Bosch Season 4

Angels Flight, Los Angeles

People learn. Huh.

One of the absolute worst aspects of (especially long-running) genre shows is that nobody ever seems to learn anything or develop as a character. One notable exception to this was NYPD Blue, one of the all-time-great network cop shows, which had an 11-season story arc for Any Sipowicz which transcended the limitations of the format.

So to Bosch in its 4th season, and a welcome return for Titus Welliver in the title role, Lance Reddick as the now Chief of Police Irvin Irving, Jamie Hector as Bosch’s ex-partner Jerry Edgar, Madison Lintz as Bosch’s daughter Maddie (given more to do this time around), and Amy Aquino as acting Captain of Hollywood Homicide division.

As before, the season combines the plotlines from several of the Bosch novels by Michael Connelly, in this case the principle storylines come from Angels Flight and 9 Dragons. There is a lot less to do with ongoing cases in court this time around, and much more investigating, with a background of political manoeuvring and protests against police brutality. As such, it feels quite zeitgeisty, though there is a bit less of the stunning cinematography of Los Angeles that characterised Season 1.

This time the principle LA location is the titular Angels Flight funicular railway, which was originally located in Bunker Hill, but has since reopened as a kind of simulacrum that operates as a kind of intermittent and often neglected tourist attraction.

The fallout from previous seasons continues, but while Bosch remains a focus of contempt from many of his colleagues (mainly because he refuses to treat being a cop like being a member of a corrupt club), the people who work with him (including Captain  Billets and Chief Irving) no longer even pretend that he’s anything other than the best investigator they have. In other words, they’ve learned from working with Bosch that he is not corrupt, unwavering in his pursuit of the bad guys, and usually arrests the guilty party. So as much as other cops and politicians complain about him, this time they let him do his job. So there’s a lot less of the you’re off the case nonsense that sometimes besets this genre.

While investigating the murder of a lawyer who was about to embarrass the police department in a lawsuit, Bosch also pursues the man he believes responsible for his mother’s death, and deals with the unexpected death of a close family member. He’s forced to work with a couple of Internal Affairs detectives as well as the antagonistic Jimmy Robertson (Paul Calderon) and his former partner Edgar, returning to the job after injury.

It’s another solid outing for Bosch, and I remain puzzled at the critical disdain/indifference this show receives. Sure, it’s a police procedural, but it is better than anything else in this genre right now.

I previously reviewed Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3.

Bosch Season 3 – review

C59DeRbU0AEH_w2 []Well done to Amazon for releasing this third season of Bosch before my Prime subscription expires. (Since there is still no Apple TV app, I am not renewing. I’m also looking forward to going on a purchasing diet.)

I reviewed Season 1 here, and Season 2 here.

Season 3 is based on two Michael Connelly novels – The Black Echo (1992), and – partially – A Darkness More Than Night (2001). Those novels give you the main two cases being investigated, but there is also continuity from previous seasons in terms of character development and relationships. For example, while Bosch originally met Eleanor Wish in his very first novel outing, The Black Echo, in this series she continues to be his ex-wife and mother of his teenage daughter (who is now old enough to be taking driving lessons).

So while it might seem a little strange to be going back to the first Bosch novel for the third season of TV, enough work has been done to make the plot fit with the continuity of the TV show.

The usefulness of adapting two (or more) novels is clear when it comes to the storytelling. Part of the joy of this police procedural is that it cleaves to a more realistic sense of time. Samples sent to the lab with a “rush” (cop show cliché alert) still take quite a long time to come back, so it’s not as if anyone is looking at the result of lab work after a single episode. In addition, you see Bosch being involved in several cases – dealing with the prosecution team for one, dealing with investigators for another, sticking his nose in elsewhere.

There’s a great sense, too, of how Bosch might be a bit irritating to work with. Partly this is because he is tenacious and uncompromising; partly it’s because other people are caught in the flood when he makes waves. Whereas (especially early) Bosch novels were a bit black-and-white when it came to his adversarial relationship with his line managers, for TV you get the sense that he is valued for his ability to clear cases, but considered a liability in court because of his tendency to go off on his own — and therefore susceptible to malicious accusations.

This matters, because (as I’ve said before) on paper, Bosch bears all the hallmarks of bog-standard police procedurals, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for just another one of those CBS-type shows. But while a “maverick cop” in a bog-standard procedural would solve the case and all would be forgiven, Bosch has to deal with the consequences of his unconventional actions every time he stands up in court. In this series, he’s been running an off-books investigation and has information crucial to another detective’s case – which compromises him in all kinds of ways.

In other words, there’s a clear and valid reason why the DA, say, might consider him a liability; or why the chief of police might feel moved occasionally to dress him down.

Season 3 continues the good work of the first two seasons, with characters now established and relationships under strain. The infuriating Bosch manages to alienate the people close to him and doggedly pursue the villains who underestimate him at every turn. The cinematography is still superb, and my criticism of Season 2 (that a lot of the episodes just finished arbitrarily) has been addressed, and there are some good episode cliffhangers this time.

Recommended, as ever. I think this is probably the best American police procedural, give or take NYPD Blue.

Bosch: Season 2

Arresting Television: Bosch

Although there are a number of decent things to watch on Amazon Prime, it’s still true to say that most people probably think of it as the Free Next Day Delivery service with added video. I enjoyed Mozart in the Jungle, Red Oaks, and The Man in the High Castle, but for me, the overwhelming choice for Best Thing On Amazon is Bosch. I reviewed Season 1 here, and said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Which is to say, that although it might seem like just another one of those cop shows, it simply works better, as a whole, than you would assume from its array of cop show clichés.

Slight spoiler alert in what follows.

Season 1 was good, season 2 is better. There are fewer of those clichés at play, fewer of those ‘You’re off the case!’ moments. The supporting cast are given more to do. Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector) is still more sympathetic than he is in the books, but I’ve forgiven this, because this more fleshed out character is a good foil for Bosch. Edgar doesn’t have the instincts, the gut feelings, that Bosch has, but he does valuable leg- and paperwork, patiently accruing the evidence needed to break the case. Meanwhile, in season 2, deputy chief Irvin Irving (Lance Reddick, who is good in everything he’s in) steps into the role of maverick on a mission, and it’s Bosch who has to talk sense.

There are roles this year for Jeri Ryan as a murder victim’s widow, and Brent Sexton, who plays a cop turned security guard on a gated community. Both of these seem like fleshed out roles, with characters who act in ways that are true to themselves.

As with the first season, this one amalgamates plot elements from three books, the main one being Trunk Music, and the other two being The Drop and The Last Coyote. And because the TV series has so much material to interweave, I think they actually do  good job of reducing the level cop show cliché melodrama, drilling down to the essentials of character and plot that makes for better television.

As before, the cinematography of Los Angeles is superb, and the show looks expensive, with its own unique style that is definitely more cinematic than your run of the mill procedural. The pacing is a bit odd, however, because it’s clearly designed for streaming and binge-watching rather than conventional broadcast. That means episodes sometimes seem to just finish, and it’s not until over halfway through that you feel an urgency to get to the next episode.

One criticism: Episode 7 begins with the worst bagpipe noise I have ever heard, and I scrabbled for the remote to turn it down so my ears didn’t start to bleed.

Another criticism: I watched it over four days and ten episodes is nowhere near enough. Thirteen next time, please, Amazon? Ten is just a round number.

Bosch – review

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 16.43.01
Readers of the books will recognise this place

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.

Season 2 is reviewed here.

Season 3 is reviewed here.

Season 4 review.

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.