The Nick and Nora of ‘Bones’

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Tischman is a freelance writer.

When a human arm is found inside the stomach of a dead bear, the FBI calls Dr. Temperance Brennan, the world-famous forensic anthropologist on “Bones.” As played by Emily Deschanel, Brennan is a beautiful, Mr. Spock-like genius with pop culture naivete (she’s never heard of “American Idol”) and great taste in clothes.

Brennan’s partner is FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth, a post-”Angel” David Boreanaz who’s grown beyond Buffy’s tortured vampire lover to become a latter-day John Wayne -- a man with a penchant for big belt buckles and crazy-patterned socks who needs to be a hero because there are bad people in the world.

The whodunit on “Bones” (Fox, 8 p.m. Mondays, except when postseason baseball is on) is never as interesting as how the clues are discussed, and the show’s success is rooted in the Nick-and-Nora banter of Brennan and Booth. Unlike the crime scene investigators of Las Vegas, Miami and New York, the Washington, D.C.-based “Bones” is a forensics show that reaches across the aisle and gives us a fresh and smart mix of gun-toting cop and idiosyncratic geek.


Whether it’s a control-freak office manager who’s been thrown down an elevator shaft (and whose dead body’s been riding up and down -- up and down -- for days), a sleazy TV reality host buried at the bottom of an outhouse propelled topside by a methane explosion, or a human skull tossed off a highway overpass that causes a three-car pileup, the human remains end up at the Jeffersonian Institute -- a fictional version of the Smithsonian that allows oil drums of human waste to be shipped to its premises for testing. Once there, Booth strides through Brennan’s implausibly high-tech lab trying not to break things, like the quarterback of the football team getting his plays from the statisticians.

Yes, the sexual tension hangs heavy, and everyone knows Booth and Brennan want to do it, Sam-and-Diane style -- but series creator Hart Hanson also writes an adult male-female friendship that is wonderful and special without being precious.

Brennan and Booth try to explain away the respect and concern they feel for each other as something simple -- they’re partners, like Mulder and Scully -- but “Bones” gives us the first on-screen pairing that makes you think and gives you pause; if they do have sex, will it ruin the friendship?

Watching a long-standing relationship move to the next level can kill a show (“Moonlighting”), or it can force the writers to create crazy-elaborate scenarios to keep the post-coital couples apart (“Grey’s Anatomy”). “Bones,” now in its fourth season, has chosen to address the issue through therapy.


Sent to therapy

Last season, we met FBI psychiatrist Dr. Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley). Shoehorned into the cast because Brennan and Booth are squabbling -- apparently not everyone was enjoying the banter -- this Frasier Crane in a bar mitzvah suit threatened to sever the duo’s partnership unless they endure his weekly therapy sessions. Hanson -- who infused organic laughs into emotional situations on “Judging Amy” and “Joan of Arcadia” -- plays Daley’s Dorian Gray-like youthfulness for over-the-top comedic affect, and it’s short-circuited the effort. Brennan and Booth mock Sweets as they try to avoid his sessions, and Daley’s become little more than Charlie Brown with a couch.

Like real candy, a little Sweets goes a long way, and forcing the characters to talk about their feelings has become a dramatic crutch. Is Booth overprotective of Brennan because she’s a woman? Did Brennan’s abandonment by her parents suspend her emotional growth? Who cares? Show me; don’t tell me.


“Bones” also deals with relationships via the hot-and-heavy, intra-lab romance between two of Brennan’s co-workers -- Dr. Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne), a cynical entomologist who can hatch insect larvae found on a victim’s shoe and give you the scene of the crime within a five-mile radius, and Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin), a pan-ethnic hipster who creates computer simulations from skull fragments. That relationship imploded, showing Brennan and Booth what happens when friends play with a Bunsen burner.

But the necessary (and honest) awkwardness of that breakup has been diffused by adding more humor (again?) into the tech -- as a series of quirky guest-spot graduate students vie for an open position in the lab. Yes, just like on “House.”

“Bones” is inspired by the work and mystery novels of real-life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs; in the series, Deschanel’s character pens the same kind of thrillers. Hanson added the character of Booth for the show. However it came to be, the pairing of these characters works for this smart, adult crime drama. So let Brennan and Booth have sex. If it all goes wrong after that, they can handle it -- and so can we.