cast: David Boreanaz, Emily Deschanel, Michaela Conlin, Eric Millegan, and T.J. Thyne
creator: Hart Hanson
963 minutes (n/r) 2005-6
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
20th Century Fox NTSC DVD Region 1 retail
reviewed by Christopher Geary
Combining the techno heroes’ detective work of C.S.I. with the male/ female leads’ crime-fighting partnership and sexual chemistry of The X-Files (1993-2002) and Moonlighting (1985-9), this Fox network TV show is inspired by the life and work of forensic anthropologist, Kathy Reichs, a prominent scientist and novelist. In a neat twist on the straightforward adaptations of cri-fi to TV series, Reichs’ fictional heroine Doctor Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan, as played here by Emily Deschanel (Boogeyman, 2005), becomes the FBI’s trusted consultant boffin, who also writes fiction about “aggressive” heroine ‘Kathy Reichs’.
The FBI connection is special agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz, Angel), whose partnership with Dr Brennan is the obvious focus of Bones as TV drama. The doc is a professional scientist working at a hi-tech lab complex in the entirely fictional Jeffersonian Institute (an obvious reference to the Smithsonian, of course!) based in Washington D.C. For the Jeffersonian, Brennan helps FBI agent Booth with his cases, using Institute resources and her scientific skills to identify human remains from grisly homicides, often by examining just bits of skeletons. The Jeffersonian team also process trace evidence, and Brennan heads the lab ‘squint’ squad, which includes fun-loving artist and 3D holo-projector expert Angela (Michaela Conlin); Brennan’s young assistant, nerdy genius Zack (Eric Millegan); and resident bugs-and-slime specialist, and sarcastic loudmouthed conspiracy theorist, Doctor Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne), who’s also the eccentric heir to a mega-corporate fortune.
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A fiercely independent atheist, brainy Brennan frequently engages in philosophical and moral arguments with penitent catholic ex-soldier Booth. She’s the emotionally distant and socially awkward intellectual; he’s the proverbial ‘good’ cop with a dark past, and the heart and soul of this successful crime-solving duo. Much fun derives from when Booth fails to understand a word of the squints’ jargon loaded scientific explanations, or whenever fact-obsessed academic Brennan is confused by popular culture references in the team’s banter. Unusually, the show’s driven by its typically amusing dialogue scenes, character interactions, and fascinating C.S.I. type science ‘lessons’, as exciting action sequences are few and far between. Fully immersed in her studies on decayed and fragmented bodies, Doc Brennan is an international traveller due to her work but, ironically, she’s a woman who doesn’t really ‘get out much’.
Interestingly, although supporting character Zack is clearly the stereotype of a class nerd, despite his impressively lofty IQ, the personality of Doc Brennan is not in the least bit geeky. She’s aloof but rarely condescending, psychologically troubled – due to being a teenage orphan, but she’s extremely articulate and clearly passionate about using her work to help people. She prefers to have a gun for FBI fieldwork, though! And has no qualms about shooting unarmed bad guys if she feels threatened.
The beautiful Deschanel and handsome Boreanaz are excellent leads. Boreanaz, in particular, manages the difficult job of emerging from the shadows of his previous TV starring role as the brooding antihero vampire-with-a-soul Angel, and so, right from the start, we accept him as a tough, yet caring, FBI agent with a keen sense of humour. Deschanel’s role as the titular Bones is actually much harder to portray in anything like a realistic fashion, as Doc Brennan’s initially unsympathetic manner risks disturbing mainstream TV viewers, and alienating even genre fans, especially with Brennan’s apparent insensitivity to the emotional fragility and obvious misery of bereaved families and victims’ surviving loved ones. But this actress is talented enough for the challenge and turns her feminist character’s failings and unsociable quirks to her advantage. We can admire Deschanel’s ability to project the authority of a highly qualified scientist, and warm to Brennan’s engaging individuality and principled behaviour. In many ways, she’s a postmodern equivalent of genre icon, Professor Quatermass, but rather better looking, obviously! Still, whoever might be perceived as a forerunner of Dr Temperance Brennan, the gorgeous Deschanel portrays a strong and self-reliant woman (one who eschews motherhood options, much to the dismay of a radio interviewer), and television drama could do with more such progressive role models.
Episode titles are tersely descriptive (A Boy In A Tree, The Girl In The Fridge, The Woman In The Car, The Man In The Morgue, etc); there are car-bombs, hangings, animal attacks, exhumations, burnt corpses, crash victims, missing persons cases, suspected murders, probable suicides, drowned pirates, dead superheroes, cancer patients, buried soldiers, and – the obligatory – serial killer case. Worthy of special attention is the pilot episode, which establishes the programme’s sturdy framework with appealingly brisk efficiency, the Poe-influenced The Man In The Wall, the dual (L.A. and D.C.) troublesome-identification plotlines of The Woman At The Airport, the mystery corpse from an air-crash on a golf course in The Man On The Fairway, a subterranean murder story, some post-Katrina voodoo horrors, and season finale The Woman In Limbo, which sees Brennan makes shocking discoveries about both her parents. It’s hard to pick a duff episode from this nonetheless disparate batch of well-written scientific adventures, but the lab-quarantine at Christmas story of The Man In The Fallout Shelter is deplorably maudlin, in spite of its engaging character study moments, resulting from the possibly-infected squints’ isolation, and (predictably needless) fears of tragically premature death.
This DVD boxset of four ‘flip-discs’ has all 22 episodes from season one; slim-line packed in a slipcase with semi-transparent outer sleeve. The bonus material, used as time-filler on both sides of disc four, includes brief featurettes on the squints (cast members prepare for their roles), The Real Definition (a guide to forensics’ terms), a sketchy biog of the real Kathy Reichs (who’s a producer and technical consultant on Bones), and photo-and-text-only character profiles. This lot doesn’t really amount to very much, when a proper behind-the-scenes documentary hour might well have been quite fascinating, but at least the DVD makers have tried.