Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Confessions of a Shipaholic

My name is Caroline, and I am a shipaholic.

When tuning in to a new series, I seek out the primary couple of the show. (The best ships are established in pilots.) I enjoy following romantic storylines; I’ll tough out will-they-or-won’t-they for far longer than I would have originally thought possible.

In my current television repertoire, the only shows I watch that don’t have serious ships are Desperate Housewives, 30 Rock, and Friday Night Lights. (I mean, I ship Coach/Mrs. Coach, but that’s kind of unnecessary, no?)

As we’ve mentioned a couple of times, the number of Chaos in General writers who watch Bones has increased 400% in the past two weeks. In the last fourteen days, I’ve watched all fifty-eight episodes. Having ripped through seasons one and two using Hulu.com and Netflix, I recently purchased the boxed sets from Amazon.com so that I can go back and relive the magic, preferably with audio commentary. They should arrive at my house tomorrow. (P.S. Both sets are only $16.99 apiece and eligible for free shipping. Big bargain.)

Bones was built for people like us.

The relationship between Booth and Brennan, established in the pilot, sounds a lot like the ships of our history: Girl with Mommy/Daddy issues becomes a workaholic who has trouble with relationships and excels at compartmentalizing emotions. Boy with a big heart befriends Girl through teamwork; slowly breaks down her stone wall of professionalism. I’ve pretty much just described Carter and Abby, Sydney and Vaughn, Jack and Kate, Derek and Meredith, and, to a lesser extent, Mulder and Scully.

So we’re already committed to the formula that makes the idea of Booth/Brennan a good one.

But Booth and Bones adds a whole extra layer of awesome to the established blueprint of television romance.

Most of this is because of the ridiculous amount of anvils used by the writers on the lead characters. When writing for a ship, you occasionally must throw in plot anvils, devices used to force characters to think about big, important relationship things, usually marriage and/or babies. I did a Google search yesterday for “TV relationship anvil” to try to find a satisfactory definition, and then best I came up with was from a CSI fandom website: “Anvil: a scene, a piece of dialogue, a plot development, etc. that foreshadows some significant issue, situation, or problem that a character will likely have to address, confront, or resolve in future episodes.” Nice work, Grissom/Sara shippers!

In the X-Files episode “Requiem,” Scully bounces and sings to a baby; later, Mulder sends her back to Washington because this case is getting dangerous, she’s sick, and he wants her to have a normal life. The baby is an anvil.

On Alias, Sydney and Vaughn had to go undercover as newlyweds in “Welcome to Liberty Village.” They had to face their issues about their own relationship while posing as Karen and Dave. (Case in point: “Dave” has to explain how he proposed to “Karen”; Vaughn improvises a story using his botched plan for proposing to Sydney in Santa Barbara. Damn you, Covenant!) Mulder and Scully once went undercover as a married couple, too: in “Arcadia,” an episode we know and love. Mostly, it’s just funny; there really aren’t any anvils to be had here.

I called in Leigh for an assist on Gilmore Girls anvils; Amy Sherman-Palladino was exceptionally adept at utilizing them. Luke and Lorelai had their fair share of anvils before getting together, including the tried-and-true pretending-to-be-married while hunting for apartments, the winning of the lunch basket in “A Tisket, A Tasket,” and the dancing at Liz and TJ’s wedding.

Leigh: “The iconic image of the two of them standing underneath the chuppah as a couple would do on their wedding day during the episode when Lorelai called off the wedding to Max. There was also the dream sequence Lorelai had at the beginning of season three where she dreamed that she walked downstairs and Luke was making her breakfast and she was pregnant with his twins...they also kissed so it was good times. That dropped a bit of a hint. Bert the Toolbox...made several appearances... Will those do?”

Ha, love that girl.

Anyway, everyone utilizes anvils every once in a while. What’s so great about Bones is its unashamed and perpetual use of anvils. Bones doesn’t just drop those anvils on Booth and Brennan, they drop them often and in episode-long arcs, not fleeting moments.

While Scully got to hold a baby for half a scene in that season seven finale, Bones and Booth get Baby Andy for an entire episode, entitled “Baby in the Bough.”

While Luke and Lorelai got a moment under the chuppah, Bones and Booth get a cliffhanger on the altar.

