Dozens of men donning fedoras and ladies adorned in poodle skirts mill about a fake street on Fox's Century City back lot, which has been transformed into a carefree and colorful 1950s Los Angeles for Bones' 200th episode. Suddenly, a bloodcurdling scream pierces the joyous scene as a body falls to the ground, a knife protruding from its back. "That puts a wrinkle in the pants," says David Boreanaz's Seeley Booth as he slides into the passenger seat of a vintage Chevrolet convertible driven by Emily Deschanel's Temperance Brennan, who jerks the car into gear, narrowly avoiding a camera's dolly track. Boreanaz, who is also directing the episode, calls "cut" and gives his costar a nervous smile.
"I don't think he trusted I would be able to drive it," says Deschanel with a laugh between takes. "And David, being the kind, generous director he is, was trying to give me tips. But I did it perfectly!"
That pursuit of perfection is apparent as cast and crew shoot one of the most daring, detailed hours in the show's 10-season run. The episode presents an alternate reality where the members of the Jeffersonian Institute team have been reimagined as the subjects of a classic caper with slight changes to their characters: Here, FBI agent Booth is a charismatic, Cary Grant-like jewel thief, while forensic anthropologist Brennan is an intrepid LAPD detective facing sexism on the force. After Booth is framed for a murder, the two partner up to clear his name and track down the real killer. The suspenseful investigation includes tributes to old-school Hollywood movies — including Easter-egg nods to director Alfred Hitchcock.
"But I don't want to classify this as completely Hitchcockian," says Boreanaz. "I didn't watch his films to get ready to direct this episode. I wanted to maintain my own sense of style — in terms of what I wanted to do with the frames and the compositions — but allowed that all to come together in 1950s Technicolor."
"On many shows, when one of the stars directs, sometimes it can be an indulgence," says executive producer Stephen Nathan, who also wrote the episode. "With David, it's exactly the opposite. And for this one, he should get a Purple Heart, because he's basically in
every scene and he's directing the most complicated episode this show has ever done."
Aside from the costume and makeup challenges, the crew had to overhaul the show's sets to evoke the era, which meant transforming Booth and Brennan's modern East Coast love nest into a retro loft overlooking the Hollywood Hills. And for the episode's North by Northwest-inspired climax, producers brought in an actual Douglas DC-3 airplane and constructed a fully movable mock-up of the interior, which roughed up some of the actors. "I worked my knees pretty hard from being in the plane's fuselage going left and right, running on the runway, and some dancing sequences," Boreanaz says. "There was a lot that we struggled with, and it took much longer than a regular Bones episode." (This installment took 12 days to shoot versus the usual nine.)
Boreanaz and the rest of the cast are well aware that a 200th episode is no regular feat. In the history of Fox, only four other dramas have reached that number: The X-Files; Beverly Hills, 90210; Melrose Place; and 24. And when Bones reaches No. 206later this season — coincidentally, the number of bones in the human body — it will be the longest-running drama ever at the studio that produces it, 20th Century Fox Television. "The show still feels creatively vibrant, and it really all starts with characters," says Gary Newman, Chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group. "You feel actual suspense and stakes in the stories, and Booth and Brennan are just incredibly interesting, complex, and funny characters."
The success of the show — which has been translated into 45 languages and airs on six continents — has always hinged on the chemistry between Boreanaz and Deschanel, which started as a classic "Will they or won't they?" pairing and evolved into a real relationship, marriage, and parenthood. "The first time I did a scene with David and Emily, I saw them do their thing as they solved a crime, and I was just like, 'Oh!'" says John Boyd, who joined the cast this season as Booth's new protégé, FBI agent James Aubrey. "What keeps us going is this magic thing they have."
But how long can Bones realistically keep going? The addition of Boyd and the unexpected death of fan favorite Dr. Lance Sweets (John Francis Daley) in the season premiere have given the show a creative boost, and Nathan admits that the potential for fresh storylines is stronger than ever. "We don't see any natural end to it right now," Nathan says. "It will have to end, because everything does, but at this point there seems to be a lot more life in death."
Bones airs Thursdays at 8/7c on Fox.