overthinking the idiot box

April 10, 2006

In the world of television, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the writers and producers of hour-long crime dramas, and the viewers, who watch said dramas. These are their stories.

Be Careful Out There
Bones Revisited

by Andreanna Ditton

You can't really help but love a show that features the following dialogue. (All paraphrasing done by yours truly). "He's got skin. You know I don't do skin."

Seedy morgue dude leers. Booth tries really hard not to say something pornographic. Brennan looks at corpse covered in skin with disgust.

"Relax Bones. I didn't bring you here for him. It's what he's holding."

Seedy morgue dude raises his eyebrow. Booth still tries to not go for the cheap shot. Brennan gets ready to put up a fight until stilled by the sight of a finger bone in solution, at which point she freaks completely.

Sigh. Yeah. I think it's love. Big, dorky, I can't believe I'm going out with him because he wears polo shirts and bad sneakers and watches Pimp My Ride but he's still got a great ass and smells really good and that copy of Good Omens isn't just for show but then neither is that copy of Moby Dick, and that doesn't mean I'm gonna hafta read it again kind of love.

But on a character level, on a pure charm and quirk and snap and pop kind of level, well, it's really rocking.
Sure, the show still features the lamest mysteries this side of prime time, and it has yet to figure out how to do a proper climax (no, not that kind, although I remain certain that the time for the dirty sort of climax to arrive can't be too far off due to lots of really happy dorky UST between Booth and Brennan), but on a character level, on a pure charm and quirk and snap and pop kind of level, well, it's really rocking. Throw in the occasional piece of "oh my god that is just so gross," and Bones is pulling in the 'tween ( as in nothing to watch between The Simpsons reruns and Lost) vote. Enough so that it's been renewed for a second season. Yeah, and all hail FOX for finally not canceling a show I want to watch.

Now, at the beginning of the season, I had my doubts. I was annoyed by the overquirk, by the way the characters were stereotypes and not fully formed, by the overabundance of resources offered to these people and the pure fantasy of social scientists getting to play with million dollar toys. Hell, at that point, I was even annoyed by the lameness of the mysteries, but the lack of distinction between a forensic anthropologist and the CSI drones.

And you know what? Despite my doubts, Bones has stepped up to the plate and answered my fears. (And ifI hadn't been falling into love before, the skin line would have sold me.)

In part, the show has allowed Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) to retain her pop culture cluelessness while developing an actual personality. She's not just the dour anthropologist, out of touch with the people, and in touch with her inner dead person, sans skin of course. She's a scholar and a scientist and also a little bit of a thrill junky, at least around Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz). Brennan's ability to push Booth's buttons enough to get a reaction, while earning his affection has proved to be the core of the show. Sure, he's big and dumb and pretty, but he's not that dumb (and fond as I am of Boreanaz, he's not all that pretty. Not as pretty as say... oh wait, I'm still on my mentioning certain actors and their backsides and their pretty pretty blue eyes moratorium [You're so close to caving. So close. And when you do, I'll be there. -Liz]). And neither is she. For all her pop culture lackings, Brennan is quick on the uptake. She knows she's missing the joke, but she's smart enough to take advantage of that and not pout in the corner. Nor does she run off to buy a TV so she can figure out what anyone is talking about. And oddly, that's part of her charm.

The writers (and the actors, surprisingly enough) are letting these characters breath, react, interact. Boreanaz and Deschanel are both doing a great job of letting these characters grow towards each other at a natural pace. Their sexual attraction is there, but it's a nice low thrum that's secondary to the way they're learning to work together. It's a nice partnership, each learning to play — and recognize — the other's strengths, and make room for their weaknesses.

