Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: BOSCH season 3

BOSCH: Season 3 (Amazon Prime, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Angered by the truths behind his mother’s murder, LAPD detective Harry Bosch struggles to find integrity in an imperfect justice system. The killing of a homeless veteran, the suicide of a serial killing suspect, and the high-profile murder trial of a Hollywood director pits Bosch against ruthless opponents who all threaten to destroy him. 

Two years ago I was nervously excited about the premiere of Bosch, an Amazon original show adapted from Michael Connelly's award-winning crime series starring dogged LAPD detective Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch. Connelly had been one of my favorite crime writers for years, consistently putting out excellent novels, and Bosch is arguably the greatest fictional detective of modern times. But how would that translate to screen? Adaptations can be hit and miss at the best of times, and this was Amazon's first original series, which also centred on a stoic, determined maverick who was beloved by readers but might be rather tricky to translate into a screen story.

Fortunately, my apprehension was unfounded. The stars aligned, and the first season of Bosch was an absolute cracker. Titus Welliver embodied Connelly's cop, bringing Bosch's 'everybody counts or nobody counts' attitude and love-hate relationship with his city to vivid life in a subtle, nuanced performance. Welliver was supported by an excellent cast and great writing. Good stuff all around.

The second series was even better, For my money, you'd struggle to find a better crime drama on TV (network, cable, or online) nowadays. An exquisitely shot, beautifully acted, and strongly written show that has a timeless quality, tipping its hat to a past era while never feeling old-fashioned.

So what about Season Three, which premiered on Friday? Bluntly, it underlines my belief that while other shows may garner greater awards recognition, Bosch is strongly in the discussion for best thing on TV. We're all different, and have varying preferences and favorites, but I don't think you could find anything that's on a higher level in terms of all-around quality. Bosch is unabashedly binge-worthy, rewatchable, while being just top shelf storytelling across the board. Like a 20-year-old single malt or small batch bourbon, it may not be to absolutely everyone's taste, but it's something truly special.

Like previous seasons, Season Three of Bosch blends elements from multiple Connelly books into a new contemporary story. In this case it's the very first Bosch book, THE BLACK ECHO, where Bosch looked into the death of a fellow Vietnam 'tunnel rat', along with A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT. The latter, in book form, saw Bosch readying to testify against a movie director accused of murder while also facing off against before teaming up with FBI profiler Terry McCaleb (of BLOOD WORK fame), who was investigating Bosch himself for another murder.

For fans of the books who haven't watched the Bosch television drama yet, it's important to underline that its the spirit and underlying story of the books that's used, not the specific details. Things are blended and updated to fit the timeline and modern LA, be age-appropriate for a middle-aged Bosch with a teen daughter, and tie together even if they were years or decades apart in the book series.

So television Bosch is a veteran of Desert Storm, who also did a stint in Afghanistan following 9/11. His teenage daughter Maddie is living with him in Los Angeles while her mother, former FBI Agent Eleanor Wish, lives in Hong Kong. The murdered man is a homeless veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan whose former platoon mates arouse Bosch's suspicions. Bosch is a key witness in a rape and murder case against a Hollywood director at the same time as his own actions fall under suspicion for a separate murder, of a suspected serial killer he'd been closely watching for years. But it's not McCaleb investigating him (perhaps because the profiler has already been played onscreen by Clint Eastwood in a less-than-stellar adaptation of BLOOD WORK?). Instead, one of Bosch's fellow Hollywood Homicide detectives, is on his tail. And Bosch's partner, Jerry Edgar, also has concerns.

For me, this is all done with great aplomb. I love the Bosch books, but aren't put off by the changes made. Welliver's performance is pitch perfect, particularly in the way he conveys Harry's personality through the quieter moments, through silences and glances, not just action and dialogue. This, along with the other great performances, allows me to be sucked deeply into the story unfolding onscreen.

The cinematography is excellent, once again, really giving a great tone to the unfolding drama. It's an unvarnished look at modern-day Los Angeles, a diverse city of dreams made and broken. The cast around Welliver is uniformly excellent, the actors ensuring that even if their supporting roles might fit genre cliches, they're fully formed characters rather than caricatures. It's great to see the likes of Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector), Lt Grace Billets (Amy Aquino), and 'Crate and Barrel' (Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins) again, as well as Bosch's daughter Maddie (Madison Linz). They have plenty of moments to shine in scenes alongside Bosch as well as when he's offscreen.

It's that quality of writing, acting, and production that elevates Bosch far beyond genre tropes, even if it hits many of the familiar notes for crime dramas. When you're watching, you're just sucked into the swirling, building story with its many strands, but if you pause to consider it with a critical eye, you can appreciate the craft and quality that goes into making it such a smooth, exquisite show. It makes sense, really, when you look at the people involved onscreen and behind the camera. Showrunner Eric Overmeyer is a former playwright who went on to work on Homicide: Life on the Street, Law & Order, and The Wire, among other top notch crime dramas. The cast have experience working on some of the best dramas of the past twenty years, from The Wire to Sons of Anarchy and ER.

But while we can sit here and try to unpick what makes Bosch such a great television show, and why, perhaps it's better just to be grateful we get to sit back and enjoy it. While it's nice to know how a 20-year-old single malt is crafted, and what goes into making it so damned good, the real pleasure is in the drinking. For me, I was intending to space the ten news episodes out over Friday and the weekend, but ended up gulping them all down in less than 24 hours.

Season Three of Bosch is a great television series. Drink it in.

Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing at literary festivals and on radio, and is Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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