Amazon’s “Bosch” Is Good, Not Great, And That’s Okay

Amazon’s Transparent is, by almost every available account, an incredible drama that happens to include the story of a aging man’s male-to-female transition. Jeffrey Tambor won a (very unexpected) Golden Globe for his work on the show. One of the reasons that his win was so stunning was that aren’t many people who have seen the show. Amazon’s business model is one wherein viewership isn’t a huge concern – its shows are just another vehicle for marketing Prime, its all encompassing media mechanism.

Which brings us to Bosch, Amazon’s first offering of 2015, a Los Angeles whodunit featuring author Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, a hard-bitten LAPD detective who is tortured by the past while obsessively pursuing the guilty, the sort of detective who cannot rest until justice is done and…you know what? Let’s not do this. Let’s not pretend like you can’t fill in the rest. Because you can. Easily.

Bosch is like every other crimeshow you’ve ever seen, only slightly watered down. It has the aggressive detective who plays by his own rules (every detective show ever) that younger women simply can’t ignore (also every detective show ever). It has all sorts of palace intrigue affecting the investigation (from many shows, but perhaps The Wire is most familiar, particularly given the participation of at least two of that shows most memorable actors, Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector). It has an inexplicably powerful serial killer whose moral depravity knows no bounds (Dexter). It has legal outcomes which force us to consider the law’s limits (Law and Order). It’s got a boss character who has it out for our main character (almost every imaginable detective show). It’s Los Angeles setting is as much a part of the story as are any of the characters (The Wire, Breaking Bad).

None of this should be understood as a critique so much as an observation: we’ve seen this before. And frankly, we’ve seen this better. So anybody watching this shouldn’t expect a show that rises to levels of greatness achieved by certain, “I swear I’ll just watch one more episode…” crime dramas. This isn’t a hidden gem. This isn’t a bit of greatness. This isn’t the next The Wire or Breaking Bad. 

So what then to make of Bosch? It’s hardly a failure not be the equal of two of television’s greatest shows. After all, those two wouldn’t rank where they do if everything else was just as good. It’s fairer then to regard Bosch as dimestore pulp, as the sort of crime drama that exists within the genre’s standard rules and is within them occasionally great. Because although it fails to achieve greatness, it manages to be pretty darned good at what it does do.

Bosch does have its moments, specifically in the way that it is shot. It is an absolutely beautiful show. Los Angeles is a stunner here with its light and its chaos, but despite it being home to millions, the show finds lonely places for its characters, be it Bosch’s home or Raymond’s garage or the city’s iconic spillways.

The show also presents us a police department from top-to-bottom, with street officers, detectives, and upper management all co-mingling in a way that makes the LAPD seem like a living organism. The show isn’t propaganda so much as it appears to be a genuine attempt to give us policing with most of its complexities, from competent to incompetent, from useful to useless.

Most promising was the show’s ongoing attempt to give us a bigger world beyond the immediate search for two very different killers. Of all the things hinted at – the political machinations, the semi-scandalous relationships, the unsolved crime – perhaps the most promising were the characters themselves.  It was easy to imagine spending ten episodes once a year with them. The crimes themselves might be unnerving works of fiction, but watching these particular people solve them is an appealing possibility, one that harkens back to the occasionally interesting international mysteries that are PBS’s stock in trade.

So yes, Bosch isn’t greatness, but very little is. It’s good enough to be worth your time and it has enough promise to leave us patiently waiting for more.

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15 thoughts on “Amazon’s “Bosch” Is Good, Not Great, And That’s Okay

  1. I’d have agreed with the sentiment here about ten years ago. But scripted, serialized, story-arced TV has gotten so very, very good that we don’t need to settle for “pretty good” anymore. We live in the era of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Americans, House of Cards. And if you’re like me (and I know I am) then you have only so much time to dedicate to media consumption in the first place. So an Epicurean approach makes a whole lot of sense.

    Which is why I think we should review more movies and TV shows and new music and books ’round these parts. Help our readership sort out where to focus their attention because not only is there a whole lot of really good media out there to consume, there’s also just a whole lot of media there. Sifting through the chaff is a helpful thing to do.

