With the critical success of “Transparent,” Amazon’s original programming earned a higher level of legitimacy. However, most of Amazon’s successes lie in shows with a unique blend of comic and dramatic undercurrents. But there’s no outright humor (except the occasional sarcastic remark) in “Bosch,” an adaptation by Michael Connelly of his own procedural novels that follow the titular detective. The series brings a dark, modern noir atmosphere to Amazon’s collection of shows, but it still has issues setting itself apart in the crowded field of cop shows.
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Played by Titus Welliver (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”), detective Harry Bosch opens the show by tailing a suspected serial killer. The dark city streets slowly dim as Bosch pursues the man until the dirty yellows and oranges give way to shadowy blues and sudden torrential downpour. Bosch shoots the man, Roberto Flores (Roberto Montesinos, “We Bought a Zoo”), and Pandora’s box opens.
The series fast-forwards to Bosch’s trial for shooting Flores. Here, questions regarding the detective’s motives begin to arise. Former special forces and a known maverick within the department, Bosch is hardly approachable. He is a cop who gets stuff done, or as the prosecutor Honey Chandler (Mimi Rogers, “Two and a Half Men”) puts it, “an experienced, highly trained killer with a body count too large to remember.” The show holds off on giving a definitive answer to the question and places Bosch in ambiguous territory. Welliver, a strong character actor from acclaimed series like “Deadwood” and “Lost,” plays Bosch with the right amount of emotional barriers for mystery, enough sympathetic vulnerability and hints of sarcastic asshole so that it’s understandable why his superiors want him gone. One such higher-up remarks outside the courthouse, “I’m glad you didn’t settle Bosch. Such a pleasure watching you hang yourself.” Another advises him to “Join the 21st century with the rest of us.” The latter line encapsulates Bosch; he feels like a relic from a more brutal, bygone era uncomfortably placed in modern Los Angeles. Bosch himself says “I’m not worried about what I did. I know what I did was right. I’m worried about what the jury will think I did. Anyway, fuck it.”
This isn’t to say Bosch is incredibly original in his own right. The influence from several of television’s former rough mavericks hang over Bosch. There’s the “screw you” attitude of Gregory House (“House”), the arrogant bucking of authority by Jimmy McNulty (“The Wire”) and the tortured pragmatism of Jack Bauer (“24”). These common traits reinforce that “Bosch” isn’t exactly new, and in some cases has been done better. The presence of actors Lance Reddick (“The Wire”) and Annie Wersching (“24”) serves as a reminder of this, and they surround Welliver with worthy talent.
“Bosch” feels neo-noir in its early episodes, which is its finest achievement. The city of Los Angeles at night is well-shot, pervading its cinematography with a sense of dark beauty and an underbelly of foreboding. Meanwhile, there are enough quirks to make the depiction stand out, like a shot of a passed-out Santa Claus. Even in high-class areas (ironically, where Bosch lives), there lurks a potentially violent side of the iconic city. Between the light and the dark, it’s in the shadows that Bosch feels most comfortable. Even when the department gives him a break to work on his trial, he finds a way to get back into the field, claiming, “I’m no good with downtime.”
Bosch’s detective work ultimately brings him to the skeletal remains of a young child. The case opens old wounds for Bosch, whose orphan upbringing is filled with violence and tragedy. The brutal scene is one of the main arcs and presents a challenge that Bosch wants to solve while he wrestles with his demons in court.
“Bosch” ’s distinct aesthetic and Welliver’s strong performance make the show worth seeing. But the series must shed the weight of spiritual predecessors in order to assert itself as a trademark series for Amazon.