Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We Get The Concept . . . But It's Hard To Buy Into Bones Season One!

The Good: Funny, Decent acting, Interesting concept
The Bad: Repetitive, even in its first season, Somewhat obvious character developments
The Basics: In a bare "recommend," Bones - Season 1 fails to impress me as more than an average television show with a mildly interesting twist on the standard forensic crime drama.

There are some wonderful television series' that are running now that make a rather successful transition to DVD and probably benefit from the astounding DVD boxed set sales that seem natural for virtually any television program on DVD. While some programs work just fine in syndication, there are some that are timeless or have enduring greatness that make perfect sense going to DVD to benefit from the permanent medium. But some seem to dupe their way into the hearts and minds of the viewers. Take, for example, House, M.D. (season three reviewed here!). That show has done very well on television and on DVD, yet objectively when one considers the show, it is hard not to acknowledge that essentially every episode is more or less the same. House encounters a medical mystery, insults his staff, gets the diagnosis wrong, nearly kills the patient and a chance fact clues him into the correct ailment and treatment. There are exceptions, sure, but it is a pretty formulaic program and the more one watches the episodes, the less exciting rewatching the series becomes.

This is the way it is with Bones as well, at least with "The Complete First Season" on DVD. For those unfamiliar with the program, the show is a crime drama that follows clues left by bones and live suspects and while the locations and cases change, essentially the show repeats itself over and over again and while watching it for the first time on DVD, I found that the series seemed to not have any idea how to tie itself together or develop, so it mostly just created the same episode over and over again. This is not to say it is entirely unpleasant, but there is the feeling that the show is not so much going somewhere as expecting viewers to be delighted by the process. But, like House, M.D., the process soon gets old.

Bones has a little more than one crabby doctor to rely on as well. There is a team, led by FBI agent Seeley Booth and Dr. Temperance Brennan. Brennan, an author and forensic anthropologist, is derisively called Bones by Booth and the two have paired before on cases when the series begins. However, as the first season of Bones commences, the conflicts between the male Booth and the female Brennan is palpable and the producers of the series seem obsessed with recreating a chemistry like what Mulder and Scully eventually developed on The X-Files (reviewed here!).

When Dr. Brennan returns to the United States bearing human remains in her luggage, she is detained by Homeland Security. As she is interrogated and attempts to explain that she has the appropriate paperwork for the bones, she is irked to be rescued by FBI Special Agent Booth, who appears to have orchestrated the detainment as his version of a prank and his attempt to get Brennan involved in a case he is working on. Having discovered some bones in the bottom of a lake, Booth impresses Brennan to aid in the investigation. Soon, her forensic investigation - along with the efforts of those at the Jeffersonian Institute - determines the identity of the victim is that of a missing Senate intern. As Brennan lists her demands to continue working with Booth, Booth reluctantly goes after the relevant Senator and his staff in the pursuit of the truth.

So begins the process by which Brennan and the Jeffersonian Institute begin an effective working relationship with the FBI and become - essentially - Booth's staff as he works to solve murders where the bodies are more or less gone and the bones remain. Cases include an Arab-American who is killed by a car bomb who appears to be a prominent member of a prestigious organization, a prep-school boy with a cochlear implant whose death the school wants classified as a suicide to save face, and a series of bones found in a bear that seem to indicate cannibalism in Washington State. There are bones in the walls of clubs and cars and airports and labs and deserts. Yes, there are bones all over and they have the clues needed to help determine just how the person who they originally belonged to died!

These are medical mysteries, like those on House, M.D., with a team, like that on House, M.D., led by a pair of investigators with very different styles, like on The X-Files. Yes, it is The X-Files meets House, M.D. and while the concept is initially interesting, it soon wears thin, if for no other reasons than it seems too familiar and too repetitive. In fact, the connection to The X-Files hardly seems lost on the creators of the series who make such an obvious homage to the show that they put the male and female leads in the same capacities. The X-Files sought to defy the expectations and stereotypes of the audience by switching the standard gender roles. As a result, Fox Mulder - the male - was intuitive, made leaps of faith and was more emotionally connected. Dana Scully, in The X-Files, was a medical doctor, trained in hard science and looked at pretty much the entire world through a lens of cold rationality. She was a scientist and everything she encountered had a factual, material cause and she refused to believe in the paranormal until she had ample scientific proof of its existence.

