BONES and 90210: Are Two Episodes Better Than One?

On Tuesday night, I was scuttling around packing canned meat and candles into a backpack and racing for a fenced wilderness fortress. Not because yet more hurricanes are headed for the coast, but because the seventh sign of the apocalypse had appeared.

I was enjoying the new 90210.

And this is coming from someone who absoultely could not stomach the original (and has trouble in general with soap operas about the traumas of the rich and pampered–I could only make it as far as the mint green suit in this week’s Gossip Girl before I gave up in despair). But the dialogue was bouncy and the situations kitschy (drugs in a hollowed-out book! Dum dum duuuuuuum!) and the nods to the original hilariously cheesy. And watching Tristan Wilds, I could squint and almost believe that the saddest kids on The Wire made it out of the slums. It extended past my bedtime, leading me to put off watching the second half until the next day, but I was happily interested in finishing and therefore pretty surprised that the show was almost universally panned the next day.

When I saw the second half–which is really a second episode tacked to the first to create a super-sized premiere–I understood the critical roast. The zest brought by Rob Thomas and Mark Piznarski (the team behind the brilliant Veronica Mars pilot) left the zip code with them, leaving both characters and plot lines thinner than the actresses.

Curiously, the same thing happened during Wednesday’s season premiere of Bones. Setting a lot of the action in the UK livened up a pedestrian mystery (with Torchwood‘s much-killed Suzie, Indira Varma, and Doctor Who‘s lesser medical student, Oliver Morgenstern, in the person of Ben Righton to entertain the BBC junkies among us), and the long-awaited arrival of Angela’s husband provided some intrigue back at the Jeffersonian. The novelty wore off across two hours, however, with the shift to a new mystery feeling very much like a…second episode tacked to the first to create a super-sized premiere.

In both cases, we thought we were getting a treat–extra ice cream for being good kids. But in both cases, slowing down the pacing quickly deflated the excitement. If we’d seen only the first episode of 90210, would the CW have gotten a week of cheese-filled buzz instead of bad reviews? Would Bones fans be talking about whether Brennan’s new flirtation would come between her and Booth rather than the fast and inexplicable breakup between Hodgins and Angela if we’d seen only the first half? On the other hand, we fondly remember the one-two punch of seeing both parts of The West Wing‘s “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” on the same night. Maybe all that means is that neither 90210 nor Bones (as much as we like it) is as good as The West Wing. But is there anything more to be gleaned here as to when to go for the two-hour premiere and when not to? Because we’d like to think we deserve extra ice cream sometimes.

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