"Bones" debuts on Fox

7 minute read

Tonight was the series debut of the TV show Bones, which is a CSI-alike focused on forensic anthropology instead of just forensic science. What that means, in a nutshell, is that the bodies are too far gone for the next-of-kin to identify.

CSI has had a few forensic anthropology plotlines; this show is going to be all anthropology all the time.

Bones is based on the novels of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs Reich's website is a Flash wonderland with information about her novels and work in forensic anthropology. Here's her background:

From teaching FBI agents at Quantico how to detect and recover human remains, to separating and identifying commingled body parts in her Montreal lab, as a forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs has brought her own dramatic work experience to her mesmerizing forensic thrillers. She continues to work full time for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina and for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Medecine Legale for the province of Quebec. She is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She is one of only fifty forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and is on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Most recently she has traveled to Rwanda to testify at the UN Tribunal on Genocide. For her work with CILHI she has identified war dead from World War II and from all over Southeast Asia - she even examined the remains from the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. How does she bear this kind of work? "You get used to it," she has said. "I don't like to see maggots. But you put on your mask and your surgical scrub and your latex gloves and you go at it."

Here's what Reichs told CNN about the difference between fictional and real forensics:

Coroner's offices and laboratories, also, are generally more gritty and less pretty than those on TV -- as are those who work in them. Forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, for one, said she's "never gone to a crime scene wearing pumps and pantyhose" like her onscreen "CSI" facsimiles.

I must admit, I've never worn pumps to a crime scene either. In fact, I've never been to a crime scene, and I've only worked indirectly on a couple of forensic cases. I study only bones that are beyond the maggot stage.

Nevertheless, all my students know I follow CSI pretty closely. Although Dr. Sheldon Hawkes was fairly clearly not based on me.

So, is this new show going to be any good?

The show

Skeleton found in a lake in D.C.: I suppose it's Chandra Levy.

Forensic anthropologists can find evidence of bursitis, and it may suggest physical activity. On the other hand, they generally don't do it just after pulling a skeleton out of a lake, and "tennis player" is the kind of detail that, if you found it in a missing person report, you would think it consistent. It wouldn't be the kind of thing you'd put in your lab notes -- a defense attorney could easily challenge your identification if the victim turned out to be, say, a weightlifter.

If any graduate student out there gets treated like Zack does in this show, please consider a transfer. No self-respecting scientific institution would tell students "not to talk to Ph.D.s". (OK, maybe I can think of a couple, but I would tell those students to transfer, too.) And you probably have good grounds to sue if your Ph.D. supervisor writes a novel with a fictional account of your sex life.

Great lab set -- in the middle of a giant, open greenhouse. Just the place to isolate insects in human remains -- unless of course they actually were living in one of the nearby plants. I've got to stop thinking like a defense attorney.

Very cool holographic reconstruction program, which is of course totally fake. The main value of it is to show us a facial reconstruction without taking the time to actually do one. No, there is no software that can, at the click of a button, change a facial reconstruction from one race to another. And since the tissue depth markers on the skull have to be based on a tissue depth standard for some race to start with, you can see that the point of putting them on would be to allow a single facial reconstruction assuming one race.

Generally, the characters who have mystical computer skills are the most interesting, and that will probably be true of "Angela Montenegro", also. But the computer stuff is totally made up.

Confirmed! Yes, it's the fictionalized missing intern of "that senator".

Why is the smart professional anthropologist following the FBI dude like an insecure puppy? I guess it's a way to dramatize why she is not acting like a forensic anthropologist.

Oh, well, yeah, when she pulls a judo move on a senator's aide, she's not your average forensic anthropologist. I guess she's not too worried about being suitable as an expert witness.

Now Gretchen wants to know why I don't have a glowing wall of bones. I want to know how they get them to stay in there articulated at strange angles. It does cut the need for labels on the drawers if you can see bone silhouettes on all of them.

Not too much science since the first fifteen minutes. Yes, they can find stab wounds, and cutmarks on finger bones would be consistent with fingerprint removal. Fetal ear bones? Not impossible.

"For someone who hates psychology, she sure has a lot of it." Yeah. Like "Crossing Jordan". Not exactly the kind of thing that secures your career at the "Jeffersonian" Institution.

I'm pretty sure the FBI dude ("Seeley", David Boreanaz) would have an easier time trusting the "squints" (have you ever heard a scientist called that?) if he wasn't surrounded by psycho ones.

Now she's breaking into a house. Now she shot a guy in his own house, without a warrant. Now she's getting her stalker to do first aid on the guy she shot.

I'm thinking in the real world she would be out of a posh Jeffersonian job and into a mental ward.

Would I watch it again?

Yeah, it's not bad. It could use multiple plotlines like CSI; that would make it easier to live with weird never-gonna-happen elements and would cut the need for some of the fake drama.

And I find Temperance's colleagues at the lab to be some of the most potentially interesting characters. Although the storyline for Zack looks pretty predictable. Zack, rebel from your "I'm not really a virgin, far from it," dialogue!

Aside from that, they have the best lines, too ("How many warnings did you give before you sniped them?"). Give these supporting characters something to do!

I only hope Temperance doesn't go all "Crossing Jordan". The "missing parents" are a bad, bad sign. Maybe her boss at the Jeffersonian could just put her on unpaid medical leave and we could see how Montenegro would do in her place. And it's not like Brennan's the only forensic anthropologist south of Montreal (yes, she really said that). Hmmm..."Crossing Jordan" brought in Jack Klugman, maybe "Bones" could have guest roles for Angela Lansbury as a novelist/forensic mentor.

Did I just say I wanted more Angela Lansbury on television? Yeah, but not full-on Jessica Fletcher, more like a cool almost-"Manchurian Candidate" Lansbury. You've got to imagine how tough a Ph.D. advisor would have to be to put up with self-destructive Temperance. Psychological-control abilities would be a plus.

Gretchen says Peter Falk, and yeah, that would be good too. Or he could be a villain. That would be awesome.

If they are serious about having all this tension between Seeley and Temperance, they ought to consider something more like the Bruce Willis--Cybill Shepherd relationship in "Moonlighting". Cybill could be frustrated and angry with Bruce without acting like a spoiled child. So far, Temperance is looking like a stereotypical teenager, like she was emotionally stunted when her parents went missing. Boreanaz would have much more to work with if Temperance actually acted like a smart professional instead of constantly saying she is one (complete with saying she has a "high IQ"! Who says that?).

The biggest problem with the pilot is that there were no lingering clues. CSI always has clues that they discover early in the episode that they don't resolve until the end. "Bones" had nothing -- the instant she finds something, we hear what it is and what it means. That means there is no suspense at the end. Instead, the lame action tries to make suspense (why exactly did a smart senator's aide think that burning his house down was going to help?).

Granted, the pilot has a lot of extra work introducing characters. We'll see how it looks the next few weeks. Hopefully they'll send Temperance to some kind of sensitivity training.