In the UK: Tuesdays, BBC1, 9pm. Also available on the iPlayer
Nominative determinism is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Does your name make you turn out the way you are or is it irrelevant?
Here’s a simple experiment: let’s look at Bonekickers. It’s supposed to be an action-adventure show about archaeologists. It’s got a great cast, including Adrian Lester and Michael Maloney. It has a great team behind the scenes, including Life on Mars‘s Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham.
But it also has a bollocks name. Will it follow nature and have the qualities expected of its progenitors? Or will it follow the powers of nurture and nominative determinism and turn out to be bollocks?
The excavation of 14th century medieval soldiers alongside Saracen coinage in Somerset leads to the hunt for the True Cross. Brilliant archaeologist Dr Gillian Magwilde has a passion for history and a hunger for the truth. She’s aided by her loyal team, forensic expert Dr Ben Ergha, eager new intern Viv Davis and the erudite but disreputable Professor Gregory Parton.
Using their archaeological skills the team discover that the medieval soldiers were Knights Templar. Analysis of a small piece of cedar wood from the dig indicates that it’s two thousand years old – and from the Holy Land. Could it be part of the True Cross? Gillian needs to buy time to survey the site but right wing religious extremist Edward Laygass, who believes that the country is at war for its Christian soul, acquires the land and declares it Holy Ground.
Laygass calls on a cell of violent modern day crusaders to aid him in his quest, and the team find themselves in mortal danger. An enigmatic symbol carved on the back of a crucifix could give them the clue they need to find the True Cross…
Is it any good?
The answer is that it’s astonishingly bollocks: an absolutely hellish piece of brain-warping daftness.
Thing is, it’s deliberately daft. There’s no way Michael Maloney’s acting like that because he thinks it’s a serious interpretation of the role. There’s no way the writing’s as poor as it is because Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham can’t write.
No, the production team have sat down, said to themselves, “Well, if it works for Hollywood, it can work for us. Everyone loves Hollywood escapism, don’t they?”, and produced a complete piece of bobbins, a low budget Da Vinci Code knock-off where every line is knowingly laughable and every dramatic turn has the subtlety of colonic irrigation.
We have secret sects of the Knight Templar running around with swords, decapitating Muslims; we have a search for the cross of Jesus in Bath; we have university archaeologists abseiling into digs and setting fire to ancient relics as diversionary tactics; we have people singing ‘Jerusalem’ to save their lives from sword-wielding nutters: no way is this done in seriousness. This is escapist daftness at best.
Thing is, the producers are aiming for “so bad, it’s good”, yet they haven’t made it quite bad enough. So it’s just bad. It’s Time Team with a sub-machine gun, thinking it’s Bruce Willis when it’s actually Phil Willis.
The characters are clichéd; the dialogue is hackneyed; there is almost no correlation with reality in any way. At times, it’s massively offensive. Even I, as an atheist, wondered quite why all the Christians were so incredibly stupid, gullible, racist or murderous, while their Muslim victims were universally bright, peaceful and kind. We even had retrospective pity from the disreputable professor for all the Muslims killed during the Crusades at the hands of the nasty Christians – hadn’t the Moors spent a good few centuries previous busily slashing up Spain, Africa and the Middle East or doesn’t that count – statute of limitations and all that?
It might get better. It might be that the next episode about slavery isn’t going to be massively offensive, too. It might be they manage to pull it back to being so bad it’s good or manage to make it not quite so brain dead (cf Virtual Murder). It might be our brains will slowly be able to adopt for a British programme the escapist mindset we normally have to use for US imports.
But the evidence is looking a bit weak at the moment.
Here are some YouTube vids for you. The first is a trailer, the second is an interview with star Julie Graham and the last is a series of interviews with Graham, Adrian Lester and Hugh Bonneville.
Viv Davis (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)
Gillian Magwilde (Julie Graham)
Dr Ben Ergha (Adrian Lester)
Prof ‘Dolly’ Parton (Hugh Bonneville)
Prof Daniel Mastiff (Michael Maloney)
Written by: Matthew Graham
Created by: Ashley Pharoah & Matthew Graham
Produced by: Rhonda Smith
Directed by: James Strong