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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Bones' pieces together mysteries of the dead

September 13, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Some people just lead interesting lives. Dr. Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist for the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington whose work takes her from genocide in Guatemala to the discovery of a missing Senate intern in Washington. She also writes novels and is a martial-arts whiz. She's single, but a word of warning, guys: She's closed off emotionally.

Fox's "Bones" stars Emily Deschanel as Brennan, a.k.a. "Bones" (although she hates to be called that). Like the Patricia Arquette character on NBC's "Medium" or Jennifer Love Hewitt in CBS' new show "Ghost Whisperer," she is a woman married to her work, work that involves entanglements with the unsolved histories of the dead.

Bones poses this as a "Sex and the City" lament. "My most meaningful relationships are with dead people," Brennan complains. We see her moony and focused, putting back together the shattered pieces of a skull, as a mournful alt-rock soundtrack plays.

The show is part procedural -- diatomaceous earth offers an important clue in the pilot -- although it wants to be more character-driven and warmer than your garden variety "CSI." It achieves this while remaining rather too slick for its own good. The themes are as tidy as the characters' humorous asides. Brennan can't get at her feelings, but she can know everything about a decomposing corpse, down to favorite sport. She's supposed to have a blind spot when it comes to relationships, but as a "squint" (the FBI's biting term for someone best left poring over evidence in a lab), her intuition is razor-sharp.

The mystery she hasn't solved is the one that had her parents vanish when she was 15. "Bones" was "inspired by" real-life forensic anthropologist and bestselling novelist Kathy Reichs. Maybe the source material is what gives the show its sense of confidence, even as it washes over you.

On "Bones," Brennan is teamed with FBI special agent Seeley Booth, played by David Boreanaz ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel"). Women tend to get within two feet of him and melt, but Brennan's a tougher cookie. In the pilot, Brennan's just returned from an excavation in Guatemala (she's got a skull in her carry-on), when Booth finagles her into helping him solve the case of a decomposed corpse found in a pond at Arlington National Cemetery. Brennan can immediately tell the victim was a tennis player. Just by looking at the bones.

Just by looking at a three-dimensional holographic image a colleague (Michaela Conlin) has developed, Brennan and her team identify the victim as a Senate intern who went missing several years ago, in a plotline uncomfortably close to the Chandra Levy case. The nemeses in "Bones" are probably going to be a collection of Washington establishment hacks; in the pilot it's a scabrous, gum-chewing Senator and his toady aide.

As Brennan, Deschanel is kind of fierce. Brennan's an eccentric, but a hard one, and the show leavens things with the other, softer eccentrics in her lab. After a hard day's work, they drink martinis out of beakers. They're all geniuses with senses of humor, one hottie computer genius (Conlin) and two guys conveying a kind of nerd-slacker chic. Booth showing up at the lab is a buzz kill, but Bones knows his heart's in the right place, and when they find each other sharing a gun over target practice, they almost kiss.

*

`Bones'

Where: Fox

When: 8 to 9 p.m.

Ratings: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

Emily Deschanel...Dr. Temperance Brennan

David Boreanaz...Seeley Booth

Eric Millegan...Zack Addy

T.J. Thyne...Dr. Jack Hodgins

Michaela Conlin...Angela Montenegro

Jonathan Adams...Dr. Daniel Goodman

Executive producers Barry Josephson, Hart Hanson. Creator Hart Hanson. Director (pilot) Greg Yaitanes.

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