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  2. The most original detective series on right now is Canada’s Murdoch Mysteries. It takes place in late 19th and early 20th century Toronto and Canada. The protagonist is scientific and analytically minded, basically a porto-nerd, devote Catholic named William Murdoch. His love interest is a woman his own age, a doctor and feminist named Julianne Ogden. The love each other and get along well but the differences in the world view between the devote Catholic Murdoch and the progressive feminist Julianne do come into play at times. As I mentioned above, the show takes place in the late 19th and early 20th century and most of the characters believe and act appropriately for the times while still being sympathetic to us. In episodes where sex as well as murder come into the plot, our hero expresses opinions on things like pornography that are in line with Catholic teachings on the subject. His love interests takes a more modern seeming view.

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      • You can watch several seasons streaming on Netflix. If you pay a small monthly premium, you can subscribe to Acorn TV on youtube and watch the first seven seasons on there. PBS aired it years ago along with Acorn TV’s other offerings.

        Its really one of the best historical dramas I’ve seen. They do their best to show that people in the 1890s really did act and think differently than people in the present but at the same time present them as likeable. The relationship problems between a devote Catholic like Murdoch and a very forward thinking, for the late Victorian Era, woman like Ogden is realistic portrayed.

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  3. Sam, have you read any of the Bosch books? I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone who hasn’t in part for the reasons you describe.

    I agree with your review, though it is at least in the minority of cop shows by virtue of the fact that it is a mystery (and an action chase) over a season rather a mystery an episode (L&O) or an ongoing interweaving (NYPD Blue). I agree that there’s virtually nothing original about the characters,though.

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  4. Agree that Bosch is a serviceable crime drama, but like says, I’m not sure it’s worth the opportunity cost for me. It is very well-shot and the plot has potential (I’ve only seen the first episode), so I may return to it in the future. There are, however, a couple of things that really bother me and may keep me away; although maybe they get better in following episodes.

    One, there is an awful lot of exposition by dialogue. I almost expected one of the other characters to turn to the camera and say “Bosch is a complicated man and no one understands him…” It’s not hard to just let the characters do what they do and let us learn about them over time, which I find is what the shows that I enjoy the most do. This is the same problem that I have with Damages, of which I made it through a few episodes before giving up. The whole premise of that show is that the Glenn Close is this incredible lawyer and that working for her is an opportunity that you cannot turn down. And yet, watching the show, you can’t really figure out what makes her and her firm so special, other than the fact that characters keep saying it.

    Also, the particular ways that the show uses to show that Bosch plays by his own rules don’t come across so well. There is one scene in the first episode where he gets a to a murder scene before the crime scene folks, moves the body and starts poking around it. In 2015, that sort of thing doesn’t signal maverick; it signals bad policing. This is LA. Didn’t these guys pay attention to the OJ trial? One of the things that I most enjoy about The Wire is the way that it goes out if its way to show that competent policing is grounded in procedural competence, not in opposition to it. There is that really great scene in Season 1 where McNulty and Bunk rework an old murder scene in a kitchen. The Wire shows policing and investigating as a professional endeavor and the shitty cops are the ones who eschew that professionalism either because they are lazy or corrupt. In the first episode, Bosch comes across a lot like first season Pryzblewski.

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    • “This is LA. Didn’t these guys pay attention to the OJ trial?”

      I wish they had. Bosch, to me, has always been a character through which to view Los Angeles in the 90s. OJ and the riots and all the big media trials inform the books thematically, but from what I saw (and I’m only a couple episodes in) they’re absent in the series.

      Also, I’m not sure if I should finish the thing if this is the case:

      “Bosch plays by his own rules”

      Bosch is nothing if not scrupulous. Not sure I really want to see him turn into an anti-hero. Competence? Bosch always does his due diligence. Everyone counts, or no one does. Basically, if Bosch is working your case, your murder book is going to be thick.

      And it still bugs me that he’s an Afghanistan vet. Wars are not interchangeable. Vietnam left its mark on Bosch, left him a little jaded and comfortable feeling unappreciated. Afghanistan changes that whole dynamic. I mean, I get it…he’s a vet. He’s seen things. But it should be a little more inglorious.

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  5. I enjoyed it. I generally don’t watch TV, because in general I can’t suspend disbelief in the ways that it asks me to. Bosch didn’t ask me to suspend in those ways. It isn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad either. I had read the early Connelly books, and enjoyed them. This worked well with them.

    My wife and I have dipped our toes into Transparent and while we feel that Tambor is phenomenal in it, the characters of the children (not the actors, they are quite good) are so deeply shitty that I cannot take too much of them. One of my mothers cousins is trans, and as Maura transitions I see many similarities with Lucy.

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