In Praise of Bones

Photo: Patrick Wymore/FOX
Patrick Wymore/FOX Photo: Patrick Wymore/FOX

Bones is not a cool show. This may sound like a counterproductive way to begin a piece claiming to praise it, but it’s not: Bones’s greatness lies in its lack of cool. Bones is a medical procedural that’s been on Fox for six years, moved time slots regularly, and performed solidly in all of them. Bones is the kind of show that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have taken to using as a punchline. Bones is the kind of show that is almost identical week in and week out: Every episode will have a really gross body; every episode will have someone using technology in a way that would require five months of data gathering in the real world, but only takes three seconds on TV; every episode will have Booth and Brennan flirting, but not nearly as much as you would like. This consistency is not its failing, it is its strength. Unlike some shows that were cool, and no longer are — Grey’s Anatomy, and probably pretty soon GleeBones has never been anything but what Bones sets out to be: perfectly middlebrow entertainment.

If Bones is the kind of show that is largely ignored by the critical establishment because it is neither particularly original nor creative, it still performs an under-appreciated but essential service: to be entertaining without being stupid, to be soothing without being boring, predictable without being unsatisfying. In short, to be a comfort, both comfortable and comforting. Bones is a show about quirky people who do a strange job while talking about how weird their feelings are, and it all adds up to something supremely, lovably regular.

Last night’s episode was a “big” episode for Bones. That means there was a murder, and a body, and lots of technology, but the body in question belonged to someone we knew — a recurring cast member who works in the lab as an intern — and the flirting, well, the flirting may have finally led to something more. After the death of the intern, our heroine Brennan — the genius forensic anthropologist with an undiagnosed case of Aspergers — climbed into bed with Booth, the more emotionally aware FBI agent with whom she has been having TV’s longest running will-they-won’t-they affair. Brennan cried, Booth comforted her, and the camera faded to black. The next morning, Brennan told her best friend Angela that she had gotten into bed with Booth. After saying “Hallelujah,” Angela asked what had happened next. Brennan smiled big and the camera … cut away. There were twenty minutes left in the episode, but no further discussion. All the looks — lots of smiles from Angela, between Brennan and Booth — suggest that something went down, but the audience won’t know until next week’s finale.

Though we know better than to expect that the two actually hooked up (obviously, we hope they hooked up), it’s exactly Bones’s uncoolness that make us think Booth and Brennan could get together without ruining the series. This is a show with a strict format: Find the body, ID the body, interview a suspect, suspect the wrong suspect, find the right suspect, who was usually the first unsuspicious person they talked to at the crime scene, all inter-cut with Booth and Brennan bantering about how she’s an emotional robot. If Booth and Brennan get together, none of this goes away: The structure of the show will save it from becoming too much about the relationship, and if you thought Brennan’s feelings were weird before, imagine her trying to be someone’s girlfriend.

But whether Booth and Brennan do the deed or not, Bones will keep chugging along, doing what it does, no fuss no muss. This reliability may help explain why Bones beat an original episode of Grey’s Anatomy in the ratings for the first time ever last night, and was just this morning ID’d as one of the most “social shows” on television by TV Guide (in a list that basically just makes the observation that the most watched shows on TV are also the most discussed, even if your personal Twitter feed is dominated by talk of NBC’s Thursday night line up.) Bones may not be cool, but not all good things are.

In Praise of Bones