FBI Special Agent Booth (David Boreanaz) is all self-righteousness and manly action. Working for the past two seasons with egghead forensic anthropologists at D.C.’s “Jefferson Institute,” he’s still trying to right the sins of his military special ops past, aided by Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel).

Forget the fact that Bones was at first loosely based on the writings of real-life forensic anthropologist Dr. Kathy Reichs. Now, as Season Three begins, her connection to the ongoing narrative is scant. Instead, Bones has become a standard thwarted romance set against a backdrop of forensic anthropology, that is to say, really decomposed murdered body mysteries.

The will-they-finally-get-together shtick between Booth and Bones is hardly engaging, despite the attempted cliffhanger end of Season Two that saw the pair all dolled up for the wedding of coworkers Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin) and Jack Hodgins (T.J. Thyne). When Angela and Jack fled the altar, Booth and Bones were left looking like the most extremely uncomfortable couple ever.

Season Three opens on the aftermath of that moment. Both Booth and Bones have retreated into their respective spheres rather than face their anxious sexual attraction. He’s all bluster and let’s-get-going as they approach their next unsolved murder, never stopping to reflect on much of anything. She’s all mumbly and vague, refusing to see any “rational” reason she should be upset, seeking safety in her nearly hermetically sealed world lab. When Booth tries to get her back in the field, she digs in her heels. It’s a big bore.

Some distractions are offered in subplots. Hodgins remains undone by the fact that Angela already has a husband (a black Australian sailor who appears “a Titan, half-man, half-god”). The fate of super-brain and total social misfit Zach (Eric Millegan), who left the Jefferson at the end of last season to enlist in the Army and fight in Iraq, is particularly fraught in the season premiere. Bones is not only not so secretly in love with Booth, but is also barely concealing her anger that Booth didn’t stop Zach from enlisting. He insists he couldn’t deny Zach the opportunity to experience something potentially self-affirming and something outside of his regular purview. Um, okay, but really, how self-affirming is war, and couldn’t he have advised a less lethal non-normative experience for Zach? But that’s the problem with Booth. Despite his vaunted “values,” and the fact that he resisted institutional skullduggery, he still admires militarized masculinity.

As usual on Bones, the murder mystery is the most enjoyable aspect. The case here, set up to stretch out over the first few episodes, involves a dead 19-year-old violin prodigy, an abandoned bank vault lair, a serial killer who collects museum-quality artifacts (including a sterling silver skeleton he is replacing bone by bone with human specimens), and the killer’s possible connections to the Masons or other secret societies. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Julian (Patricia Belcher, providing much needed levity) sums it up, it’s a case of “a cannibalistic violin thief who eats faces.”

It’s this kind of story, so spectacularly excessive, yet taken by Bones and Co. with such perfect seriousness, that impels Bones into the realm of camp. One might easily read the show as skewering the glut of much more self-important forensic procedurals that have clogged primetime in the past few years. Indeed, I’ll take a murderous, cannibalistic Masonic lodger over a Miniature Killer any day.

RATING 4 / 10