Similarly, in the first season of Bones, Dr. Brennan is a hard scientist. She does not make leaps of logic or faith. She does not play hunches. Instead, she lets the bones speak for themselves and she analyzes what is in front of her without assigning motive or even creating elaborate theories. By contrast, Booth is intuitive, plays hunches constantly and investigates using his gut instincts. He comes in with theories, prejudices (like against the prep school students) and ideas. He searches for motives and deals with the living people surrounding the bones that the pair investigates. But essentially, this whole season could be boiled down to "Booth and Bones solve medical mysteries by looking at a new set of bones each episode." The inherent weakness of this series, then, is that it lacks what The X-Files was smart enough to develop: a mythology. In addition to the "freak of the week" scary episodes, The X-Files developed a running conspiracy story. Bones, unfortunately, does not.

Instead, Bones becomes part of a mostly-episodic tradition in current television series where each episode stands alone, but a few character aspects change over the course of the season and the episodes. As a result, it is germane to see who the principle characters in the first season are. The stars of Bones are:

Dr. Temperance Brennan - Head of the forensic anthropology unit at the Jeffersonian Institute, called Bones by Booth, despite her dislike of the nickname, she is a brilliant medical doctor. She takes minute details and investigates bones of deceased victims to help put the dead to rest. However, the quality of her education and the morbidity of her practical experiences has left her more or less unable to function in the real world. Socially awkward, she trusts her team, but few others and she and Booth clash frequently. Soon, however, she sees some merit in the way Booth makes his leaps,

Special Agent Seeley Booth - An FBI agent and a decent profiler, he has a relationship that is rather long-term until they break up. More domestic than most would suspect, he is efficient and smart, but plays his hunches frequently and uses Brennan to prove what he suspects. Booth, while previously successful on his own, finds he is dependent upon Brennan to solve the new types of cases he is continually assigned,

Angela Montenegro - The computer analyst who takes the facts and measurements from the bones and creates holographic workups of the victims in order to allow Booth to track down real people as either victims or suspects. She is flirtatious, open-minded and often acts as a buffer between Booth and Bones,

Dr. Jack Hodgins - The government fearing, conspiracy theorist who is the materials expert, he tends to study the materials found around the bones and determines trace evidence in regard to the crime scenes. He and Booth have professional animosity and personal respect for one another,

Zack Addy - The youngest member of the team, he is an intern who is secretly (though barely disguised) in love with Brennan. He is inexperienced in relationships and love and acts as Brennan's right hand in collecting and analyzing bone fragments,

and Dr. Daniel Goodman - Brennan's boss at the Jeffersonian Institute, he is only too happy to loan Bones and her team out to Booth to try to keep the funding for the institute flowing.

Bones is generally well-acted in that the two leads are basically dominating the show with the rest of the cast acting more like sidekicks than an ensemble. As a result, actor Jonathan Adams is given almost nothing to do this season, save appear in episodes, nod, approve of what Brennan is doing and then leave. It is little surprise that Adams' character - Dr. Goodman - is only in this first season.

Far less dispensable are the roles played by Michela Conlin (Angela), T.J. Thyne (Hodgins) and Eric Millegan (Zack), though their parts are often relegated to making quips between them. In fact, the three provide exposition in the scenes they have with Booth or Brennan, but the rest of the time, they tend to play off one another in little bits that often have nothing to do with the rest of the episode - like in "The Man In The Bear," where they are left behind by Booth and Brennan and have encounters with the same sexy package delivery girl.

The show rests, then, firmly on the acting talents of leads David Boreanaz and Emily Deschenal. Boreanaz, perhaps best known for his part as the title role in Angel (reviewed here!) plays a much more emotionally accessible character as Booth in Bones. Fans of his work will be pleased to see him smile and walk around with a much looser body language than he had on his prior hit. As well, Boreanaz has the bearing and apparent strength to make him a credible FBI agent, completely selling the rounded facets of Booth's personality. As well, he plays off costar Emily Deschanel with a genuine sense of chemistry.

As for lead Emily Deschanel, she works well as Dr. Brennan. The problem is that her character requires her to have a certain stiffness that she seldom seems able to perfectly embody. In other words, she is seldom as credibly detached from the people in the real world as other characters say she is. Brennan is blunt and to the point, but there are flashes in Deschanel's eyes that often betray her humanity in ways that don't fit her character's alleged character traits.

On DVD, there are two or three commentary tracks and the one on the pilot is decent and informative. As most suspect, this is a David Boreanaz vehicle (he was cast first) and the show was designed to play to some of his strengths. There is also a featurette recapping the first season and it is all right, but nothing extraordinary.

In the end, the series is remarkably average, but worth the viewing, if not the buy. It is entertaining, but not much more. One suspects that years from now, when the series is on in syndication, people will use syndication more than DVDs to get their Bones fix. It's just that kind of program.

For other shows that originally aired on FOX, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Presents: It’s A Trap!
Glee - Season Two, Volume One
Fringe - Season Two
Arrested Development
The Lone Gunmen
Ally McBeal
Ned And Stacey - Season 1
The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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