Let’s talk backdoor pilots for a moment, shall we?
When you think spinoff, you usually to think of a story that follows an existing character to a new setting (think Frasier, A Different World, or *shudder* Joey). Spinoffs that originate with backdoor pilots are generally just new shows from the existing show’s creators. The characters get introduced in an episode of original show — and episode that appears to have very little if anything to do with… well, anything.
You remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Jesse (Milo Ventamiglia) goes to find his dad? That was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for Jesse’s own show. I wouldn’t have know that. (I learned it on TV Tropes). What I do remember vividly is the episode of Growing Pains where the kids protest the firing of recurring character Coach Lubbock. Once fired from Thomas E. Dewey High School, Coach moves his zillion kids to California to star in Just the Ten of Us.
The episode of Bones titled The Finder is a backdoor pilot to a series of the same name debuting January 12. If you weren’t aware of this fact, you might think the Bones writers had gone off their rockers. Even the title deviates from the normal Bones formula of “The X in the Y.” Season 6, episode 19 is simply called “The Finder.”
I think the backdoor pilot approach is particularly problematic when the original show is past its prime. Don’t hate me, Bones fans–I still love it–but the show is not what it was in seasons 3 and 4. Even if you want to argue that it remains fabulous, it is obvious from the backdoor pilot for The Finder that the latter will not measure up. The most we can hope for is a guest appearance or two by one of beloved Jeffersonian-ites.
The episode begins with Booth and Brennan fishing a body out of a Louisiana bayou. Through a rather convoluted chain of events the case requires them to find a missing treasure map–or chart, as Brennan reminds us is the proper term for a map of water. (At least she hasn’t changed.) Bones tells her about a guy he once knew how can find anything, anywhere: “The sonofabitch has got the Finder power.” Whatever the hell that is.
We could get hung up on the fact that Booth and Brennan have needed to find things on many other occasions (Tempe’s dad, for starters) and Booth has never thought to mention this guy before. But we’ll be nice.
Walter Sherman (Jeff Stults) is an Iraq veteran who appears to live a pretty chill Southern lifestyle. We meet him as he’s hanging out in a bar with a couple of friends, locked in a debate titled “Ninja vs. Samurai.” It’s a big dramatic moment where Booth and Bones approach from way across the room. All we see is the back of The Finder’s head, until he finally turns around in what is apparently supposed to be a big reveal. It might be effective if he were played by a major actor and not a guy who played a whiny husband to one of the hand-wringing Camden daughters on Seventh Heaven. His friends are Willa (Maddie Hasson), whose schtick is that she mispronounces words, and Leo (Michael Clarke Duncan) doing what Michael Clarke Duncan does–being large and intimidating.
My minute nine, we’re finished with Booth and Brennan and we’re left with these three new characters as they break into the victim’s apartment, question a pawn shop keeper, and search out a certain tattooed murderess. They’re crafty and clever; there’s a sneaking-in-the-back-door method to their high jinks… fitting for a sneaky secret pilot.
Brennan is, of course, skeptical of the trio’s ability to find the map and help track down the killer. In order to win her over, Walter pursues a parallel mission to uncover a science fair medal Brennan lost as a child. Naturally he finds both things he’s looking for and helps save the day. Along the way we learn that he has a number of OCD-like eccentricities possibly due to PTSD from the war. He won’t seek treatment for fear of losing his “finder power.” Apparently we’re assumed to find him hot, too. We’re subject to some long, pointless shots of him half-naked. Overall, it seems like the show is going to be wacky for the sake of wackiness; something Bones certainly is not.
Some back story is revealed about how Walter knows Booth, which could create some interesting tension if these two characters were going to continue to appear on the same show. Which they’re not.
Once the day is saved, we are ready to go on watching Walter and his friends save more days. The first one they save will be on January 12. We’ll see if it finds its own niche and how quickly we forget it has anything to do with Bones.
What do you think, are backdoor pilots a smart way to launch a new series? Or just a cheap way to get us to watch something we wouldn’t otherwise care about? Here are some more musings on backdoor pilots, or “secret” pilots, at Television Without Pity.