How Scarecrow & Mrs. King is Like Bones

I confess I'm a Scarecrow & Mrs. King fan. I was a fan when a youngster, and I still find the show completely viewable.

Granted, the plot is a bit same-old/same-old (which spy will they chase this week?!). And the dialog is nothing extraordinary (this is still 80's television when shows with whiplash dialog like Barney Miller were still considered somewhat unusual). There are hints, now and again, that the writers would have liked to go in a Lois & Clark tongue-in-cheek direction but overall they stick to their mandate: straight plots with clear objectives.

The acting is pretty respectable. Kate Jackson is quite good. Bruce Boxleitner knows what he is doing/what the part calls for (since watching older spy shows, I've gotten a better sense of what type of character he is emulating). The problem here is that someone like Joe Penny exudes ultra-charisma just by standing around. Bruce B. doesn't much.

Having said that, after rewatching Season 1 recently, I formed the opinion that my attraction to the show is that it is incipient Bones. That is probably why I loved it as a youngster except Bones hadn't shown up yet. Now that Bones has shown up, I see the similarities.

1. It's all about the couple.

I've commented before that I like romances where the hero and heroine are trapped together--literally or, like Mulder and Scully, through a job or shared information. Unlike Castle, both Bones and Scarecrow are ALL about the main heterosexual couple--nobody else, really. (I like Castle but there's too many potential ex-es which gets tiresome.) Whether consummated or not, the show IS the relationship.

2. Both parties bring something to the relationship.

Both the hero and heroine contribute to the relationship as individuals. Amanda King is quirky, talkative, funny with a strong practical streak and a strong sense of morality. Rather surprising for an 80's show, her responses as an individual take precedent over her responses as an INDEPENDENT WOMAN and even as a MOTHER. Good writers, in my view, ask, "How would this character react?" rather than "What cause am I supposed to be defending?" It is easy to take the former approach for granted with Temperance Brennan. It is commendable that it happened with Mrs. King.

3. The guys get to rescue the gals. 

What's a good romance without a rescue?

Now, I love romances, but I do have some standards. I tend to avoid romances where the heroines spend the whole time trying to force the heroes to appreciate/notice them ("I'M AS GOOD AS YOU!"). And I don't even bother with romances where the heroes don't appreciate the heroines. And I don't like romances where the heroines just represent the prize that the heroes get for conquering the bad guy.

I like the hero and heroine to admire each other. And I like the heroine to care about the hero. And since I'm a woman, and I'm watching these shows from a woman's perspective, I really want to see the hero express that he cares.

Nothing does that better than a rescue scene (as long as it is done right).

The classic done-correctly rescue scene is Cary Grant rescuing Ingrid Bergman in Notorious: the scene where Cary Grant enters the house of the bad spy guy and carries out Ingrid Bergman in front of the bad spy guy's compatriots. Every director over the age of forty copies it at least once.

The reason it is so perfect is that the heroine needs to be rescued for perfectly legitimate reasons. She isn't stuck in her bad-spy husband's house by accident or because she is a fool or because she got into a pique or because she's trying to manipulative the hero or because she swooned or because she's too ladylike/dainty/frightened/clueless to get herself out. She's in the house as a spy following the directives of her handler (Grant) in order to help the United States. She is being drugged against her will, and she has held out for as long as she can.

And the hero rescues her against logic but not against reason. He loves her. He also owes her. And he is very clever and logical and ruthless about what he does to get her out.

Dorothy Sayers wrote several mysteries where she tackles the problem of a heroine feeling such an overwhelming sense of obligation to the hero that the relationship can't return to balance. The heroine becomes infantalized, a little girl who is always being protected by her daddy-figure.

Good rescues avoid this. Notorious avoids this.

Bones and  Scarecrow avoid this.

Scarecrow actually does the Notorious scene. And Amanda King is not infantalized as a result. She held out against questioning while on a legitimate errand to help Scarecrow. Rescuing her is part of his job. It is also romantically done.

Bones has a great rescue scene in the first season ("Two Bodies in the Lab") where the wounded Booth finds Bones who is about to be killed by a bad guy masquerading as a serial killer. Bones is in this situation because she is about to produce forensic evidence that will put the bad guy away. She fights back. Booth rescues her because it is his job, and (typical for Booth), he feels responsible for people who work for him. And it is romantically done.

Yet nobody becomes a child as a result. Bones is grateful as is Amanda King, and they both express their gratitude non-defensively. But the relationship is easily restored to balance because the risks and rewards of the relationship are taken for granted.

4. I believe in the domestic side of the relationship.

This is actually something that separates Bones and Scarecrow from X-Files. In X-Files, the context is so overwhelmingly important, it's hard to imagine Mulder and Scully away from it. Which is good--because how on earth would that relationship function absent a conspiracy? And although I like both Castle and Beckett, I don't really believe in my heart of hearts that Beckett would ever be comfortable in that relationship on a domestic level (I think Castle would actually made a very good husband; I just don't see Beckett agreeing).

