If it’s January, it must be time for the TCA’s Winter Press Tour, where television critics get together in L.A. and listen to studios try to convince them that they should try to convince us to watch their shows. On the bright side, the information that dribbles out about upcoming shows often provides a welcome distraction to the reality that is Post-Holiday-Winter. Like, say…Bones being renewed for a ninth season. Whoo-hoo!
This really wasn’t much of a surprise to me, as Hart Hanson indicated last fall that they expected it, and Fox has been struggling of late in their efforts to launch new shows. But it’s still a big deal. It’s always a big deal when a show pulls off that many seasons.
The responses were about what I expected, too. I saw people who love the show celebrating; I saw people who watch the show but don’t like it complaining (no, that never makes sense to me, either); I saw people who stopped watching the show years ago expressing surprise (if they’re not watching, no one should be), and I saw the honest confusion of people who have never watched the show and had no idea it was even still airing.
I’ve heard some variation of that last one so many times over the years that I’ve come to think of Bones as the invisible show. It’s there, it’s got a very loyal audience that follows it all over the schedule…while a great many other people remain clueless about it. I’m not talking about people who generally pay little attention to what’s on TV, or people who know about it but are simply uninterested in it, but rather, those who consider themselves relatively TV-savvy and yet are unaware the show is still on the air.
Note that I’m not saying everyone should watch the show – I’d rather have a root canal than watch Two and a Half Men, so it seems only fair to acknowledge that a show I love won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But the idea that such a well-established show can be apparently so invisible baffles me, so I started asking questions, trying to figure it out.
In the early years, I think it may have been due to Bones’ schedule-hopping. (New episodes have aired on every weeknight except Friday.) But I think some of it also may be due to wrong assumptions about what it’s about, which allows some people to not really process any publicity they see for it.
So here, for your reading pleasure (hah!) is a not entirely tongue-in-cheek overview of what one of TV’s current longest-running shows is – and is not – about.
First, what it’s not (based on comments from people I’ve discussed it with):
- It’s not a PBS science documentary series on the human body (though I do know an impressive number of bones now)
- …nor even a documentary about archaeology
- It’s not a show about author Kathy Reichs, nor is it a direct adaptation of her novels, though she does serve as a producer on the show, and has written for it
- It’s not a show about two people who fight all the time
What it is (granted, this will reveal my biases…)
- It’s a genre-blending procedural (crime show), that mixes in comedy and romance with the drama of a murder solved every week
- It’s about a team of people led by a forensic anthropologist and a FBI agent
- It’s character-driven in that the talents and personalities of the team members are integral to the murder being solved – unlike some procedurals, the focus of the show is not the forensic science, but rather the people
- It’s character-driven in that stories about the team’s personal life accompany – and are often entwined with – the murder story
- If the show has a theme, and I believe it does, it would be ‘there’s more than one type of family’ – demonstrated by the relationships among the team
That last one is what I really love about Bones: it’s a show about a group of likable but flawed people working together to solve murders. They don’t always get along – the empirical scientists clash on a regular basis with the by-the-gut cop and his FBI psychologist sidekick – but they repeatedly put those differences aside to find justice for victims, and they always come through for one another.
For me, that’s the heart of it. Every show I’ve ever loved has been about interesting, likable, flawed people and their relationships, and this is one is no exception.
And Bones excels in the area of interesting characters and relationships. I can think of several shows where after watching for several weeks, I still couldn’t tell the supporting characters apart or remember their names, but Cam and Angela are distinctly different in mannerisms and personality, and I think even a first time viewer would see differences in Wendell and Fischer.
In respect to the relationships, the show tends toward idealism, positing that two people who were once lovers can later be colleagues and friends, rooting for one another’s happiness in new relationships. But in a world too often scarred by bitterness and cruelty, I like the idea that love and friendship can win the day.
But if the show leans toward idealism in its big picture portrayal of relationships, it shows their intimacy much more realistically than is the norm. Television quite often uses a type of shorthand to depict romantic relationships: we see two people flirt with one another while dealing with whatever the main plot of the episode is, and occasionally, when a crisis hits, we see How Much They Love Each Other. What we don’t generally see are the two simply having fun together, or discussing life philosophies, or the moments of genuine emotional intimacy so essential to real relationships. It’s as if the shows give us moments that represent a relationship, rather than showing us the real thing.
Bones gives us those moments. We see Booth and Brennan talk about religion and movies, Smurfs and purple elephants; we see them ice skating, dancing, playing video games and fixing a sink together; we see them at hockey games, funerals, and even a wedding. (Well, okay, the wedding didn’t happen right then, but still…)
We see separate lives merging into ‘a single life, shared.’
And that is what the show is about to me, and why I love it. Roll on, season eight – and nine!