By Kevin Canfield
Harry Bosch, the title character of the engaging new cop drama from Amazon, is a relentless lawman. So you’d think that his fellow members of the Los Angeles Police Department would have his back. But as it happens, he’s not what you’d call a universally beloved presence—in the words of one colleague, Bosch is “an insubordinate, arrogant, know-it-all loner, and all-around self-righteous” jerk.
Is it any wonder that he likes stiff drinks and sad old jazz records?
Bosch, starring the highly capable Titus Welliver (top and left, The Good Wife, Deadwood), is a portrait of an obsessed, socially stunted homicide detective, the sort of figure that isn’t exactly in short supply on TV these days (or in decades past, for that matter). But if the show shares its storytelling genes with any number of police procedurals, it’s no less compelling in its depiction of a flawed but fundamentally decent man trying to right wrongs on the squalid streets of a great American city.
Inspired by Michael Connelly’s bestselling novels and steered by a talented showrunner (Eric Overmyer, whose writing and producing credits include Treme, The Wire and Law & Order), Bosch is a classic crime-fiction hybrid, an attentive character study fused with an intricate mystery. At the same time, it possesses a quality that’s lacking in more than a few of its competitors: a solid, carefully deployed sense of humor, a crucial trait given the horrible crimes on which the story hinges. (At various points, Bosch is mocked for his colorless wardrobe, his archaic cell phone and the terrible movie inspired by a case he once cracked.) Sure, Bosch is somewhat clichéd—but find me a cop show that doesn’t rely on at least a few of the standard genre tropes.
A pair of overlapping plotlines emerge at the start of the show’s 10-episode debut season.
The first stems from the discovery of a skeleton on a hillside in Hollywood. To solve the case, Bosch and his partner, Detective Jerry Edgar (a charismatic Jamie Hector from The Wire), will have to identify the victim, find his old friends and untangle the roots of a profoundly warped family tree.
Meanwhile, beat cops have pulled over a window-washing van, inside of which is a corpse. The driver, who calls himself Raynard Waits (Jason Gedrick of Dexter and Murder One), is jailed, and before long, he starts suggesting that he was involved in several unsolved crimes. In between interrogations, Waits passes the time by reading the local papers. Lately, the press has been all over Bosch due to a court case in which he is the key player. To Waits, this is titillating information, and he soon becomes fixated on Bosch. His appalling attempts to foster a connection with the detective will fuel the action deep into the season.
Like Netflix, Amazon releases entire seasons of its series all at once. Bosch benefits from this strategy. The show hums along at a brisk pace, and its grip on the viewer tightens with each 45-minute episode. It’s thoroughly binge-able. But even as it gets its narrative hooks into you, the show’s greatest strengths stem from its finely wrought cast of characters. These include a no-nonsense lieutenant (Amy Aquino of ER) whose social life is full of surprises; an aspiring department chief (Lance Reddick of Fringe, right) with a Machiavellian worldview; a rookie officer (Annie Wersching of 24) whose penchant for firing her gun presents her peers with a series of ethical dilemmas; and a former FBI profiler (Sarah Clarke, also of 24) who was once married to Bosch, and still helps him out when he’s stymied by a particularly complex investigation.
Each is an interesting personality, but Welliver’s magnetic star turn is the show’s most important feature. Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch shares a name with a 15th century Dutch painter whose canvases were often devoted to apocalyptic scenarios—a fact that feels increasingly relevant as we get a closer look at the nightmarish cases he’s tapped to solve. He’s a solitary guy, an outsider even within the clubby confines of the squad room. He frequently says the wrong thing in social settings, and he’s botched a series of romantic relationships. As TV cops go, Bosch isn’t the most original of characters. But in this skillfully produced series, he’s never less than magnetic and deeply human, and those are pretty hard qualities to come by.
Kevin Canfield is a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, Film Comment and other publications. He lives in New York City.