There are worse ways to trick up a television series than throwing two attractive people at each other to see if something sticks. The stickies in Bones are Emily Deschanel (sister of Zooey), as a forensic anthropologist by day and a mystery novelist by night, and David Boreanaz, as an FBI agent who prefers that “squints” (scientists) stay in the lab and out of his way. Except, of course, for Emily, who is not only a genius but also cute, especially when she’s mad, which brings out the martial artist in her. Before the credits in the pilot, when she has just returned to Washington, D.C., from Guatemala with a skull in her tote bag and is pounced on by a Homeland Security goon, she flips him over her shoulder like a sack of fertilizer. For a moment, I allowed myself to hope that Bones was the first strike of a counterrevolution. Ninja librarians, on Fox no less, would kick the Patriot Act all the way back to Orwell.
No such luck. This airport skirmish was staged. Agent pretends to rescue anthropologist from bullies. She is so grateful that she identifies the body of the Senate intern just discovered in a pond at Arlington National Cemetery. This stuff you could write yourself, if you had Emily’s computer program for holographic imaging. As science and as detection, Bones has a way to go before it’s more than a bug in Grissom’s Vegas eye. But the screwball romance is promising. Deschanel, who has been fun to watch in such features as Cold Mountain and Spider-Man 2, knows how to look simultaneously smart and skittish, as if equally liable to bolt or trample you. Boreanaz has that Phantom of the Opera expression on his face you doubtless recall from Buffy and Angel, as if he were about to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I am less confident about the odd-coupling of Chris O’Donnell and Adam Goldberg in Head Cases. As a condition of their outpatient release from the “wellness center” where they’re being treated for a nervous breakdown and an “explosive disorder,” these two very different attorneys are “buddied” together against their will, to practice a kind of guerrilla law. O’Donnell, who was on his way to a partnership in a big-time soft-shoe firm before TV news started talking back at him, is freaked by Goldberg, a low-rent trickster with a short fuse and shorter scruples. Think Glover and Gibson, Randall and Klugman, Marx and Engels, Thelma and Louise. Or maybe not. All alone, Goldberg is beside himself, as if Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler struggled for possession of his soul. And there is also so much sex talk in the first Head Cases, they had to work in a cameo by Dr. Ruth.
Prison Break has so far surprised. A preposterous premise—one brother deliberately gets himself arrested so as to be sent to the same prison where the other brother is on death row—only somewhat distracts from an agreeable escapism and first-rate performances by Wentworth Miller (The Human Stain) and Dominic Purcell (John Doe) as the brothers, Robin Tunney as their lawyer/lover, Stacy Keach as a warden building a toothpick Taj Mahal, and any number of Aryans and gangstas in a cage somewhere between Oz and Stir Crazy. By now you know that Purcell was framed by the Secret Service and Miller has prison blueprints tattooed all over his body except for that toe the Mafia cut off.
Both Reunion and The War at Home pretend to think outside the box. In Reunion, to find out who murdered whom, police detective Mathew St. Patrick (Six Feet Under) tracks all the way back to 1986, when six close high-school friends slept with and lied for one another. The gimmick is that each episode advances the story a year. In The War at Home, Michael Rapaport and Anita Barone count the days, literally, until their three teenagers are out of the house forever. The gimmick is that each member of the family gets a chance to confess his unspeakable thoughts directly to the camera. In Reunion, for anybody to care, college will have to make these crybaby characters a lot more interesting than they are now. In The War at Home, we already hate everybody anyway.