It will come as no surprise that I have a lot to say about these episodes, so I thought I’d start with some general comments about the crossover aspect of things. Tomorrow, I’ll post a more traditional review, at least of Bones, and, if I have time, Sleepy Hollow.
First, let me congratulate the writers of both shows on pulling off something so challenging. Dude. You all rock.
I’m not Fox, but I’m assuming that the goal here was to draw attention to both shows in a positive way, and …mission accomplished. The event got a lot of press, and even critics who seldom bother with the shows noticed. Why? Because this was no ordinary crossover.
It’s one thing to crossover two shows set in the same universe (Arrow/The Flash, NCIS or other procedural franchises), but without disrespecting those events, this was a whole different kettle of doughnuts. (I like doughnuts better than fish, okay?)
I said in my earlier post on the crossover that I thought it could work because Bones has dabbled in the supernatural at times, but now, I’m thinking that was a bit of a wrong call on my part. The difference between a show which allows for real-deal psychics, ghosts and near death experiences, and one in which the bad guys are bona fide monsters is too great. Rather, this worked because the writers managed to tell a story where Booth and Brennan live in a world where monsters are real, and yet remain innocent of that.
Innocent, but not naive or weak or non-heroic despite not knowing. And that’s a very tricky thing the writers managed to do there, so huge kudos to them for it.
This was really more Sleepy Hollow’s story for just that reason. Ichabod and Abbie have the full picture, and know fully what’s at risk; Booth and Brennan do not. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant, though. Just the opposite, as in Booth and Brennan, we get a story that’s rarely told in supernatural shows: the world through the eyes of those who aren’t in on the secret. One of the genre tropes for such shows is that not everyone knows the monsters are real; the majority of people go about their lives, doing what they do, unaware of the darkness that lurks just around the corner.
Because of that, and because often part of the point is to keep them from learning the truth, we seldom have stories where such people are fleshed out in a meaningful way. But here, because Booth and Brennan, and their world, are already well established, we see not only them, but also more facets of the Sleepy Hollow world: namely, that the monsters Abbie and Ichabod fight aren’t the only evil. (And might not even be the worst evil.)
That’s an important point. With supernatural stories, we can lose sight of the fact that all the usual battles still have to be fought. If Booth and Brennan live in a world where the apocalypse has been narrowly averted, Abbie and Ichabod live in one where the Gravedigger buried people alive, a hacker named Pelant could murder at will while spying on anyone he chose, and people often kill other people for stupid reasons. Also? Abbie works for the same FBI that was compromised by a conspiracy that took the life of a young man named Sweets.
There are many forms of evil, and what Booth and Brennan do is just as important in safeguarding their world as is what Abbie and Ichabod do. The story acknowledges that, I think, when the latter pair come to trust and respect them enough to seek their expertise, despite that lack of knowledge.
This was where the story was its most complicated, of course. People have noted that Abbie and Ichabod were in the Bones ep more than Booth and Brennan were in the Sleepy Hollow hour, but it would have been hard to do it differently and still leave Booth and Brennan unaware of the supernatural. Having them consult on a part of the story that was limited to the historical allowed their involvement, and in an important way, but in such a manner that their view of the world wasn’t compromised. (It also simplified the fact that the shows film three thousand miles apart. Because if all this wasn’t challenging enough for the writers to work out, Sleepy Hollow films in Georgia.)
If the first task was in melding two vastly different story universes, though, what made that possible at all was what the shows have in common: their tone, and the relationship between the leads. In terms of the former, neither show takes themselves too seriously. Humor, particularly in the dialog, is a hallmark of both. And both are ensemble shows, where other characters contribute to the story in important ways.
But it’s the relationships between the leads that I think caused the Fox executives to say, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting to put these characters in the same scene?’ Both shows center around a partnership of two people who are very different (heart and brain), and yet are drawn to each other. I commented in my earlier post on both shows having been compared to The X-Files, and having seen that, I can’t unsee it, about either one. (Really, though, let’s be honest: Sleepy Hollow has the edge here over Bones, in terms of comparison to Scully and Mulder.)
The difficulty is how to showcase the characters, and their relationships, in a way that might interest new viewers. And this is where it gets tricky: there’s no way to know what will hook someone.
We don’t all like the same thing, anyway, which is why there are seven billion shows to begin with. But because we bring everything we are – our full history and personality and view of the world – with us when we sit down to watch something, a scene that one person loves may have the opposite effect on the person next to them.
The first episode of Bones I saw was The Man in the Fallout Shelter. I remember liking the team as a whole and their relationships; I liked Brennan’s commitment to finding out what happened to Careful Lionel; my heart tugged a bit for her with the reveal about her parents leaving at Christmas. I don’t remember having a strong reaction to Booth at all, though I liked him coming back to invite Brennan to Wong Foo’s.
But it was enough to make me want to watch another episode, and that’s the most any show can ask for. The difficulty is if you ask five different Bones fans what moment hooked them on the show, you’ll get five different answers, and the same would be true of Sleepy Hollow fans. And that illustrates the problem facing the writers. One person who’d never seen before seen Bones might react positively to Booth and Brennan pranking one another; another might find it dumb as an introduction to the characters. (And ditto the Sleepy Hollow writers trying to interest us in Abbie and Ichabod.) They can only be honest with how they write them, and hope for the best.
So we see Booth acknowledging the similarities between him and Abbie explicitly, and we see Brennan’s competitive nature as well as her playful side; in their relationship, we see both the pranking and what Ichabod observed about how Brennan looks at Booth. But was any of that enough to make Sleepy Hollow fans go, ‘huh, maybe I’ll stick with this show for a few weeks’? I don’t know.
Similarly, in Ichabod we see someone who feels both sorrow for a man he once respected as well as terrible guilt for having failed to kill him; in Abbie, we see a cop not unlike Booth, but with her own burdens. (As someone who’s seen perhaps eight episodes of the show prior to the crossover, I thought these eps did a better job of telling Bones fans about Ichabod than about Abbie.)
Their relationship with one another is still only that of friends and partners, but there’s a deep enough bond for them to be roommates…and for one to encourage the other to begin dating again after the death of his wife. That was enough to interest me, but looking at it the other way, it makes me wonder how many Sleepy Hollow fans will be less interested in Bones because Booth and Brennan are already together (no longer in the chase stage of things); then again, maybe that’s exactly why others might be intrigued.
That’s why it’s difficult to guess how successful the crossover will be in the long run in terms of pulling in new viewers for either show. But based on the ratings, some people sampled both, and I think that has to have been Fox’s primary goal. They’re as aware as anyone of how much competition there is for our time, but if you can get people to try something, sometimes they’ll stick around, and that’s the most any network can ask for.
In that, the crossover plainly succeeded, so…congratulations to everyone from both shows for pulling it off.