'Bones,' from the
heap of tired ideas
A truly clever premise but all else is borrowed
By Steven Rosen
Bodies are everything on
television, from the beautiful, sexy hard bodies of “Baywatch” and “Sex
and the City” and all their well-toned, curvy and muscular
derivatives to the grisly corpses of police-procedural shows like
“CSI” and “The Closer.” Television likes the human
That’s because it has a ready, waiting audience. The
American public loves to look at other people’s bodies, dead or
alive, gorgeous or grotesque, in close-up or crowd shot. It’s
voyeurism at its most elemental level, but it’s also an
affirmation of a shared bond between human beings. We’ve all got
bodies and they change as we age and die.
The new Fox series “Bones” tries to take this undeniable
truth to a new extreme. It throws us a bone--an actual decayed piece
of a human body--and then has some sleuths use it to imagine what
the person must have looked like in his or her prime. And how they
Emily Deschanel stars as prickly but brilliant forensic
anthropologist Temperance Brennan, who works for Washington’s
fictional, Smithsonian-like Jeffersonian Institution and is
uncannily gifted at finding clues about someone’s life and death
by analyzing bone fragments.
It’s an amazingly clever notion, brilliant even, and the
show’s writer/co-executive producer Hart Hanson (“Joan of
Arcadia,” “Judging Amy”) deserves full credit for its twist of
originality. It’s nothing less than a secular metaphor for the
Creation Myth because what Brennan is doing, in a way, is creating
life out of nothing.
But alas, the execution doesn’t match the conception.
Based on its first episode, “Bones” fails to evolve into a
gripping series. In fact, it quickly becomes so derivative of so
much else on television--especially, strangely, “X-Files”--that
one might even call it bone-headed. Worse, it didn’t need to go
this route. It lacks faith in its idea.
“Bones” starts badly with an airport scene in which
actress Michaela Collins exposes her breasts to an airline employee
to get attention. Not that there’s anything wrong with her body
(which is seen from behind), but who is she? The audience doesn’t
know anything about her character. And when that is established, she
turns out to be of secondary importance to the show. This desperate
attempt at attention-grabbing speaks poorly for the series’
self-confidence. And it sends a message that it doesn’t know where
to go with its premise.
Collins, by the way, plays a sassy, sexy Jeffersonian
lab technician who helps Temperance by making 3-D computer-generated
holographic images of people based on bone samples. A cute trick,
but those images spin “Bones” off in an absurdly science-fiction
direction that undermines the naturalism.
But then, so does the envisioning of Deschanel’s
character. She’s so insecure around living human beings that she’s
downright churlish in the presence of strangers and others she doesn’t
like. That might have potential for a compellingly flawed character,
but she’s also capable of physically beating the stuffing out of
anyone in her way. As a result, she’s an extremely unlikable loose
cannon. And her intelligence becomes secondary to her brute
Worse, “Bones” teams her with FBI agent Seeley Booth
("Angel's" David Boreanaz), who also is a trained sniper, to help with the
unsolved, high-profile murder of a congressional intern. The plot is
borrowed from the still-unsolved murder of Chandra Levy, a
government intern whose skeletal remains were found in a D.C. park
in 2002 long after she had gone missing. After she had disappeared,
it became public she had an affair with a congressman.
The anthropological sleuth work, which initially seemed
such a promising hook for “Bones,” takes a backseat to the
formulaic, action-oriented set pieces in which Seeley and Temperance
(where do they get these names?) confront various Washington
muckamucks who may know something about the victim.
“Bones” becomes just another hack cop series
trading off of yesterday’s headlines. It squanders its new idea to
become as stale and old as a pile of bones.
Sept. 13, 2005
Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles writer.