Thursday, March 31, 2016

“Bosch”: A Tale of Two Seasons

By Ali Karim
When the first season of a TV series receives the critical and commercial acclaim that Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective and Michael Connelly’s Bosch garnered, then—to employ the title of a John Farris novel—All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By. Both of those police procedurals provoked such intense levels of adulation, that expectations ran very high for their sophomore seasons.

As things turned out, True Detective (an HBO-TV production) didn’t fare so well. Its second season was, without any question, a shambling mess. It offered style over substance—“all fur and no knickers,” to quote one wag. In fact, the show was disappointing enough to engender the creation of a short, amusing parody entitled Marty Watches Season 2. And the powers that be at Home Box Office felt compelled to comment about the series’ downturn in a Vanity Fair article, just to take some of the heat off Pizzolatto.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for the sharp drop off in quality between True Detective Season 1 and 2, HBO president Michael Lombardo would prefer you not attack the cast or creator Nic Pizzolatto. Instead, Lombardo falls on his own sword to highlight a key difference between True Detective’s shaky second season and Fargo’s rock-solid one. It’s all about the timing.

“Our biggest failures—and I don’t know if I would consider
True Detective—but when we tell somebody to hit an air date as opposed to allowing the writing to find its own natural resting place, when it’s ready, when it’s baked—we’ve failed,” Lombardo told The Frame. ”And I think in this particular case, the first season of True Detective was something that Nic Pizzolatto had been thinking about, gestating, for a long period of time.”

In fact, Pizzolatto started work on
True Detective Season 1 way back in July of 2010. He’s a rare kind of show-runner and insists on writing every episode himself. Three and a half years of work produced the stellar Matthew McConaughey/Woody Harrelson-led season, which also benefited from strong artistic input from director Cary Fukunaga. “I take the blame,” Lombardo says. “I became too much of a network executive at that point. We had huge success. ‘Gee, I’d love to repeat that next year.’” Pizzolatto, working without Fukunaga, only had 14 months after the end of Season 1 to conceive and execute the weaker second season of True Detective.
(This was a far cry from Vanity Fair’s gushing feature published last year after the conclusion of that TV series’ inaugural season).

One thing I’ve found interesting about both True Detective and Bosch is how they’ve used their physical settings not simply as visual backdrops, but as independent characters of a sort. True Detective Season 1 found its footing in Pizzolatto’s native blue-collar Louisiana, but it moved to an allegedly corrupt California city for its sophomore run—a fact that might have provoked some concern among members of the Bosch team, who have done much to
bring author Connelly’s Los Angeles-based tales to life through their program’s cinematography.

(Left) The official trailer for Bosch Season 2.

Another thing common to both procedurals is their striking use of music, especially in their opening title sequences. Composer T. Bone Burnett turned for the premiere season of True Detective to The Handsome Family’s “Far From Any Road,” which complemented what was to follow to great effect, but for its follow-up he switched to Leonard Cohen’s “Nevermind.” Since the two seasons were not linked in terms of their stories or characters, there was nothing wrong with also separating them musically. Bosch, by contrast, employs a continuing cast across its episodes, so it made sense to establish a consistent theme and title design. The song introducing this show is Caught a Ghost’s “Can’t Let Go.” It was a very apt choice, when you consider what motivates the series’ eponymous character, homicide detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. According to Jesse Nolan, who wrote and produced the song (plus an accompanying video), “The song is basically about obsession. The idea for the song originated from feeling like I couldn’t free myself from some dark feelings I was wrestling with, and as is always the case, making music is always the only cure for such a condition.”

Like his creator, Harry Bosch (portrayed on the small screen by Titus Welliver of Deadwood and Big Apple fame) is a music aficionado, with a particular fondness for jazz. As Connelly explains in this short introduction to a recent documentary project he worked on to honor the memory of the late jazz saxophonist Frank Morgan, he conceived of Bosch from the outset as someone who “liked to listen to and draw inspiration from jazz. The character … had a particular affinity for the saxophone. Its mournful sound, like a human crying out in the night, was what he was drawn to. The detective saw the worst of humanity every day on the job. He found solace every night in the sound of the saxophone.” If you’ve watched much of Bosch at all, you’re aware of jazz’s dominance in its soundtrack.

