'Bones' is one of those long-running series that has an incredibly devoted fan base, while it seems like everyone else takes the show for granted. In fact, it seems like just yesterday that news came of David Boreanaz' 'Angel' being canceled – much to the displeasure amongst those longing to hang on to some vestige of their beloved Whedonverse. But alas, Boreanaz moved on, signed up with Emily Deschanel and suddenly, 'Bones' has seven seasons under its belt (the eighth is currently airing on FOX). For the most part, it's the quiet kid on the FOX schedule; calmly going about its business and not making too many waves – just doing enough to keep those interested in coming back. Generally, at this stage in its run, 'Bones' is a lot like its characters: It's just doing its job and then calling it a day.
The show has been around long enough that with the passing of every season, the inevitable question of "Will this be the final one?" arises. While it certainly hasn't been sent out to pasture just yet, FOX has reduced the season order from around 22 episodes per season to just 13. And while a 13-episode season works well with cable networks, it is less common among the big four. But how has the transition affected 'Bones' in season 7? The answer: Aside from fewer episodes where the writers have to think up some elaborate manner in which a badly decomposing body ended up like that, the series actually seems to have benefited from it's lighter workload.
That means a more concise season, less one-off episodes – though with a procedural, they're all a little one-off – and more time focusing on the characters' lives outside of the work environment. And that is really the distinctive feature in 'Bones:' The focus on character's personal life, over the case. It's inevitable that the end of the episode will solve the case, that's what a good television procedural does; it gets in, fiddles around with a lot of technical jargon, maybe throws in a laugh or two, some sexual tension or innuendo between the leads, and then BAM! – the bad guy suddenly has a case of the can't-shut-ups and the episode's over. But 'Bones' isn't like that; it's not another 'Law & Order' or 'CSI,' where we only peripherally learn about the characters' home lives. It's more like ABC's 'Castle,' where the case is an excuse to see the nice looking leads develop some kind of mutual attraction, and then wait as the writers tease us with a will-they-or-won't-they style storyline that runs in the background for virtually every season.
As a series wears on, though, the possibility of romance has to eventually win out – regardless the fear of invoking the 'Moonlighting' or 'Lois & Clark' curse – but when it does, where should the program go from there? Well, alliteratively named series creator, Hart Hanson, had been leading Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) to romance arguably since the series began, and since that moment has come and gone, the next logical step is, of course, procreation. It's typical, but it works – mostly because 'Bones' is that lighthearted mix of police procedural and romantic comedy, where adding a lengthy pregnancy, and subsequent baby (complete with a unique labor/delivery situation), isn't going to upset the status quo so much as simply reaffirm it. After all, almost everyone at the Jeffersonian Institute is dipping his or her pen in the proverbial company ink these days.
And with that, 'Bones' reveals one of its inadvertent, yet more remarkable qualities in providing its audience a consistent jumping on point. I suppose most procedurals work out this way, but 'Bones' still has a considerable amount of continuity running through it that you might think jumping into season 7 without already having comprehensive knowledge of the previous seasons would be detrimental. Not so, in this case. As much as the crime solving progresses the plots of each episode, it's the relationships inside the Jeffersonian Institute that are really the driving force of the series. Meaning, a cursory glance over who is romantically involved with whom, and, to a lesser extent, what gross function they serve in examining incredibly decomposed bodies, is all anyone needs to know.
Through the constant visual reminders, non-sequiturs from the Jeffersonian interns while examining a decomposed body, or just random dialogue, it's clear the focus of season 7 is on Booth dealing with Brennan's unique way of seeing the world around her, and how that affects both their romantic relationship and their upcoming trip into parenthood. Fans of the show no doubt enjoy Brennan's hyper-rational responses to everything, so seeing her deal with the emotional strain that comes from being pregnant is a chance for the audience to see a different side of the character. In addition, it also allows for the writers to come up with new ways of adding comedy to the character's work – which can often be fairly revolting. The less rational, more emotional manner in which Booth deals with things manifests itself in his being over protective and nanny-like for much of the season (which is part of Booth's appeal, I guess?), but it also plays perfectly into the storyline that introduces the season's big bad character, Christopher Pelant (Andrew Leeds).
In that regard, while season 7 is exploring certain new aspects of the characters – the topic of parents, both good and bad, comes up with near ubiquity, so the producers can work in guest appearances by ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons as Angela's (Michaela Conlin) dad, and Ryan O'Neal as Brennan's dad, Max Keenan. As far as a thematic punch goes, it works pretty well, and is as deep and effective as you'd expect from something as glossy as 'Bones.' It never gets too bogged down with emotional things like having a bummer of an upbringing, or even the passing of a parent. The series plays these things very close to the surface, just enough to get some kind of emotional value from them and then moves on.
