'Bones' spin-off? Geoff Stults makes 'The Finder' a keeper

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The "Mod Squad" crack comes early during the "Finder" episode of "Bones" -- a backdoor pilot from creator Hart Hanson based on Richard Greener's "Locator" series of books.

And the comparison is appropriate for reasons beyond the superficial paring of genders and races in the primary trio of Walter Sherman ( Geoff Stults), Leo Knox ( Michael Clarke Duncan) and Ike Latulippe ( Saffron Burrows). These characters seem to be equally unlikely crime-solvers as their "Squad" predecessors.

This rag-tag vibe is a far cry from the finely tuned Jeffersonian crew on "Bones." But "Bones" is where this story happens to start.

Booth ( David Boreanaz) and Brennan ( Emily Deschanel) find themselves looking over a decomposing body in the Florida Everglades in a quintessential "Bones" opening. Upon learning (via serial number on a glass eye) that the body belongs to a museum security guard who swiped a treasure map immediately before his demise, Booth decides they'll have to find the map to find the killer. And he knows a man in the area who's exceptionally qualified to do that.

Here is where Booth and Brennan become guests in their own show. From the moment they arrive at Walter's bar, the editing is suddenly more playful -- with quicker cuts, close-ups and odd angles -- and the score gets a slight Caribbean infusion. Tonally, it's not dissimilar to "Bones," but it's clearly a different beast.

After establishing that Booth is not a fan of his former fellow soldier and giving Walter the additional "for funsies" task of tracking down a lost memento from Brennan's youth, the duo depart for D.C., giving this little birdie a chance to fly on its own.

Walter's ambiguous "finding" methods are introduced in an opening montage where he breaks into the victim's apartment, strips down to his boxers and learns every important detail of the deceased by looking through books, reassembling coffee mugs on a dirty glass end table and staring at the ceiling.

It's clear that he's eccentric and talented, but we don't fully understand why until the third act, when it's revealed he suffered brain damage on tour in Iraq. He's afraid to have it treated, because he could lose his uncanny sleuthing abilities. But living with it makes him unstable and borderline autistic.

Unofficially charged with keeping him in check are Leo and Ike -- the former, his "legal adviser" and cerebral muscle, and the latter, a doting bartender/pilot who slings some of the funnier lines in the episode (albeit in a somewhat distracting cockney).

The three play off of each other remarkably well during the limited screen time they share and seem capable of holding down a series of their own, but the show ultimately depends on Stults' execution of Walter.

I'll be the first to admit the news of him being cast as the pilot's lead made me a bit uneasy. Stults' track record with failed series is nothing to brag about and his Abercrombie and Fitch aesthetic doesn't immediately lend itself to the complex, awkward individual "The Finder" aims to create.

On paper, the character seems better suited to someone like John Noble ("Fringe"), but despite these formidable handicaps, Stults really sells it. He manages to come across as cocky, quirky, neurotic, charismatic and deeply fragile throughout the hour, and I can now concede that the role suits him very well.

Between brief asides at the Jeffersonian -- including one where Walter returns Brennan's 7th grade science fair medal and is rewarded with delightful sexual tension -- the "Finder" team successfully locates the map, the treasure and the killer.

They're clearly more than capable of handling their weighty task in the special one-off episode, but is it the sort of the thing that could successfully play out on a weekly basis?

Yes. An admitted "Bones" fan, I went into "The Finder" expecting frustration with the stolen time from the series, but the Hanson, director Daniel Sackheim and the cast deftly bait the hook.

"The Finder" could thrive as a serial, fitting nicely into the FOX mold of antihero dramas while distinguishing itself from the pack. And if we're still sweating out the wait for a Booth/Brennan hook-up if and when it makes a formal debut, I'll happily approve a crossover for Walter and Brennan to consummate their obvious chemistry.
Photo/Video credit: FOX