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Why Bones' Gamer In The Grease Episode Was Basically An Avatar Ad

In December 2009, "Bones" was well into its fifth season on the air. At this point in time, Angela (Michaela Conlin) and Hodgkins (T.J. Thyne) were no longer together, the romantic tension between Booth (David Boreanaz) and Brennan (Emily Deschanel) was heating up, the show was nearing its 100th episode (that would air in April of 2010), and the Gravedigger would reappear later in the season. There was plenty for fans to get excited about, although some were already grumbling (as noted by Reddit users) that the show had jumped the shark

At that same time, there was also a big James Cameron film slated for release. "Avatar" was due in theaters on December 18, 2009 — and its marketing machine had been churning for months. Media Shift called the hype surrounding the film "the most comprehensive digital marketing campaign ever developed to support a film." This campaign buoyed "Avatar" to record-high box office numbers. Today, it still stands as the No. 1 film of all time globally, having earned $2.8 billion since its release (per The Hollywood Reporter). 

It turns out that "Bones" was actually part of that hype machine. The ninth episode of Season 5 made it pretty obvious "Bones" was gung-ho for "Avatar." 

A fifth season episode had an 'Avatar' subplot

In "The Gamer in the Grease," the Jeffersonian team is called in to solve the murder of a body found inside a grease truck. Investigation determines the victim is a postman — but more importantly, he's the purported record-holder of a video game called Punky Pong. A sub-plot involves Jack Hodgkins, Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley), and Colin Fischer (Joel David Moore) — one of the revolving "squinterns" who replaced Zack Addy (Eric Millegan) following the revelations of his true loyatlies in the third season. Fischer wins tickets to see "Avatar" and the three plot to stand in line to get the best seats for the film.

Early in the episode, preview footage from the movie actually appears on screen as the three discuss their strategy. Angela walks in and asks them, "What's with the blue people?" This gives them a chance to explain about the Na'vi people of Pandora, but Angela is unmoved, telling them they are not allowed to watch movies on her giant monitor. "Angela, this is so much more than a movie," Hodgkins says reverently.

The three sneak off to pitch a tent in line, although their plan to take turns manning it goes a bit off-track thanks to a female fan they meet in line. Sweets struggles with fidelity and the others must pretend they're actually working, providing a bit of levity to the narrative. In the end, Fisher misses the film in favor of getting it on with his new acquaintance.

Bones' Joel David Moore starred in Avatar

If this sounds a bit like an ad, it was. It was designed that way. In part, this was an in-joke designed for the audience, as actor Moore was actually in "Avatar." He played Dr. Norm Spellman, anthropologist and avatar driver, and is also set to return in the upcoming sequels (via Deadline).

In a Reddit AMA he did in 2013, Moore had nothing but great things to say about being on "Avatar," and expressed excitement about the sequels. "Working on 'Avatar' was fascinating from beginning to end. There really isn't one moment, the entire thing was like going to graduate school. Every day you're learning something new from Cameron. He is arguably the smartest man I've ever met, so it's all an educational experience," Moore said, also calling the cast "phenomenal."

Though his romantic subplot was cut out, the character of Spellman had his own personal hero arc. During the movie's epic conclusion, in the battle of Hometree, Norm survives — but his Na'vi avatar does not, and the connection between the two allows him to experience his avatar's death in a very unusual way. Then, Spellman remains in his human form when he is permitted to stay on Pandora as the head of a new exploration team. 

The Avator subplot earned Bones some funding while letting its characters 'geek out'

According to Moore, the idea to create an "Avatar" plotline on "Bones" came from "Avatar" producer John Landau, who thought Moore's presence on the show made a tie-in a natural fit. Moore said this worked because "Bones" was known its sense of humor. He told the Wall Street Journal, "This is an ad you can't fast-forward through. And if it convinces a 'Bones' watcher to see it, all the better."

"Bones" never shied away from doing product placements like ones for Toyota, nor was it quiet about this particular one, engineered by Fox's parent company. Showrunner Hart Hanson admitted to KathyReichs.com that he jumped at the chance to increase the show's budget, since money was tight, and expressed a full willingness to be blamed for the whole thing — which he certainly didn't regret, since it enabled them to have more opportunities in other episodes. As he said, "I thought if we can get a chunk of money, it might mean that we can go out for more locations or get a bigger guest star. So we just hung a lantern on the fact that we were doing it. And in my bin of ideas, I had always wanted the geeks to geek out somewhere, so that fit into our story."

So yes, even at the time it was acknowledged that the product placement in "Bones" was part of the immense marketing campaign for the sweeping sci-fi epic. A Gizmodo article declared, "'Bones' proves that liking 'Avatar" will get you laid." Can't get much more obvious than that.