Comfort Viewing Special: Bones, Castle, Criminal Minds, NCIS

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While it probably appears from this blog that I write about every last thing I see, read or hear, the truth is that there’s a whole class of television programs that I watch on a reasonably regular basis but which I rarely engage any critical faculties toward. Mainly US crime shows, they are ‘comfort viewing’ programmes or possibly more accurately wallpaper shows – things that are on but which normally wouldn’t get a mention on Taking The Short View. I thought might just this once make an exception…

Bones S9 E1-2

bonesI loved Bones in its early days, with its wonderfully engaging ensemble cast and a great chemistry between main stars David Boreanaz as FBI agent Booth and Emily Deschanel as forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. Unfortunately it’s now a show that’s wandered on long after its prime and seems to be finding it difficult to do new things that don’t merely retread familiar tired ground of old. The passing years haven’t been kind to the character of Brennan, where the original joy lay in her utter disregard for conventional social niceties: as the series has gone on the writers have decided to teach her the error of her ways, seemingly proving that a science genius needs saving and rehabilitating to become a useful member of society whereas the character of Booth has barely been touched. Where early seasons balanced Brennan’s academic but unbelieving view of faith with Booth’s devout Catholicism, Brennan has since seen the error of her ways and one particularly cloying episode even had events narrated by the ghost of the victim-of-the-week just to make it clear which side of the debate the show was firmly on. Season 9 has continued a particularly silly plotline involving another deadly supergenius thwarting Booth’s plans to marry Brennan, and now we’ve had a ludicrous undercover episode at a couples retreat that could hardly be less funny if it tried. Overall this show feels like a pale reminder of its heyday.

Bones airs on Sky Living at 9pm on Wednesdays.

Castle S6 E1-5

castleCastle can be a lovely, fun show – but it’s also getting to that mid-life crisis when it’s outgrown its original reason for existing and is now struggling to find new purpose. Originally the story of an NYPD detective (Kate Beckett, played by Stana Katic) unwillingly paired with a show-off celebrity crime novelist (Nathan Fillion’s Richard Castle), they’re now a happy couple; the sub-plot involving the killing of Beckett’s mother has been effectively laid to rest; and another storyline about Castle’s young daughter Alexis (Molly C. Quinn) being the grown up of the family has also now outlived its run given that the character is of college age. That left the series going down a particularly silly blind alley as a season 5 finale which saw Beckett take up a job in Washington DC that clearly had to be undone again as soon as possible after the summer break in order to perform a factory reset on the series format, a potent demonstration of how little idea the show has to develop moving forward. While it still shines with the right kind of case of the week – the latest being a witty Terminator-esque time travel parody, and next up being a Da Vinci Code mickey-take – the fact is that this is now sustaining itself on an awfully candy floss-thin diet for a long-running series.

Castle airs on UK Alibi on Thursdays at 9pm.

Criminal Minds S9 E1-6

criminalmindsThis series about an elite FBI profiling team hasn’t had a particularly smooth production history, with its original lead actor Mandy Patinkin abruptly departing just two seasons in over creative differences, and then a turbulent relationship between the production team and the show’s female stars in particular. When Criminal Minds began it was brilliant, examining and explaining how profiling worked in almost forensic detail; but then it started to lose interest in that approach and became just another ‘serial killer of the week’ vehicle with some disturbing torture porn voyeuristic tendencies. Its attempts at multi-episode story arcs have also fallen mainly flat and it’s only been the cast – Matthew Gray Gubler as the autodidact genius Dr Spencer Reid, Kirsten Vangsness as the kookie computer hacker analyst Penelope Garcia, Shemar Moore as the smooth and cool Derek Morgan along with Thomas Gibson and Joe Montagna the grown-ups – that has kept this bubbling away at the ‘comfort viewing’ level for as long as it has. Notably an attempt to do a spin-off show starring Forrest Whitaker died a very swift death when it tried to do much the same thing with a different cast, and it’s surely not long before key talent decides to move on and the shutters come down on the main show as well.

Criminal Minds airs on Sky Living on Mondays at 9pm.

NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service S11 E1-6

ncisIt is a continual source of astonishment to me that NCIS is now the top-rated drama on US television. It’s not that I dislike it – on the contrary, I’ve enjoyed it ever since the first episode – it’s just that it has never really attempted to stand out, being instead just a solidly written, fun, well-acted but otherwise unremarkable crime procedural. Despite the fact that it’s the oldest show in this ‘comfort viewing’ post, it’s the one that’s stayed the course the best. Right up until the end of season 10 it was maintaining the same level of quality as it always had done – a genuinely impressive feat. Unfortunately the show has since been rocked by the sudden departure of the female lead Cote de Pablo as former Mossad agent Ziva David. She simply decided she didn’t want to sign a new contract, and it’s clear that the show wasn’t expecting this and is having difficulty recovering from the blow. The opening run of episodes in the current season has been an unusually below-par collection of worthy issue/wish fulfilment and some rummaging introspection around the characters’ pasts, but overall the programme has currently misplaced something of the joie de vivre that powered it for so long. Hopefully it can recover – it’s yet to unveil de Pablo’s successor in the regular cast for one thing – but at the same time there’s a nagging sense that perhaps the actor’s exit might have been the right moment to call time on the show as a whole. It’s already spun off one all-action series in NCIS: LA and is due to launch a second set in New Orleans starring Scott Bakula, Lucas Black and CCH Pounder, so maybe it’s time for the parent to take a well-deserved retirement and put its feet up on the couch at last.

NCIS airs on Fox on Fridays at 9pm.

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