There was once a point when I adored Bones. There was once a time when I loved the show’s characters, the dynamics they had with each other, how the two leads bounced off of each other and how despite essentially being strangers, the characters were all a big, crime-solving family. My love for it lasted for years and I never imagined that I would ever think of the show any differently.
Eventually my opinion on the show changed, yet my period of not loving, but still liking, Bones continued for quite some time, lasting the duration of the shorter seventh season and spreading into the eighth. But after falling behind by half a dozen episodes because the thought of watching the show filled me with an overwhelming sense of boredom, I realised that the time had arrived: the time for the connection I used to have with Bones to be severed. And so it has come to pass that the show has now been scrubbed from my weekly viewing schedule, but instead of feeling discontent at having an old friend lost to me, I feel relieved.
As a general rule of thumb, police procedurals are not shows that particularly excite me. There needs to be something more; something extra to keep them alive and thriving. Merely catching bad guys week after week isn’t enough. Shows like Law and Order: SVU are as procedural as inherently possible, but in that show’s case, it has a fantastic cast spearheaded by the sublime Mariska Hargitay, and recently it’s enjoyed vastly improved written scripts that mirror real-life headlines to give them a grounded sense of reality. Even in its fourteenth season, it remains at the top of its game.
This is what attracted me to Bones many years ago. The partnership of David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel was captivating, and their characters interesting, even more so when paired together. Combined, they were a formidable combination that, along with the rest of the cast, made even the weakest of the weekly cases of the week feel stronger. This was Bones’ ‘something extra’ to keep itself from being yet another police drama to throw into the bulging stewing pot.
On top of that, Bones had a stronger-than-usual set of secondary cast members that despite being quirky, odd and occasionally a little insane, worked well together and integrated well into the show as a whole. Over time, the show’s cast began to feel more like a family unit as opposed to a group of strangers thrown together just to work around a common goal. Brennan and Booth were the matriarch and patriarch of that family, and the dynamics were set in stone, well-developed and strong enough to drag me back week after week without struggle.
Then something happened in the middle of the show’s sixth season. I can’t discern the exact moment of impact, but all of what drew me to the show suddenly became insufficient. I no longer loved the show; instead, I merely accepted its presence. I tuned in week after week not out of adoration or willingness to see what would happen next, but out of loyalty. Loyalty to a show I’d spent so much time in the company of and was unwilling to throw away for what could’ve been momentary dissatisfaction.
It turns out, however, that the dissatisfaction wasn’t momentary. It was a rot that spread too far, too fast that eventually became overwhelming. The strong character dynamics and the familial feeling were still there and arguably just as potent as they always had been. The problem was that I was no longer interested. The characters had, at one point, plugged the negatives of the show, but because any show that reaches its sixth season and beyond can struggle to maintain what got it there in the first place while balancing how to feel fresh, the dam of negativity had grown around the plug, enveloping it entirely.
In retrospect, I haven’t been truly interested or compelled by Bones for a long time. It’s the natural process of what happens to a show the older it gets, especially one that deals less with serialization and more with maintaining a weekly storytelling structure that doesn’t rely on what came before it or what will come after. Serialized shows that have one or two story arcs that span entire seasons arguably have an easier time coping with age, because the very nature of serialized stories involves some degree of evolution. That is where procedural shows struggle, because there’s little evolution to be had from telling separate, inconsequential stories on a weekly basis that have no impact or leave nothing of value behind once they’re gone.
In comparison, House went exactly the same way. The show enjoyed several seasons of exciting stories, told weekly and played out by fascinating characters. Then, around the fifth season or so, things began to dwindle. What worked so well for it beforehand wasn’t enough to defend against the process of aging, and because the show became too complacent in sticking to the same status quo that allowed it to reach its fifth year, its quality suffered immeasurably before it was brought to a self-imposed conclusion in its eighth season.
There are some exceptions to this rule. The aforementioned Law and Order: SVU is one of them. It’s still telling its stories the exact same way today as it did fourteen years ago, but there’s something contained within its formula that’s managed to evolve over the years, even though it’s not immediately discernible. Maybe it’s the cast, or maybe it’s the sheer quality of its cases of the week that circumvent the aging process. Whatever it is, it has proven itself to be an exception to the rule, and it succeeded where Bones didn’t, at least for me.
Coming back to Bones and I now realise that one of the biggest contributions to my expired interest in the show stemmed from the romantic pairing of Booth and Brennan. I had ‘shipped’ them from some time prior to the eventual pairing, but the actual result felt too sudden, and too much too fast. It was a sweet moment, as were many of the moments they shared afterwards, but it altered a dynamic within the show. Whereas they had once been at the top of the cast’s hierarchy, they now seemed to be the sole focus of everything, and the rest of the characters were relegated as a result. That key familial element was changed quite significantly, and because it was one of the things that kept me so enthralled, it did irreparable damage. It was evolution, but not of the good kind.
One could attempt to label this as the ‘Moonlighting Curse’, whereby the combination of the show’s two lead characters led to its demise. While it may have diminished the show’s quality in my eyes, it hasn’t destroyed the show’s success, particularly in the ratings. Bones’ ratings are still going strong today, even as it approaches its ninth season later this year. I may have jumped off the ship but others clearly haven’t. Perhaps they don’t mind the status quo being maintained to a degree I consider frustrating, or perhaps they weren’t so underwhelmed by the way the show paired together its lead characters in the romantic sense. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because it seems unlikely that Bones will be coming to an end any time soon. Personally, I’m not fond of shows being continued purely because they pull in decent ratings, despite not being as strong as they once were, but it makes business sense in today’s cut-throat television landscape.
I am disappointed to be saying goodbye to a show I’ve spent years getting to know and appreciate for the things it does, but nothing stays excellent forever unless it learns to evolve along the way. Bones is a show that’s comfortable with keeping within the boundaries of what’s allowed it to stay on the air for eight years, but the aging process kicked in several seasons ago and has chipped away at the show’s soul to such a degree that I couldn’t stick around anymore. Maybe one day in the future, when it’s been allowed to come to a natural conclusion and not one forced because of a ratings decline, I’ll return to complete an incomplete picture. But until then, to quote Taylor Swift (because why not):’we are never ever ever getting back together.’.