Saturday, 13 January 2007

Bones Series 1 (2005-2006)

Bones The Complete Series 1

While we British turn out endless 'assume the audience is pig-shit thick' drama like Torchwood or (God forbid) Robin Hood, the Americans continue to trounce us with one series after another of well-written, well-acted drama that wouldn't look out of place in the cinema. Admittedly the Americans may adhere rather too formulaically to whatever is deemed to currently be the 'flavour du jour' when it comes to audience ratings (currently the Crime Scene Investigation series) but when the quality bar is this high, who cares?!

Bones is yet another 'crime analysts with a twist' detective series (the twist this time around being that they use bones to determine who/what caused the 'murder of the week'), but it's done with such charm and humour it's hard not to resist, even when it enters areas of self-parody with its two leads spouting inevitable lines about 'Mulder and Scully'.

On the minus side, the 'problem and resolution' stories themselves are rather pedestrian for the most part, and frequently get too bogged down with medical science specifics. The characters, too, are strictly from the 'Book of 1001 series clichés': There's the slightly eccentric FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), who doesn't like geeks or medics, has a son by a broken marriage, seems to screw around a lot, but underneath it all just wants to settle down and be a good father. Booth's partner in crime us an unfeasibly pretty geek who's irascible and blunt, but who's hurting from the mysterious disappearance of her parents and underneath it all (all together now) 'has a heart of gold'. The investigation team that the two leads are involved with are rounded out with the quirky 'total nerd' character, the 'secretly filthy rich leftie who resents any kind of authority' character, the 'pretty but completely mad with a shoulder that everyone cries on' female character, the 'overly authoritative' department boss character, etc etc.

It sounds like a disaster right? Perhaps not least because the success of the series rests mostly on the strength or weaknesses of its two leads, neither of whom have any kind of real history that shows they are up to the job. David Boreanaz, famous mostly for being pretty and not having to say anything in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel is not exactly well known for his charisma or acting talent. It's one thing playing the 'strong, silent type' for teen-oriented drama when you've got the right genes and are as square-jawed as Boreanaz, but the demands of hour-long (with adverts in the States) prime time detective series is another ball game entirely. So the surprise here is that the piece really works because of the strength of the two leads, and the very real chemistry between them. Boreanaz shows he not only has the acting talent to play a convincing male lead, but that he has brilliant comedic timing too, while his opposite number, played by Emily Deschanel knocks the ball out of the park, when it comes to giving depth and believability to a character which on paper shouldn't work at all.

The episodes, of which there are 24, each running at just over 45 minutes, are standalone 'murder investigation' stories that contain minor ongoing soap-style elements (the usual 'will they-won't they realise they're meant for each other?' guff vs the 'what happened to the missing parents' story arc of Deschanel's character) to keep viewers tuning in, culminating in a season cliff-hanger which is entirely predictable and slightly underwheming as a result. The main weakness, apart from the continuity problems of Boreanaz' hair colour, which, depending on whether the actor's remembered his Hennah that day or not, can change from red to brown and back to red again within a single scene, is that because the two leads are so strong and charismatic on screen, the actors who make up the other team members get pretty much abandoned by the writers just a few episodes in, relegated to regurgitating techno-babble whenever it's needed to give the story some sort of scientific credibility.

Bones screencap

The series takes up six discs, presented in three slimline cases in a boxed holder. Compared to other series, even at its recommended retail price, it's a steal, and shows how overpriced other, weaker, series like Without a Trace (presented on cheap and nasty double-sided discs at twice the price of this set) are. The picture is anamorphic widescreen throughout and shows none of the 'murky NTSC' problems of earlier DVD releases of American shows.

Extra's wise things are pretty much par for the course for TV series as recent as this, where the cast and crew are already overworked trying to get each season completed and don't have the time available to film a lot of additonal material on top. That being said, there are several featurettes, and commentaries that give some insight. The two leads even find time to make a commentary on one episode, although as is usual with these things, most of the time is spent trying to remember the episode, or joshing with each other, rather than providing any real insight to the series. Commentaries from the writers and producers do better on this front, and give some insight into the artistic disagreements that can mould or break a series, and the difficulties of producing drama of this quality at the rate required by the American TV network.

If, like me, you missed this series on terrestrial TV (actually, I think this may have been exclusive to Sky Satellite channels) then you could do a lot worse than buying the DVD set. It's up to the standard of most good American series, if not quite up there with the best, and certainly far superior to what constitutes an ongoing British drama series. Recommended!

Bones screencap

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