Following my last entry (and a prompt from my sister), I finally got around to watching Amazon’s 10-part TV series based on Michael Connelly’s series of novels about Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch.
I have read the vast majority of these books – acquired through various means and on various platforms, so I was familiar with the character and the style of storytelling. My immediate impression on watching the first episode (which I think you can watch for free even if you haven’t got Prime?) was that the producers of the show (which include Connelly in an exec post) have got things just right. No easy thing.
Now, when it comes to genre fiction like this, it can be difficult to explain to a non-reader/viewer what makes something like Bosch (in print and on screen) worth checking out when at face value this might appear like ‘just another’ cop show.
- Item: Bosch is something of a lone wolf, a maverick, who is frequently in conflict with his superiors and colleagues.
- Item: But he gets results.
- Item: He is estranged from his family and often lets his daughter down by being absent/late for promised visits.
- Item: But there is deep love there.
- Item: He is obsessive, consumed by his work, and works odd hours.
- Item: But he has a deep empathy for the victims of crime.
- Item: He’s off the case, back on the case, suspended, etc.
- Item: But he keeps working the case anyway.
And so it goes. It’s hard not to point at that list of cop show clichés and infer that it’s just another genre show. And yet, to use another cliché, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. First of all, the novels, police procedurals, are written with an attention to detail and a respect for accuracy that brings them to life. Bosch as a character develops over time and has a convincing set of motivations based on his back story, and the author manages to put him in situations that resonate with the back story without coming across as too contrived.
Second of all, the TV show uses the novels creatively. Rather than simply adapting Novel A into episode A (or sequence of episodes based on A), the series uses all of the novels to fill in the background experience and then combines three of them to create a slow-burn series with exquisite pacing. (The three are The Concrete Blonde, City of Bones, and Echo Park.) Back in the day, ITV adapted the Inspector Morse novels into 2-hour TV movies, but Bosch goes further, spreading the story over 10 episodes in a way that creates a gripping plot that unfolds convincingly, at the kind of pace that seems honest and true. Of course Bosch as a working detective is involved in more than one case at a time. So he’s dealing with a civil court action in the aftermath of one case; a cold case prompted by the discovery of the bones of a murdered child in the hills above Los Angeles; and a serial killer who becomes obsessed with Bosch and starts to commit crimes designed to communicate with the hero detective.
In addition to the excellent characterisation, pacing, storytelling, and interweaved narratives, the cinematography is superb. Ever since watching the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, I’ve been alert to the different ways in which the city is portrayed, and (I’m pretty sure thanks to the author himself), the representation of Los Angeles in this film is really special. It’s a city you’ve seen a million times (in True Detective season 2, for example), but this show makes it seem fresh.
Titus Welliver in the title role couldn’t be more perfectly cast, and the supporting actors also manage to bring characters to life from the page. My one quibble might be that Bosch’s partner Edgar (Jamie Hector) comes across more sympathetically than he does in the novels, in which he’s a bit of a jobsworth whose real passion is his side job as a real estate agent.
The last thing I’d say is that the episode length is just perfect. We’ve grown used, in recent years, to these cable shows with 1-hour episodes, and they can seem really epic. Bosch offers episodes of a more traditional 40-something minutes, and it really works. Just like in the good old days of binge watching DVD boxed sets of big network shows, you find yourself slightly disappointed every time an episode ends, and (knowing that the next one is just another 40-something minutes), you dive right into the next. So I watched the ten episodes in two sittings, five episodes per.
And that’s it. If you have Amazon Prime, it’s must-see. Better than just about anything else on at the moment and better than most other cop shows. Period. Is it better than Justified? Yes. Is it better than The Wire? Don’t ask me: I hated The Wire. The true question is, is Bosch worth getting Amazon Prime to see? Which is harder. It’s just one series. I’d definitely get it on DVD if I could. If you already buy a lot from Amazon, Prime is probably worth it for the next-day delivery.