I'm pretty easygoing when it comes to marketing and product placement. It's so ubiquitous that I tune it out, or laugh along when it shows up on 30 Rock. I can never really muster up the rage some viewers do when Pizza Hut, Ford, or the iPhone is prominently placed in a movie or television show. The most I'll do is roll my eyes and joke about it later on ("Did you notice that? Lame!"), because I find the big picture to be more important than some high-priced props. That is, I didn't care until Fox proudly announced that Bones will return in two weeks with an Avatar themed episode. (The promo is embedded below the jump for the curious and eager.)
Look, I get why Fox would think this was a slamdunk. It's on their network, and one of Bones' recurring cast members, Joel Moore, is actually in Avatar. I understand that the combination makes the December 3 episode of Bones prime advertising real estate. But come on! Can't you just run some flashy commercials, a new trailer, or "a special behind-the-scenes look" like you did with films back during the good old days? Doesn't anyone at 20th Century Fox wonder if it doesn't look a little desperate to coerce an entire show into the PR game? After all, Avatar was supposed to sell itself purely on the photo-real effects, the world of Pandora, and the name of James Cameron. Why do they need Bones?
On some level, I think it even works against the Avatar selling points. The lure of Avatar is the photo-real technology, and how easily you're going to be sucked into a 3D Pandora. Having one of your cast members go meta, and line up for his own movie seems to defeat that a little. Perhaps that's the point, and the crossover is Fox saying "We're so confident in the experience that we can show the man behind the curtain!"
But those are nitpicks, really. My problem is that an entire episode of one of my favorite shows is being hammered into a clumsy commercial. And boy, is it clumsy. You have characters saying "This is more than a movie!" while standing in front of Avatar posters, and lining up for tickets alongside people painted as Na'vi:
In the context of Avatar, it's just makes that question mark hovering above it a little bit bigger. It's natural that they're selling it as an experience, but I really hate the way they're going about it. Look at this Bones episode a little more closely. They're trying to tell me that people are already making Na'vi costumes and are sleeping in tents outside of multiplexes. It's like a big elbow in the ribs that if I'm not on board, sacrificing my sleep and my hygeine for prime seating, there's something deeply wrong with me. I must be out of the loop. But considering I've overheard people looking at the poster and saying "Is that Angelina Jolie or something?", I'm not so sure that's the message they want to send.
But hey, just to show my nice side, I wouldn't have had a problem with an Avatar episode that truly tapped into the zeitgeist. Have Dr. Brennan be called in to examine a corpse found sitting at his / her laptop. When her Jeffersonian lackeys call up the computer's browser history, they'll find that their innocent victim was arguing about Avatar on IMDB. Were they murdered as a result of Avatar fandom? The plot thickens! Now that's the kind of tie-in I could get behind, and laugh about.