But with Bones, I can completely see Bones and Booth making things work in ANY situation: on a vacation, with a baby, buying a home, figuring out schools, planning date nights, managing money . . . Likewise, Bruce B. does a fairly good job in Scarecrow playing a man who thinks he wants to be a secret agent but really would rather have a semi-normal relationship with a down-to-earth housewife from Arlington.

Because in the end, the personal relationship isn't just about champagne and chocolates. It involves things like getting the vacuum cleaner to work. And wondering what the heck to do about the SRS light in the Honda. And fighting over the remote. And the number of television couples who I think can actually deal with this stuff is rather short.

Having said this . . . in terms of television viewing . . . 

5. It's all about the job.

Shows which focus exclusively on the relationship almost inevitably end up being "revolving door" shows: now-he-is-dating-someone-else, now-she-is-dating-someone-else, now-he-is-dating-someone-else.

Oh, who cares.

Shows where the relationship remains intact but the focus is on how much the characters love each other aren't much better. Dharma & Greg managed precisely because every episode was about other stuff (and it couldn't have lasted much beyond five seasons). Lois & Clark suffered in the second half of the third to fourth seasons when the relationship became the focus, rather than the job.

Shows like Bones and Scarecrow & Mrs. King keep the focus on the job. Even in the Bones episode ender, "The End in the Beginning," both Bones and Booth (now a couple) own a business together. They go about their lives exactly in the same way--only with sex. But the workable-ness of their relationship hasn't altered. The relationship can be taken for granted, can be successfully explored, precisely because it ISN'T the focus.

The most romantic romances aren't about the romance.

Go figure.

5 comments:

a Calvinist preacher said...

I like, in particular, your two #4 points.

There is much in life that, while absolutely essential and vital, if focused on becomes distorting, dangerous, or - in a story - dull.

Life's about oxygen, but if you have to constantly think about oxygen, something's very, very wrong.

The domestic concerns and the work concerns show that the romance is breathing. That's good. But if you have to highlight the breathing, something's wrong.

Kate Woodbury said...

I corrected the post, so I now have a point 4 and point 5 :)

However, they do go together! In terms of narrative, I learned a long time ago that to write a good story I had to have my characters care about things in everyday real life. If the wants got too abstract, I couldn't get a handle on the characters. (And the abstract wants usually took care of themselves once I knew what mattered to the characters at the everyday level.)

Carole said...

I might just have to try out the Scarecrow and Mrs. King...though I haven't been following this season's Bones. I don;t know if any one has given you any info about it....and I don't want to be the one to spoil you.

I cheered at the Sayers reference. You're alluding to Peter and Harriet, yes? Here's a question: Does Bones have one up on Harriet because Bones doesn't feel obligated or worry about becoming infantalized? I know, Harriet got over it (kind of) and her awareness of the potential is what makes the story interesting, but it doesn't even cross Bones' mind. Nor should it.

I should reread those books!

Kate Woodbury said...

I think in Harriet's case, infantilization was a real possibility. She and Peter were right not to marry immediately after he saved her from hanging. It wasn't (necessarily) that Peter took marriage with Harriet as his due (although his attitude towards Harriet in jail leaves that possibility up for grabs), it is more that saving-Harriet-from-certain-death was the only thing the relationship was founded on. They really didn't have much else.

I think this is one reason why Gaudy Night is so important. In it, Harriet acknowledges that she spent so much time fighting off Peter, she never really got to know him. But Peter also acknowledges, and apologizes, for acting as if the only thing that mattered right after Harriet's trial were his feelings. Their relationship has to reach a new balance before they can court in earnest.

The contrast is in Thrones, Dominions where two characters do get married based on the "rescue" motif. Underlying their love is the woman's fear that her husband will take her for granted and the husband's resentment of his wife's hot-cold attitudes (he believes that she "owes" him). I think Sayers (and Jill Paton Walsh) are saying that this couple could have been Peter and Harriet—if Peter and Harriet hadn't waited five years to marry.

I just got Season 5 of Bones through my library! Yeah, I'm behind, but I like to watch seasons all at once :) (I am wondering if the writers will use Emily Deschanel's pregnancy.)

ILoveBonesNDool said...

Scarecrow and Mrs King. I used to watch it growing up from when I was in elementary during it's premier to the reruns in my highschool days to then on with my DVDs... I am an avid Bones fan have been since S1 Ep1 and while on the summer break between last season and this I started looking for other shows that reminded me of Booth and Bones and I though of Lee and Amanda...no one I told got the connection they kept saying one's a homemaker one's scientist yada yada they didn't really "see" it. So I got out my dvds of both and watched them all over again S1-4 of SMK and 1-6 of Bones and it solidified my connection and my family started seeing it...I stumbled upon your site yesterday for a reason I now believe because it's not just me there are others like you who believe that there is a big similarity there! Thank you.