As such, it's pretty much business as usual for the Jeffersonian Institute's "squints" and the FBI. The cases are as enjoyably predictable as you'd expect – you can probably set up a pretty decent drinking game based on obvious signs of misdirection, if you were wont to do so – but age doesn't seem to be diluting the potency of the 'Bones' procedural formula to any significant degree.
Most importantly, though, the chemistry between Boreanaz and Deschanel remains consistent, even after the character's coupling, which proves romantic longing isn't the only thing these kinds of programs are actually good at – they can develop an enjoyable account of televised domesticity, too. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Angela and her husband Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne), Jeffersonian head honcho Dr. Camille Saroyan (Tamara Taylor) and the adorably goofy Daisy Wick (Carla Gallo) and her equally goofy sweetheart, Dr. Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley) all manage to fill the episodes with the same kind of familiar quirks and characterizations that audiences tune in for.
And in the end, that's what 'Bones' is – a familiar and reliable program. It's as much comfort food for the casual viewer as it is for the dedicated 'Bones' fanatic (if there is such a thing). Today the word "television" has become so synonymous with complex and deeply thematic programs like 'Mad Men,' 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Homeland' – to name a few – that sometimes we forget there's still plenty of television that's good for the simple purpose of watching TV just to be entertained. And even after seven seasons (and some change), 'Bones' is still the same lighthearted, agreeable procedural it always was.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer on 'Bones' season 7 is as reliable as the series itself, producing a better-than-broadcast image that's both lively and bright, but not so overblown as to detract from the picture. As one would expect from a product so new, the image is relatively flawless in terms of noise or other distracting and distressing artifacts that have virtually been extinguished from modern, high-definition television productions. Though 'Bones' – or other programs of its ilk – doesn't boast the kind of filmic, or cinematic qualities one would see on pay-cable channels, it's not intended to be that kind of show. For what it is, this long-running drama looks very good.
Black levels here are strong and while much of the series takes place in well-lit rooms and under the stark light of day, the image has a pleasant consistency and evenness of tone that renders each shot with utter clarity and strong contrast. Notably, the light is never an issue – whether it is the artificial light of the Jeffersonian Institute, or when the crew basks in front of the awkward green-screened Washington, D.C. backdrop while enjoying a cup of coffee or a plate of fries at their favorite diner.
Fine detail in the image remains good, but doesn't really achieve any kind of "wow!" factor that would push this over the edge into reference quality. Still, facial features, skin tones and fabric textures all look good in this nicely packaged Blu-ray. 'Bones' season 7 doesn't set the standard for the series, but it is a very good-looking set that won't disappoint fans.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track offers a remarkably vibrant mix that pushes the character's dialogue through the front channels with superb clarity, but doesn't skimp on immersing the viewer by having additional off screen dialogue and sound effects be filtered through the rear channel speakers. This is a well-crafted audio mix that, even if you watch the show when it airs on a surround system, will likely provide an even more engrossing experience the second time around.
The audio mix here does a superb job of creating an atmosphere of sound inside the confines of the Jeffersonian and the outside world. Decaying corpses, computers, diagnostic equipment – it all adds up to creating the illusion of a fully functioning, absurdly high-tech environment that is as reliant on the sound as it is the visual portion of its presentation. That being said, whenever Booth and Brennan (or others) venture outside, there's plenty of ambient noise running through the various channels, adding to the experience.
It's not an incredibly robust sounding audio mix, but this isn't necessarily the kind of show that calls for one. Good sound extension is available when it's needed – like during the opening credits with music by The Crystal Method – or the occasional action scene where LFE, directionality and imaging really come into play. All in all, this is another good example of what a quality television audio mix would sound like.
'Bones' season 7 is surprisingly light on special features, relegating the majority to the set's third disc with a single commentary, featurette and a gag reel. Fans of the series certainly won't be basing their decision to pick this up on the supplements.
Procedurals can only survive with their particular shtick for so long. 'CSI' and 'Law & Order' are both getting incredibly long in the tooth, and despite regime changes in both, there will come a time when even they have been relegated to basic cable marathons and that thing you watch the last 2 minutes of before the next program comes on. But what sets 'Bones' apart from those procedurals is the human element. Hart Hanson has crafted his procedural around characters designed to grow and experience the trials and tribulations of life. It's an extreme version of life for sure, but that's how television works. 'Bones' succeeds by putting a little bit of the mundane into the extreme, while making it fun. In the end, that's all this series has ever tried to be. As stated above, 'Bones' is comfort food. It's not particularly good for you, but there's a reason people keep coming back for more. At seven seasons in, this isn't going to be some kind of casual purchase. You're either invested in the series or you're not. As such, 'Bones' season 7 is certainly recommended for the fans.