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.
Wowowowowowowoowowowow…you actually spent hours and hours of your life watching an incredibly poor show. The writing is mundane…I am being generous here…the acting on a par with a Jr
High school play and the sets absurd. Wowwoowowowowow…I am impressed with your time. Wowowowowowowoowowowow. Yikes. I’m done here
Bye! Have a great life doing much more worthwhile things with your down time than I do.
Seriously: I enjoyed the show, yes. If that’s enough to scare you off, that’s fine with me.
This is exactly how I watched the show: starting on the elliptical and then just filling in odd tired moments. I frequently thought it was dumb and not very good while I was watching, and I got increasingly annoyed with the more baroque plot elements (that serial killer thing), but I did not care, because it was giving me what I wanted: a consistent and familiar way to pass the time when I needed something consistent, familiar, and undemanding. Wowowowowow. 😉
I think your interpretation is spot on. The show was perfect for when you want to watch something that’s interesting but don’t want to do any big intellectual work with figuring out what it all means. I think Brennan did change, though, just a bit.
You’re right: she got more open-minded and also better at expressing her feelings. There were changes among the other characters too–but still, nothing on the scale of Wesley or Spike. I liked the rotating cast of interns, and I loved Sweets (sniff).
Wait, so you now have times when no one is demanding your attention?!?!
It happens eventually, I promise! It’s a bit unnerving at first.
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I stopped watching when Brennan got pregnant. I realize that this was how they dealt with the actress’ pregnancy, but an unplanned pregnancy seemed completely out of character to me. And that was what drove their marriage. After that, I can’t imagine the writers breaking them up. Too many viewers would be angry.
Yes, that was a really awkward jump, though I think it helped some that they didn’t in fact get married right away – that step still had some time to be earned.
I’ve never seen Bones, and I agree with you on West Wing, and on Buffy, which I watched when it was on the air (while simultaneously following a BTVS discussion group on Salon’s now defunct Table Top). If you want to write a post on Sex and the City, I’d like to read it. I saw maybe an episode or two when it was on the air. But I’m now working my way through it on Amazon and am enjoying it.
And i’ve just watched the second season go GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling on Amazon), which I like quite a bit. It follows a somewhat larger group of women in a life situation that’s very different life situation from the SitC quartet. The women in GLOW are ethnically diverse (Black, Latina, East and South Asian, and, of course, white) and from varying economic circumstances, but all in a situation where being a female wrestler on local cable TV represents a step forward.
Meanwhile, Amazon has just gotten the 15th season of NCIS, and I’m psyched. It’s no West Wing, or Madam Secretary (much less The Wire or Deadwood), but I do like it. It’s one of the most popular network TV shows ever, and apparently scores well in the Trump demographic, though I wouldn’t hold that against it. In fact, it works hard a maintaining a distinction that the Trump administration ignores, the distinction between one’s personal interests and the duties and responsibilities attached to one’s professional life (in this case, Navy Criminal Investigation).
NCIS sounds like it might be a good Bones substitute but it doesn’t appear to be available to me — I only have Netflix, and our Netflix has hardly anything compared to yours. It does have GLOW, though, so I might give that a try. I wrote about the second SATC movie, which I thought was pretty bad but in thought-provoking ways. I’ve never written directly about the series–if I ever do a full rewatch I might! I thought Emily Nussbaum’s piece on it was really good.
If you haven’t watched Angel but liked Buffy, I recommend it. When it is bad, it is maybe (arguably) worse than the bad bits of Buffy, but when it is good, it is really, really good.
Thanks for tipping me to the Nussbaum piece. Just read it and liked it a lot. Too bad about NCIS, though. It’s an interesting hybrid between a police procedural (with up-to-date high tech forensics) and action/adventure. And it’s got a running motif that I find interesting. Various characters tend to ramble on while explaining themselves. At about the point that this becomes intolerable, Gibbs (The Boss) will tell them to come to the point. There’s something going on there, but I haven’t figured out just what it is.