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.