Monday, March 14, 2016
Review: BOSCH Season 2
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Season Two of Bosch shows the network cop shows how it's done with an absorbing, slow burn character-focused take on the genre that still provides plenty of action and mystery.
We seem to be in a golden age of television, where long-form storytelling based on intriguing characters and great writing has come to the fore. While many credit the likes of Breaking Bad, the first season of True Detective, and many Scandinavian dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge, we've actually enjoyed an upward trajectory since the days of The Sopranos and The West Wing, and even before that, the groundbreaking NYPD Blue.
Interestingly, many of those leading shows are crime dramas.
With Bosch, Amazon has brought one of crime fiction's most beloved detectives from the page to the screen. Michael Connelly's Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch is a dogged investigator, an honorable maverick who knows Los Angeles inside and out, warts and all. "Everybody counts or nobody counts" is Bosch's mantra, and through an outstanding series of books it causes him to get into plenty of trouble with those in authority who are more interested in policies, politics, and power, than people.
For a long time I wondered if Bosch was the kind of character that could successfully transfer to the screen. He's no superhero, more determined and relentless, veering quiet and contained. The best books don't always make the best films or television, and it would have sucked to witness a mediocre or unrecognisable Bosch onscreen. How would his intensity and doggedness translate in an era where many popular dramas focus on over-saturated color, short shots with quick cuts, high-action set-pieces, or melodramatic music to inject energy into story and evoke emotion in the audience?
As it turned out, it was a blessing in disguise that the character of Harry Bosch was stuck in development hell for over a decade, as when he finally made it to the screen last year, Season One was terrific, crafted by a superb cast and crew. Timing can be everything, and the stars aligned to deliver fans a very, very good series blending several Connelly books into a fresh storyline. Importantly, Titus Welliver completely embodied Bosch, delivering an immaculate portrayal.
So what about Season Two, now available for streaming on Amazon Prime? In short, it's even better than the first season. It is an exquisitely shot, beautifully acted, and strongly written television show that has a timeless quality, tipping its hat to a past era while never feeling old-fashioned.
Like the debut season, Season Two of Bosch combines aspects of three Michael Connelly novels; in this case TRUNK MUSIC provides the spine, with aspects of THE DROP and THE LAST COYOTE woven throughout. When the body of a pornographer with mob connections is found in the trunk of a luxury car abandoned on Mulholland Drive, Harry Bosch (Welliver), recently returned from a six-month suspension, joins his old partner Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector) on the investigation. What looks on the surface like a mob hit, or perhaps a domestic dispute made to look like one, takes Harry to and from Las Vegas, where his teenage daughter and ex-wife live, as he follows a trail of corruption and collusion that has also caught the eye of a mysterious and tight-lipped government taskforce.
Of course my synopsis there doesn't do the series justice, as many sub-plots run parallel to or weave in and out of this main storyline. Trying not to give spoilers, here's a few examples: the District Attorney who was responsible for a serial killer escaping in Season One is now running for mayor, and looking to get his political pieces in line while also off-loading the blame for that incident on the LAPD, particularly Bosch. Deputy Chief Irvin Irving's son is operating alongside dirty and dangerous cops. Bosch's ex-FBI profiler ex-wife is having marital troubles, and is unwittingly caught up in the case Harry is working on through her new career as a professional poker player in Las Vegas. And a reporter keeps calling Bosch about an old lady saying she has information about his mother's murder.
The cast and crew of Bosch do a tremendous job delivering a top-notch series on multiple levels. Gritty rather than glitzy, it is absorbing and addictive, perfect for binge-watching. In an era of over-saturation and over-editing, Bosch instead distills things into purer storytelling, organically building tension and suspense through its characters and storyline.
Sumptuous and cinematic in look, there's a patience to this series that belies the fact it still includes plenty of action and excitement. Those making Bosch have no qualms about using long, slow shots. About using silences and holding on actors' faces, picking up the looks and tiny expressions that convey emotion and story through subtext rather than exposition. This gives the whole thing a slower, deeper, timeless quality, while still providing an action-packed mystery.
It would be hard to read a Michael Connelly book now without picturing Welliver as Bosch, he so embodies the character. From his house atop the Hollywood hills, Bosch peers over his city like a sentinel. Welliver delivers a bravura performance through his eyes and face as much as through his words and actions, encapsulating the rugged, honorable, imperfect determination of Harry Bosch.
But Welliver's is merely one fine acting performance in a series jam-packed with excellent acting. Season Two really gives us a chance to get a better look at those orbiting Harry's life. From Deputy Chief Irving (Lance Reddick is brilliant and shows great emotive range in a character that is, similarly to Bosch, outwardly contained) to Jerry Edgar to Lieutenant Grace Billets (Amy Aquino), the returning cast is excellent. Similarly I was highly impressed by many newcomers, in particular Jeri Ryan as the widow of the murdered pornographer, Brent Sexton as ex-cop Carl Nash, and comic actor Matthew Lillard in a dramatic turn as a mobbed-up Vegas strip club manager.
I was on tenterhooks throughout the ten episodes, which I was going to drip-feed myself over the course of the weekend but ended up binge-watching within one single day. Even when you think you can predict what will happen, Bosch offers enough of a tweak to expectations to keep things fresh.
If I ran through all of the fine acting performances, and all of the admirable things about Season Two of Bosch, this review would be several thousand words long. So I'll finish here with this: if you like great drama, this is must-see TV. If you like crime tales, this is must-see TV. If you enjoy Michael Connelly's books, this is must-see TV. Why are you reading this review when you could be watching?
Bosch is exquisite gem of a television series, I loved it. Fingers crossed for a Season Three.
Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime writing at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson