All most viewers will need to know about Bosch is that it’s a TV show, in 2015, that begins with a white cop fatally shooting a Latino suspect — then asks us to take his side against the dirtbag lawyers, dirtbag reporters, and dirtbag “rat squad” cops allied against him. Detective Hieronymous Bosch (his real name! so quirky!) may be fictional; the suspect he shoots may be armed; and any similarities to Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo may be purely coincidental. That doesn’t make it any easier to root for a protagonist who’s meant to be a throwback to the good ol’ days of an institution an entire mass movement is currently working to move forward, not back. At least this case makes it to trial! Not criminal, though; civil.
Bosch (Titus Welliver), who goes by Harry, is a collection of hardboiled LA detective clichés that were outdated before the antihero revolution, doubly outdated after, and triply outdated now that the antihero has given way to messy, complicated protagonists who don’t even bother with subverting what came before them — including, it should be noted, the Pfeffermans of Bosch‘s fellow Amazon Prime series Transparent. He drinks alone while listening to jazz, because he’s brooding. He moves the body at a crime scene before the coroner gets there, because he’s rebellious. He gets points for taking his love interest seriously, because that’s how low the bar is set for brooding, rebellious detectives as romantic partners.
Bosch‘s secondary characters are, without exception, even flatter than its hero. There’s the Totally Chill Coroner, the procedural’s best stock character; there’s a nosy, vindictive reporter who is, at one point, threatened with arrest for “being an all-around douche”; and there’s Bosch’s lady friend, a redheaded rookie who breathily calls homicide investigation “one of the last noble callings.”
The show’s formulaic nature is partly due to its source material, a 17-novel series of procedural crime books by Michael Connelly that began in 1992, long before The Wire showed what non-network crime shows were capable of. But Bosch‘s pedigree also includes, well, The Wire — a longtime David Simon collaborator, creator Eric Overmyer worked as a writer on the show’s fourth season, and contributed particularly to the storyline that centered on Jimmy McNulty. Which is unfortunate, because where The Wire makes clear that McNulty’s charming, maverick nature makes him as awful a father and coworker as he is a good cop, Bosch is content to sell its hero as a plain ol’ charming maverick. It doesn’t quite work, though The Wire fans might be consoled by the presence of Jamie Hector, as Bosch’s exasperated partner, and Lance Reddick, as the chief of police.
Besides the wrongful death suit, Bosch mostly follows Harry’s search for the killer of a 12-year-old boy whose bones are found in a shallow grave in the Hollywood Hills. He’s not supposed to take the case, but Bosch needs the work because this is what he does, so he discovers the boy was chronically abused, a revelation that takes him back to — what else? — his own rough childhood. Bosch’s mother was a prostitute, a trope even Mad Men couldn’t pull off, and her murder sent a young Bosch into the foster system, with all that entails.
Unfortunately, that wrongful death suit looms over the show, and when it’s mixed with misplaced nostalgia it proves fatal. It’s telling that the conversation where Bosch declares he knows what he did was right takes place in a martini-slinging bar with the comically old-school name of “Musso & Frank’s,” and that he segues straight from lawsuit talk to a remembrance of the “old LA.” Bosch is the kind of guy who prefers Paul Newman to Brad Pitt; he’s supposed to seem like a relic of a simpler time. He’s also a relic of a time where the killing of a suspect wouldn’t be questioned in court. That’s not a time many of us want to go back to. In fact, it’s a time we’re not even past.