(This review is rated PMS for Possible Minor Spoilers.)
The Beloved Spouse and I watched the Amazon series Bosch over the past week, with mixed emotions and responses. Not mixed between us. We agree on pretty much everything. We have mixed feelings about the show.
First, full disclosure: I am not a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s writing. I like his books, and I like him personally. (Never met him, but everything I’ve seen and heard of him implies he’s a mensch.) No one tells better stories, or weaves two unrelated stories together better than he. His characters are solid, and Harry Bosch has become damn near an archetype, and deservedly so. It’s the writing itself that doesn’t move me, and that’s on me. My tastes run toward dialog in the style of Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins, and narration that’s terse yet stylish. (Think Ed McBain or James Ellroy, for two disparate examples.) Connelly strikes me as too down the middle, too rarely writing something I want to turn to The Beloved Spouse and say, “Listen to this.”
We both wanted to like Bosch. We’ve loved Titus Welliver since his mother fucked that monkey on Deadwood. The other casting is, by and large, excellent. The production values are first rate. The problem is, the TV show seems to overplay Connelly’s weaknesses and underplay his strengths. There are too many subplots that don’t go anywhere. Why bother telling us Harry’s boss is having a lesbian affair with another detective who works for her? There’s a workable subplot there, but they didn’t do anything with it.
The political aspects also seemed more like decals than infrastructure. Connelly’s books do not shyThe Wire did politics very well in a cop context. We ought to do that, too.” There are multiple problems with this, not the least of which are 1.) The Wire wasn’t really a cop show, and b.) The Wire invested the time and effort to do it very well. (Comparisons to The Wire may not be fair, but they can’t be helped when the most political cop is not only the Deputy Chief for Operations, but he’s played by Lance Reddick, whose character who was both made and unmade by politics in The Wire.)
The plots weren’t up to Connelly’s usual standards, either. The serial killer thread served to hit all the usual serial killer angles, including—but not limited to—the young woman in distress and lots of seemingly disjointed plot development that could be rationalized as, “Well, he’s a serial killer. He’s nuts.” (Jason Gedrick was superb as said serial killer, which made this element much more watchable.)
The other main story, about solving a twenty-year-old murder, was better, but still had weaknesses. Everyone knew the reformed child molester was going to be innocent, and that he would kill himself. Bosch also had a bad case of House syndrome, where Harry had to be sure, yet wrong, half a dozen times before they actually got the right guy.
It may seem unfair to crush Bosch for some plotting issues when I just gave Justified a pass, but Justified made up for its plotting weaknesses in so many other ways. It was a fun show to watch, engrossing on many levels. Bosch lacked that, so it had nothing to fall back on when the plot came up short.
The Bosch character is a prime example. In the books he’s driven and always in trouble, but he’s presented as someone who’s sincerely trying to the right thing as he sees it, confounded by bureaucracy or ineptitude. The bureaucracy and ineptitude are there in the TV show, too, but Harry is less the gallant warrior beset on all sides than an asshole. He’s a terrible father, and his motions toward concern don’t play when viewed against his actions. (Which are also too predictable. Everyone knows when he tells his daughter he’ll be back for Christmas, he won’t be, and that he’ll ditch her at some point when she comes to LA.) Even when other cops have the cold case killer under control, Harry has to be there for the finale. Yes, the medium demands that one, but more effort should have been made to set it up.
There are a lot of things to like about Bosch. Harry comes off as an asshole because of how he’s written, but through any failure in Welliver’s performance. The show just needs to pick its spots better, and play more to Connelly’s strengths. Amazon has already committed to a second season, so there’s hope.