Sunday, July 19, 2009

SUMMER REPEAT: Bonekickers

During my insomnia hours, I watch a lot of non-American television. Sometimes, you find a real gem, like Australia's The Hollowmen. Other times, you realize that Hollywood doesn't hold the patent on crap-tacular programming. You couldn't pay me enough to sit through another episode of Canada's Little Mosque on the Prairie or jPod, for instance. And then there are those shows that are just so bizarre, so relentlessly focused on making their point, and so unbelievably weird, they exist in a category all their own.

Bonekickers is that kind of show.

Think of it as Indiana Jones, only made by and for people who would be ashamed to watch an actual Indiana Jones movie because of its lack of redeeming social activism. Bonekickers follows feisty Dr. Gillian Magwilde and her gender-balanced, racially mixed team of bonekicking archaeologists and put-upon post-grads as they dig their way through one life-threatening adventure after another. I first had the feeling this was going to be a message show when I realized the two white males in the regular cast were the lovable if lecherous drunkard (Professor Gregory "Dolly" Parton) and the weaselly, funding-hungry, and self-absorbed department head.

Despite all this, I desperately wanted to like this show. I really did. Gillian Magwilde looks better in work boots and a flannel shirt than Harrison Ford ever did. Give her that Indiana Jones hat, and I would gladly edit Dr. Magwilde's next book for free. "Dolly" Parton is actually kind of fun to watch, too, even if it is in a too-cuddly-to-ever-really-get-sued-for-sexual-harassment-like-he-should-be sort of way. The show is beautifully shot as well, and the concept so off-beat that no one here in the States, not even Showtime or HBO, would ever dare touch it. And besides, I owed one to the BBC for bringing back Doctor Who and not mucking it up, so I gave Bonekickers a chance.

I lasted two episodes. And I watched the second only to see if the show could possibly get any worse. (It did.)

Now, you might be thinking I'm just an uncouth American, unable to appreciate the subtleties of the government-funded, Euro-entertainment ethic. And you might even be right. In my defense, however, even the reviews in England itself were savage: "mind-bogglingly dreadful," "dramatic goo," "utterly bonkers," and "a clattering bag of madness."

Ouch.

In the first episode, "Army of God," a piece of the True Cross is found in someone's backyard, setting up a heavy-handed tale of peaceful, soft-spoken Muslims and muscular Christians with buzz cuts. You know the Muslim characters are peaceful, because every single one is no more than five-foot-eight, is thinner than even I am, and repeatedly tells everyone how peaceful they are. They also tend to wear glasses, which in the visual shorthand of minor characters lets you know they're thoughtful as well. On the other hand, you know the Christian characters are fanatics, because they lop off a Muslim's head with a broadsword.

Subtlety, thy name is Bonekickers.

In fairness (sort of), there is a very appealing young Christian nurse who works at a hospice. After pricking her finger on a piece of the True Cross (don't ask), she develops miraculous powers of healing. This immediately results in her becoming the unwitting dupe of a televangelist who also happens to be leader of the Knights Templar (don't ask). By the end of the episode, however, she's learned that it's best to remove splinters as soon as you feel them. And that curing terminally ill seniors just complicates everyone's life.

Oh, did I mention the Matrix-style sword fight while hanging from ropes in a cavern filled with burning crosses?

The second episode, "Warriors," made "Army of God" seem like a feathery wisp of understatement. Because in "Warriors," Gillian and her intrepid team help to elect Barack Obama.

In fairness (sort of), the candidate—named, with trademark Bonekickers subtlety, "Senator Joy"—was a strange mish-mash of the charisma and personality of Barack Obama, the Swiftboated war heroism of John Kerry, and the deep, comforting voice of David Palmer from 24. Which is a good, because each time Senator Joy's security platoon surprised Gillian and her bonekickers with guns drawn, he could apologize for startling them, and they were instantly soothed despite all the American firepower and dress shoes trampling their dig sites.

Senator Joy is losing the election, you see. "They" will never allow a black man to become president, so of course, Senator Joy's only hope is traveling to England and joining forces with a band of European academics. This is not the long shot you might think, however, because American history holds a dirty, shameful secret, one that only Gillian and her team can bring to light.

It turns out that during the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Yorktown was not actually won by Generals George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau, as all the history books say. In fact, it was actually won by a runaway slave named Oban, who just happens to be a direct ancestor of Senator Joy. The Father of Our Country, however, repaid this hero and military genius by turning him over to the defeated British forces so that he could be shipped back to England for execution. Because "They" would never share credit with a black man.

Oh, did I mention that Oban also won the Battle of Yorktown by wielding Excalibur?

That's right, Excalibur. The sword.

And did I mention that along with Oban, General Washington also handed Excalibur over to the defeated British forces?

Needless to say, in spite of gunfights with the shadowy "They" ("Them"?), and much non-gunfighting time spent just generally standing around and praising Senator Joy ("He's even more impressive in person." "He can make a difference." "He can change things." "He gives me hope again."), Gillian and her bonekickers dig up the evidence the good Senator needs to make his case. The episode ends with Senator Joy walking out on stage at Gillian's university, ready to destroy the cult of America's One Indispensable Man, and on foreign soil no less, which in the minds of the Bonekickers production team is somehow going to salvage Senator Joy's poll numbers and gain him the White House.

Uh, yeah. And I'm going to write a new script in which Elizabeth May of Canada's Green Party becomes Prime Minister by revealing that Canadian Founding Father Sir John A. Macdonald was actually a cannibal, and during a press conference held at the University of Alabama.

I think it'll be a big, big hit. Or at least help some Canadian with insomnia finally get to sleep.