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'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 form exposed.
   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 died.
   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 strength.
   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 © 2005 Media Life


-  Steven Rosen is a Los Angeles writer.


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