Unbreakable Bones


Broccoli is green. The presence of ice on one’s windshield indicates that it is extremely cold outside. White rice is white, unless there’s butter on it, in which case it’s roughly the color of snow after it’s been urinated on by a dog. Speaking of dogs, they bark, and, at some point today, a rerun (or four) of Bones will air on some station somewhere.

Bones, which has been around for a whopping 200 episodes (the second half of season ten commences this week on Fox), is as ubiquitous and nebulous as General Electric or Intel. You know it’s durable and successful, yet you don’t quite know what it does or sounds like. But rest assured that, at some point, it will unexpectedly impact your life.

I should know. Last fall, when I turned on TNT expecting to find David Price pitching in a Detroit Tigers playoff game, I found Bones instead — at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning (baseball games aren’t usually played this early during the week, but playoff schedules are slaves to television). Apparently, Bones has proven so sturdy in that unenviable time slot that the Tigers game had been relegated to the MLB Network, which, unlike Bones, is not a given on most cable packages. (I raced to a nearby bar; they didn’t have the MLB Network, but damned if they didn’t have Bones.) And Bones knows no off-season: This time of year, on TNT, Bones reruns often trump pro basketball or early-round March Madness, and when there’s literally nothing else to watch during fits of late-night channel surfing, the syndicated Bones will assuredly turn up on some local channel, be it in Seattle or Selma.

It got to the point where Bones began haunting my flipper to such an extent that I resisted the urge to surf past it. For five minutes, I watched Bones — and it was unbearably corny. I took it for granted that Bones sucked, a certainty that grew more entrenched as the show continued to sap the life out of my home entertainment endeavors.

I had a beef with Bones, but was operating from a position of snobbish naïveté. I realized that there was only one way to ethically exorcise my televised tormenter: Why not bone up on Bones by binge-watching? This sounded awful, like being forced to lick Novak Djokovic’s corns after a five-set U.S. Open finale. It turned out to be anything but.

A lot of people — 8 million per new episode — watch Bones, yet Bones generates a lot less chatter than far newer shows with far fewer viewers. About the only time Bones has tiptoed its way onto pop culture’s radar was when Ben Affleck mockingly mentioned the show as a sort of in-joke in The Town.

Through its quiet perseverance, Bones is a throwback of sorts; it exists simply to be watched. It has an old-school title sequence — scored by the Crystal Method — after every first segment, which dutifully sets up the crime that is to be solved, and stock shots of the National Mall precede every closing scene. In most ways, it’s a classic police procedural, only Bones’ CSI lab — a mythical techno-geek affiliate of the FBI known as the Jeffersonian — makes CSI’s set look like Barney Miller’s, and the show is wackier and warmer than its harder-boiled genre-mates.

While Bones is an ensemble affair — with supporting roles pleasantly played by Judd Apatow vets like John Francis Daley and Carla Gallo, and cameos featuring virtually every C-list actor (Morgan Fairchild, ladies and gentlemen!) you can think of — it revolves around the relationship between polar-opposite partners. But since these colleagues hail from opposite genders, and because the tension’s too thick for them not to bang, Bones puts the fuck in buddy cop.

Bones’ lead characters don’t have names like Walter White or Carrie Mathison. Harking back to an era when unreality TV was all you got, they have names that could only exist in a work of scripted fiction. To wit, Emily Deschanel — Zooey’s big sis — plays an ingenious forensic anthropologist named Temperance “Bones” Brennan, who’s so deaf to anything but her job that she brushes off even obvious cultural references with the catchphrase “I don’t know what that means.” She’s paired up with — and eventually gets knocked up by — David Boreanaz’s Special Agent Seeley Booth (Seeley’s a surname, trust me), a volatile war veteran and recovering gambling addict who trusts his gut above all else.

Boreanaz and Deschanel have limited range, with the latter’s incessant, valley-girl upspeak approaching Caruso-like levels of self-parody. Yet it’s still amazing that they’ve seemed content to go right on starring in Bones, season after grueling 24-episode season, without so much as taking spot film parts. Boreanaz, who made his bones (oops) on the WB shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, is no Matt Damon, but, with his square jaw and heartland hunkiness, he’d be perfectly credible as an infantryman in something like American Sniper.

Then again, maybe such modest aspirations are what make them so relatable. In Bones, they and their co-stars are easily distracted from the most serious of crimes by petty small talk and domestic quibbles. While Booth may be an outsider, Brennan and her fellow “squints” are more like family to one another than their actual kin — especially Bones herself, who was sent to live in foster homes as a teen after her dad (played by Ryan O’Neal) was thrown in jail.

If The Wire — which would have had Stringer Bell burst out in song for Bones’ ratings — was a snout-to-tail pop-up in Greenpoint, Bones is a Denny’s on Long Island. It’s not there to start some sort of agrarian culinary movement; without taking itself too seriously, Bones just cares about being reliably tasty and filling, and about sticking around.

But ain’t that America? There are peacock-like programs — and people — who demand to be seen and heard by the cognoscenti, and then there’s everyone else. “Everyone else” coaches Little League and watches Bones with their families. Think about that the next time you’re blowing a day’s pay on negronis, grilled octopus, and some exquisite redhead you don’t stand a chance with. Odds are you won’t be talking about the latest episode of Bones.

Mike Seely watches Bones from his living room in West Seattle after tucking his two toddlers in (and prior to mixing negronis). Follow him on Twitter @mdseely.

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