The refreshing aspect of this character trait (which could be labeled spunk — eww, not that kind — in a lesser creation) is that her lack of impulse control comes out in the context of working with Booth. He triggers some sort of itchy, antsy wanting to act not just react behavior. She doesn't foolishly run off to get attacked. She isn't some peppy sidekick, some loose cannon. When she has ended up in danger, it hasn't actually been her fault. Most of the time.
Brennan is a terribly competent scientist, a first class thinker. But what's fun is that she's also turning into an interesting (if mildly social awkward) person. And around Booth, she's got some impulse control issues. She doesn’t like to wait and see what happens. She likes to jump start things, even when not thinking them through can get her in trouble. The refreshing aspect of this character trait (which could be labeled spunk — eww, not that kind — in a lesser creation) is that her lack of impulse control comes out in the context of working with Booth. He triggers some sort of itchy, antsy wanting to act not just react behavior. She doesn't foolishly run off to get attacked. She isn't some peppy sidekick, some loose cannon. When she has ended up in danger, it hasn't actually been her fault. Most of the time. (You can't blame her for the Adam Baldwin/eaten by dogs thing. She was distracted by Booth's manly naked chest. And by her internet date. And by the other clichés that somehow fail to bother me because they're not exactly subverted but instead are laid out there like, "Yeah, we're pushing this button, using this rote trope, but it's okay. You'll like us still. We've got charm. We've got charisma. We know enough to let David Boreanaz be half naked in a hospital bed. It'll all be okay."). Instead of running off to fall into a danger the audience can see coming a mile a way, Brennan has a tendency to slap millionaires. To act like Dirty Harry. To yell, "This is the FBI, you're under arrest." To blackmail Booth into letting her drive. And because Booth appreciates her mind, and her weird socialization, and her very, very dry sense of humor, he doesn't react like a great lumbering ape. He rolls his eyes a lot, and he kind of lets her do what she does. And likes it.

The secondary characters are also fleshing out and proving to be much fun. Angela is more than the bubbly artist and gal pal; Hodges is more than snotty bug boy; and Zack — while still terribly unsocialized — is bright and eager and really, really annoying. In a good way. Even the head of the institute, the dour Dr. Goodman, is getting a personality. Apparently an archaeologist, he geeked out with the best of them at the prospect of 18th century treasury seals a few weeks ago.

For me, that's what's fun about Bones. These people are big geeks, and even with their slew of degrees, they're still having a good time being big geeks. These are my kind of people. Hodges is a bug expert, but he drives a classic Mini Cooper and likes pirate booty (and if I'm not mistaken, liked the booty on that pirate, well, not the pirate so much as the guy looking for pirate treasure!!). Brennan likes music, all music, including Foreigner and watching Booth play air guitar, kick up his heels and get Bones to sing along pretty much won me over. The show likes these people, with all their Asperger responses and goofy back stories, all their sniperishness and young geniusishness and queasy girly working in a lab with dead people anywayishness. There's heart to them, to how they interact, to how they're growing. Booth is establishing relationships with all of the people at the Jeffersonian. And Brennan is discovering that she likes to be the one asking questions of living people, not just sussing out answers from the dead.

At some point, the show's creators (Barry Josephson (“Hide and Seek,” “Like Mike”) and Hart Hanson (“Joan of Arcadia,” “Judging Amy”) are going to have to figure out how to structure a mystery, but for now, the characters and the interactions are overshadowing this lack. I, for one, want to know how far Brennan will push the questions about Booth's life as a sniper, how much it will affect her to come to terms with the fact that this person that she honestly likes has been the instrument of rendering people into a state of being that requires her skills. That his skills equate to death in the same way hers equate to answers. That his struggle for restitution in meting out that death equals her own struggle to give the kind of answers to others that she's never been able to find for herself.

And now here's where I play Jon Stewart to Liz's Stephen Colbert. For those playing along at home who don't actually have time to watch Bones, all is not lost! By the power of the internet, you can tune in to the latest issue of Liz Tells Frank What Happened on BONES This Week, where Liz Shannon Miller will regale you with the cute, pull the best quotes, and agree with me that the mysteries are ultra lame, but that this still in no way detracts from the adorable.


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