This article contains spoilers for Bones
I have watched nine series of Bones in the past two/three months. Nine. Some of these series have 25 episodes. If I stop and think of what a time commitment that is I’ll go stark raving mad. During the long, long months spent working at home this year I realised that in order to stave off noise-related anxiety I needed the TV equivalent of white noise to keep my mind occupied on work. Cue Bones which has frankly been my saviour. Bones lasted for an astonishing 12 seasons before finally going off air in 2017. It’s earliest episodes were so long ago that plot points involve looking at victim’s MySpace profiles.
What makes Bones such perfect pandemic viewing is that every, single, episode is exactly the same and (for the most part) nothing bad ever really happens. Booth (David Boreanaz) is an FBI agent, Brennan (Emily Deschanel) is a forensic anthropologist and together they solve crimes! Like the similarly themed Castle (writer pairs with a cop) the whole enterprise is ridiculous. The notion that this forensic anthropologist is out in the field with an FBI agent chasing suspects and shooting people is just crazy.
Really can’t stress enough how every episode is identical- there’s a cold open in which some poor bastard who will be scarred for life finds very gooey human remains in a darkly humorous way, then Booth and Brennan show up, bicker and flirt, everything gets taken back to the lab where Brennan’s army of interns strip the bones, Booth and Brennan flirt some more and talk to witnesses, Hodgins does experiments, the interns find evidence on the tiniest scrap of nothing, Booth and Brennan flirt some more and then they triumphantly solve the case.
The show had occasional recurring villains over the years (of which the best was the Gravedigger) but without fail these plot arcs were all resolved dismally – most notably the Gormorgan case which was an intriguing case of cannibalism and secret societies resolved in literally the worst way possible – poor poor Zack. The storyline was an infamous casualty of the writer’s strike but imagine being Eric Millegan and discovering you were being written out in such a nonsensical way!
As a show Bones was very, very bad at continuity and pay off. One episode had the psychiatrist Sweets (John Francis Daly) deciding not to work with the FBI anymore & the next he’s back with them as if nothing had happened. Booth and Brennan buy a total wreck of a house in one episode and the next it’s a million-dollar showhome. Huge storylines – Brennan’s family, Brennan going on the run, a massive conspiracy are all resolved neatly in a couple of episodes. That’s what makes Bones such soothing viewing at a time when I have googled the phrase “can I buy valium on-line?” more than once. Storylines that should have a profound effect on the characters fade into nothingness, everything gets happily resolved and then they’re back to looking at the next body. The show never really had the courage of its convictions. If the show could choose the gentler path it did. Brennan’s father was meant to be a hardcore criminal who abandoned his children. So they hired Ryan O’Neal in full “loveable rogue” mode to play him instantly making the character a cuddly teddy bear.
Not to say that the show doesn’t have its harrowing moments. When actor Ryan Cartwright who played the adorable intern Vincent Nigel Murray got another gig and when John Francis Daley wanted a little time off to direct both actors were brutally written off in a way which had me in pieces. I was particularly furious with Sweets being written off the show which was a weird choice given how heavily the show leaned on him in the years following Deschanel’s first pregnancy. He departs in an episode that signposts his exit at every turn (new guy, pregnant girlfriend, Booth and Brennan being lovely to him) but then if Daley had stayed the world might not have had Game Night (which he directed) and which I have watched approximately a billion times this year and that would have been a crime. (Seriously go watch Game Night this instant on Netflix it’s awesome).
Over the years the series made some truly wild choices. Stephen Fry turns up as a psychiatrist. Cyndi Lauper plays a psychic. They did a cross over with the show Sleepy Hollow. They go to London in 2 excruciatingly bad episodes. One season featured repeated product placement where the characters would literally stop the action to discuss the exciting features of the car they were driving. Deschanel’s sister showed up in a weird guest appearance because why not? One episode was entirely from the point of view of a ghost. One episode was a literal coma dream. Seriously this show is WILD.
What makes the show work is the charm of the ensemble and the Booth/Brennan relationship. The cast is fantastic. Brennan could have been an unbearable character but Deschanel is skilled at showing the caring, insecure woman beneath Brennan’s arrogant exterior. She also displays fine comedic skills in the episodes which require her to go undercover as “Wanda”. Boreanaz is charming and reliable as Booth. He’s a reassuringly steady presence. Cast MVPs are John Francis Daley as Sweets and TJ Thyne as “King of the Lab” Hodgins. Michaela Conlin brings much-needed sweetness to Angela who is a manic pixie dream girl made flesh. Angela is one of those female characters so obviously written by a man – she is wildly horny, possesses whatever skills the plot requires of her (she goes from art student doing caricatures to a multitude of specialisms) and has a rock star dad who has a storyline where he repeatedly drugs and kidnaps Hodgins tattooing him which he’s unconscious. So many of Angela’s storylines are presented as cute when they’re actually terrifying – Angela is celibate for 6 months by choice and is so dismayed by it that she sexually harasses every man around her. An entire subplot of one episode revolves around the gender of a guest character and it’s resolved when Angela hugs said individual and they get an erection. Sometimes men should just stop writing women.
Tamara Taylor is charming as Cam even though her wardrobe of 6-inch heels and thousand dollar body con dresses makes no sense whatsoever given that she’s a coroner dealing with gooey bodies all day long. The interns (with the exception of Oliver Wells and Jessica who bring new meaning to the word unbearable) are all entertaining with much love in particular for perpetually depressed Colin Fisher (Joel David Moore), Wendall Bray (Michael Grant Terry) and Arastoo Vaziri (Pej Vahdat). I was also a big fan of Clark (Eugene Byrd) whose character suffered so much workplace harassment and disrespect over the years he could have sued and ended up owning the Jeffersonian a million times over.
I have never wanted anything more in my life than for Booth and Brennan to get together. Seriously I was rooting for them every step of the way. For 5 seasons they played out this agonising will they/won’t they dance until the 100th episode when Brennan turned Booth down and stomped my heart to teeny tiny pieces. An infuriating season with a terrible replacement girlfriend followed with Booth turning a repentant Brennan down (again my poor poor heart!) until finally, finally they get together. Off-screen. Booth and Brennan got together off-screen. WHO DOES THAT? Of all the terrible ways they resolved ongoing storylines the decision to have Booth and Brennan get together off-screen after literally years of build-up and then immediately have Brennan knocked up was the worst. I feel personally robbed of the scene where they got together. For fans at the time, it must have been infuriating. The show surprisingly works well once they do become a couple but given the length of time, it took for them to get there the fans deserved more.
But that’s Bones all over – it’s a very modest show that sets out to entertain you each week and hopes you won’t want anything more from it. Which makes it perfect background noise. If you’re looking for a procedural that you can not really watch while trying not to climb the walls in lockdown you could do far worse than re-visit Bones.
Bones is now streaming on Amazon Prime.