Also, while anvils are meant to force our favorite characters to deal with emotions, Bones often sidesteps the subtlety and uses an overt mechanism to force emotional development: couples therapy. Hello, Dr. Sweets! Instead of leaving the audience to wonder what kind of anvil Booth’s fruit pie obsession is, Sweets comes right out and says, “I think it’s interesting psychologically how Agent Booth’s constant efforts to persuade you to enjoy fruit pie could be interpreted as a type of seduction.” (P.S. Pie? Oldest anvil in the book. Our Carter-and-Abby hangout is CoffeeandPie.com.)

The girls who write for this website appreciate nuance. We’re Lost viewers, for crying out loud. So why does it feel so delightful being crushed by the weight of the six-ton anvil that is Baby Andy?

For starters, anvils move our ships closer together. Like I said, it forces the issue, whatever that is. Temperance Brennan doesn’t like babies? Well, force her to spend the day with one and see if she changes her mind. (Of course she changes her mind. At least a little bit.) Jack and Kate are on the outs? Trap ‘em in a net together and force them to solve a problem together. It's nice to have it spelled out for you every once in a while.

The other reason why it works so well is because of the chemistry between David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel. Yeah, the anvils fall hard, but they land softly on the unbelievably ridiculous sexual tension between Brennan and Booth. You can’t fake that.

Just ask Mary McCormack.

There were a lot of things I didn’t like about In Plain Sight, but the most egregious was that I felt as though the show was trying to force an OTP between Mary and Marshall.

Umm, not going to happen, folks.

I said a few weeks ago that I can’t believe they let this show get on the air thinking that either Marshall or Raphael was a legitimate love interest for Mary. I pity anyone sitting over at USA thinking they have a great love triangle on their hands, because they really don’t. What I did like about In Plain Sight was Mary McCormack. She’s awesome. I loved her on The West Wing, and, like Sophie said the other day, I only hated her on ER because I thought she posed a threat to m’Carby. The show doesn’t need an OTP. It needs less Jinx and Brandy—seriously, who names one kid Mary and the other kid Brandy?—but it’s not in desperate need of a relationship.

Forcing the issue is getting you nowhere fast, because I will never ever ever buy a Marshall/Mary hookup. Grody.

I’m also concerned about Fringe.

Yes, I watched the pilot streaming illegally on the internet. Within the next few days, I’ll post a more comprehensive take on the series, but in the context of this post, all that really matters is that I’m not buying the chemistry between Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv.

It goes without saying that JJ Abrams has given me some serious ship material. Sydney and Vaughn will always have a place in my heart, and Jack and Kate are hands-down my favorite TV couple of all time.

Without even seeing the pilot, you probably could have hypothesized that Jackson and Torv would be romantic leads. I went into the pilot fully expecting to be drawn in by the love story.

Now, to be honest, it wasn’t quite as blatant as other things I’ve seen. Say what you want about Jack and Kate in their post-pilot interactions, but their scenes in the pilot scream “We are the OTP.” And in the pilot of Bones, Booth says to Brennan, “What? You want me to spit in my hand? We’re Scully and Mulder.”

The Olivia Dunham/Peter Bishop relationship has potential, but it was by no means established in the pilot as inevitable.

Frankly, I wasn’t crazy about Anna Torv. I thought her acting came across as a little heavy-handed, and while it’s awesome to see a Jabrams female lead as someone who’s a little more Sydney Bristow than Kate Austen, I just wasn’t sold on the actress or the character.

I didn’t buy the chemistry right off the bat. I felt a sort of situational connection between Olivia and Peter, but I didn’t perceive an emotional attachment. No, this isn’t primarily a love story, but I would have expected the makings of an OTP. Let me put it this way. Peter Bishop will never be able to tell Olivia a story about how his father’s watch—one you could “set your heart by”—stopped on the day he met her. However brief the Sydney/Vaughn interaction in the pilot, you can sense the spark for something exceptional.

In the pilot, Olivia’s secret boyfriend (not Peter) is in whoa danger, so Olivia does something so dangerous it’s just plain stupid: she lets a deranged old man fresh out of the mental institution put electrodes on her, drug her up with LSD, put her in a big tub of water, and basically fry her brain so that she can communicate with the comatose.

I mean, seriously.

No guy is worth frying your brain like that. Especially not that guy, who seems to always play jerks, including Abby’s jerk ex-husband Richard on ER. (Thanks, though, for being a lovely Carby anvil, Mark Valley!)

I might be kicking myself in six months, when the Olivia/Peter OTP has been fleshed out some more and I’m obsessed with it, but for now, I’m very skeptical.

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