I don’t write up every TV show I watch, but I just finished a complete viewing of all 12 seasons of Bones and 12 seasons is a lot–so I thought it deserved a bit of comment. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
The first thing that strikes me is that Bones is not actually a show that prompts a lot of reflection. It’s certainly unlike Buffy and Angel, both of which invite interpretation in a non-literal way that makes them quite different even from the other TV shows I have enjoyed thinking and writing about (Friday Night Lights, for example) or that I am always happy to dip into again (for me, this list includes Sex & the City, Gilmore Girls, and The West Wing, for example). Bones is not as good a show as any of these–it has no layers, its characters are remarkably static, its storylines are often ridiculous, and its favorite plot device is the manipulative fake-out. Overall I thought the show’s writers played it really safe: they just kept doing more or less the same kind of thing over and over and over.
And yet, having said that, I watched all 12 seasons because the kind of thing Bones did was pretty entertaining and its consistency made it a comfortable imaginative space to hang out it. I started watching it while running on the treadmill over the winter: it was perfect for that. Then I kept going because it was also perfect for the odd moment after work or after dinner or whenever nothing else in particular was going on that demanded my attention (something you never think will happen when your kids are small) but when I was too tired or distracted to feel like reading. The plots kept me just curious enough every time, and I cared just enough about the people involved, that I was never bored watching it. I just can’t imagine watching it all again.
My biggest bone to pick with Bones is that the writers didn’t have the courage not to marry off Booth and Brennan. I understand that there’s a lot of cultural pressure to have a romantic relationship between your male and female lead and that this is something a lot of fans wanted. Watching the first few seasons in the wake of the #metoo and #timesup movements, though, I found it really refreshing to see a man and a woman in a working relationship who didn’t lust after each other. It felt really healthy, and I enjoyed the way Booth and Brennan pushed back against the constant assumption that because they trusted and fought for each other they must also be lovers. It’s true that marriage and children add elements to a series that are useful for both plot and character development–but I can easily imagine how much richer the arcs could have been if they had married other people, especially people outside law enforcement, and then dealt with the challenges of those people’s feelings towards their work and their partnership. I knew when I started the show that they did eventually marry, so I knew it was coming; still, I was disappointed. I got used to it, though, and I admit I thought their married relationship was pretty cute overall. I’m glad they never stopped bickering, at least.
Probably my favorite thing about the show was the science. I read around a bit to see if it was any good, and I gather it’s at least not terrible, though of course it is all sped up and simplified. (I don’t know if any of the things Angela does are plausible: I found the “Angelatron” stuff the hardest to take seriously.) Regardless of the accuracy of it all, it’s always presented as if we should find it gripping, and I especially appreciated the unapologetic enthusiasm of Brennan and Hodgins for their work. (I loved Hodgins’s experiments.) Even Booth’s frequent impatience with the “squints” didn’t detract from the fact that in this show, nerds are not just cool–they are heroic! And with the exception of Avalon the psychic, the show had little truck with unscientific theories or methods. Booth’s “gut”–and his faith–are significant parts of his individual character, but solving the case always came down to the evidence.
The other thing that kept me loyal to the show was how much I enjoyed the characters as a group. This was key to my enjoyment of Buffy and Angel as well. While the characters in Bones really don’t evolve–not at all, not just not in the remarkable way characters like Spike, Wesley, and Cordelia do in the Whedonverse–they are a nice group to (virtually) hang out with. By and large they are all good to each other, and they all aim to do good in the world. I will say that watching 12 seasons of David Boreanaz being staunch and upright–which of course he’s very good at–made me nostalgic for the moral complexity of Angel/Angelus. I’m pretty disappointed that Angel has disappeared from Netflix! I might have to somehow add it to my permanent collection. But not every show is worth that kind of commitment, and that’s OK. I mostly watch TV for a bit of company, and for all its gross decomposing corpses and creepy serial killers, Bones was just right for that.