The past couple of weeks have seen the return of new episodes for several shows since the WGA strike ended. It goes without saying (even though I'm going to say it...and here I go) that despite missing our favorite shows, the writers deserved a fair contract, and we're thrilled that they were able to work something out. And during rerun season, I feared that after watching too much 24-hour news during primary season, I was becoming clinically depressed. So, during a (thankfully short) period of unemployment, I turned to watching Fox's Bones on DVD. And I fell in love. Sorry, MSNBC -- I'm totally cheating on you with real entertainment.
After spending a very solid block of time watching every episode available to me (including a few pre-strike Season 3 episodes online), I was ready to make a very bold, James Lipton-caliber claim -- Bones might be the best show of its kind, perhaps ever.
Bones can easily be categorized as a procedural drama, about a bunch of good-looking young scientist-types working alongside good-looking young cop-types to solve crimes. The hook: it's also funny, and it might make you cry and/or vomit.
Among the scientists are forensic anthropologists, "bug and slime" experts and artists who can reconstruct a face from a skull -- collectively, the "squints." They show you that there are so very many ways to die a tragic and painful death and then be dumped and forgotten until some nosy kids find your carcass sticking out of a bush. Or some dog plays fetch with your femur. But whoever did that to you, the Bones team will find out who did it, when, why, what they ate beforehand, who they were thinking of at the time, and probably whether or not they (or you) have watched "2 Girls 1 Cup" too many times. (Oh, yes, I brought it back, baby.)
But subject matter aside, what makes Bones better than so many shows on TV right now is the very core purpose it serves -- telling stories. Bones treats us to not only the stories of the cases, but about the people who solve those cases. Sometimes, at least to me, it feels a bit awkward when we get too involved in the personal lives of characters in procedural dramas, even forced. But Bones isn't just about the crimes, it's also about the lives of some really well-developed characters. And these characters aren't transcendent of we mere mortals. An attractive crew by any standards, they still come off as approachable, real people with flaws and quirks. These are the fun people at work that you soooo wish would invite you to happy hour. And then they go home at the end of the day and have lives -- two of them are getting married, one of them has a son with an estranged girlfriend, one of them deals with a (very) dysfunctional family that wasn't the one she thought she knew. But there's a line that creator Hart Hanson, along with the writers and the cast of Bones, do not cross, and on the other side of that line is the head of a shark who is shampooing with Velveeta.
The actors who play these refreshingly accessible characters also stand out in how they don't stand out. All of them exquisitely talented, this was a show cast with actors, not celebrities, who have been able to create and build up these people for nearly three seasons. You don't get the impression that when one of them lets their guard down, it's all about the actors' Emmy reel. (Though I was a bit weirded out by the fact that Emily Deschanel has not been nominated, to say nothing of the rest of the cast, the directors, the writers... does the Academy have a tender sensibility or something?) Have some of them had emotional, vulnerable moments in which they cry, scream or threaten people people with violence? Yes, but in the case of Bones, it's not overblown into a "very special" episode, or a "MUST SEE THIS BIG FREAKING EXPLOSION" episode. They are people to whom things happen. You know, like me and you. Maybe not so icky or dire all the time, but this is their line of work. Again -- the writers and the actors are telling stories, and character development has happened naturally and organically.
Take, for example, the romance between Dr. Jack Hodgins (played by TJ Thyne, winner of the "Todd" Award for playing most "Todds" possibly ever) and Angela Montenegro (played by Michaela Conlin, who can claim having previously worked with Thyne, along with the rest of the Western world, maybe beyond). It wasn't the writers' intent to hook these characters up -- but the chemistry that the actors brought to their characters towards the end of the first season hinted at something more. It just happened. Isn't that how it usually works? This may explain why Bones herself, Dr. Temperence Brennan (played by Emily Deschanel, who likely makes many people wonder "Where have you been all my life?") and her partner Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz, who gets the chance to brood and giggle!) have had some close calls and obviously care about each other deeply, but just haven't taken that leap, and probably never will. It just hasn't happened. Maybe it won't.
And fans may not have liked it when Booth was hooking up with Dr. Camille Saroyan (the ridiculously beautiful Tamara Taylor), but hey, grown-ups have relationships, and sometimes they cross paths again and re-light that fire. And when those two ended their relationship when they realized it could be dangerous (no, really, actually life-threateningly dangerous), it was at a moment when any other show would have kept them together -- when the poor girl was lying in a hospital bed after being poisoned, almost to death. That's cold, but it's really not. It was natural.
Which leaves poor Dr. Zack Addy (played by Eric Millegan, who may never have to play a character over the age of 30), who hasn't gotten any since Season One. He's earned his doctorate, come back from Iraq and has settled into his new role at work. Millegan has expressed his desire to see his character become romantically involved with someone, but as Bones' most untapped character, the writers will have to come up with something that would be as unforced as Hodgins and Angela's romance and Brennan and Booth's un-romance, or else it will look like a stunt. (In the same interview, the musically-inclined actor also mentions trying to get Zack to sing on the show. Three words, Bones writers: Get. Him. Drunk.)
Hart Hanson has said in interviews that he's glad he gets to do the show that he wants - a procedural drama with heart and humor. It's a departure from Law & Order and CSI as well as Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy. Bones is wearing Chuck Taylors with its suit and doesn't care if you notice. Bones isn't out to get Emily Deschanel, Michaela Conlin and Tamara Taylor in a Cosmo photo spread, David Boreanaz stalked by TMZ, or Eric Millegan and TJ Thyne in a Michael Bay movie. (Unless that's what the sell-outs want...Kidding!) Hanson along with the show's inspiration Kathy Reichs, whose books and life experiences spawned Bones, have given us, the audience, the gift of a purely good show. It made me realize what I've always loved about writing and acting, how they go hand in hand, and how it all comes back to telling stories.
Here are the people who, in addition to Hanson and Reichs, write/have written the stories, because they wouldn't exist without them: Elizabeth Benjamin, Noah Hawley, Stephen Nathan, Laura Wolner, Karine Rosenthal, Scott Williams, Greg Ball, Steve Blackman, Christopher Ambrose, Janet Tamaro, and Gary Glasberg. (Forgive me if I've left anyone out!)
Bones comes back to tell stories Monday nights on Fox at 8:00 PM.
And enjoy their blooper reels: