels. Each episode is a gripping story. The characters interact in an interesting and compelling way. Each is fascinating. Brennan and Booth carry the show, but the supporting cast is equally strong. The mysteries are interesting and even when predictable, they’re enjoyable. And like SVU, the writers don’t always have an easy fix for conflict.

My daughter Kelly isn’t normally a fan of crime shows, but she, too, is hooked on BONES. I’m nearly done with season four. NO SPOILERS or I’ll hunt you down, and it won’t be pretty.

What’s your favorite adaptation of book to film or television? What book series would you most like to see on television, or on the big screen? I know my daughter can hardly wait for THE HUNGER GAMES (and I promised her I’d read the book before the debut, so I’m taking it with me on my trip to NY next week.) My favorite adaptation is THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION which came from the Stephen King short story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”

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