So as the Amazon Prime premiere of Bosch Season 2 approached earlier this month, my excitement mounted. I’d been fortunate enough to attend the filming of one of the Season 1 episodes in Hollywood, just prior to the start of Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California, together with my friends and colleagues Mike Stotter (the editor of Shots), UK author , and Larry Gandle, a Florida oncologist and the assistant editor of Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine. Then, in the wake of last October’s Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina, Connelly had invited me out to watch a filming from Season 2 of Bosch on location in Venice, just west of L.A.—a real treat, as I’m a longtime reader of the Bosch yarns and needed a serious break after working hard on Bouchercon programming.

But given my disappointment with the follow-up season of True Detective, I was apprehensive about the return of Bosch. Could it possibly live up to its earlier renown, or would it also let me down?

Well, after finally binge-watching all 10 episodes of the newest season in two five-hour sittings, I can tell you that the return of Bosch exceeded my expectations by a cube function. The one thought in my head as I took in the final credits was, “How the hell did they manage to create such a magnificent crime series?” This latest run of Bosch held my attention as if I were a drug addict long overdue for my fix. While watching the program, and recalling the hours I’d spent on location with its makers, I recognized how much of a labor of love Bosch was for all the people involved. Not only the major players, such as developer Eric Overmyer and Connelly himself, or executive producer Terrill Lee Lankford, but for the technicians, actors, and co-writers as well. You can see their personal investment in every damn scene.

(Right) Jeri Ryan as former stripper Veronica Allen.

Season 1 of this series wove together the story told in Connelly’s City of Bones (2002) with elements from The Concrete Blonde (1994) and Echo Park (2006). Season 2 similarly combines 1997’s Trunk Music with parts of The Drop (2011) and The Last Coyote (1995). Another thing that’s different this time around is my perception of Titus Welliver in the title role. Like many other viewers, I’m sure, I was quite perplexed by his casting as Harry Bosch, for he didn’t match up with my mental image of Connelly’s troubled police detective at all. This is not an uncommon problem when finding an actor or actress to take on the role of a beloved or renowned character; just remember the numerous catcalls when the short Tom Cruise was chosen to portray tall protagonist Jack Reacher. As far as Bosch goes, I was prepared for Welliver’s interpretation of the character this time around, and have come to agree with the show’s producers, that he’s the ideal person for that part. In fact, when I read Connelly’s The Crossing last year, I had trouble not visualizing Welliver whenever Bosch entered a scene. (The association was only cemented by the actor also voicing Bosch in a three-part mini-audiobook titled A Fine Mist of Blood, which is sponsored by Amazon and can be heard here.)

The new 10-episode arc of Bosch begins with the discovery of a dead Armenian porno-film producer in the Hollywood Hills, his ripening body folded none too neatly into the boot of his own Bentley (a plot facet straight out of Trunk Music). The story goes on from there to see Harry Bosch reinstated with the LAPD (after the events that closed out Season 1), and then assigned to investigate the producer’s murder. Meanwhile, there’s a political race heating up, which pits L.A.’s attention-seeking district attorney (the same guy who last year helped a serial killer escape police custody) against the city’s mayor, both of whom are courting Deputy Chief of Police Irvin Irving for his endorsement. And Irving’s son, George, who’s supposedly out of danger in the LAPD, goes undercover to track a rogue cabal of cops who’ve been committing crimes for money. Throw into this plotting mix a gun-running operation, Eastern European and Russian gangsters, a concealed cache of bearer bonds, and a federal investigation relating to the estate of the deceased porn-maker, and you wind up with one of the most captivating and hypnotic TV crime dramas of 2016. As James Wolcott of Vanity Fair puts it, Bosch’s latest season is “everything that True Detective Season 2 should have been had it not succumbed to sadistic, self-pitying, mood-mongering, garbage-barge bloat.”

While Welliver holds center stage in Bosch 2, the show offers some exceptional performances by supporting players as well. Lance Reddick (formerly of The Wire) commands attention as Deputy Chief Irving, who must face the consequences not only of his decisions as a cop but also as a father. Harry Bosch’s ex-wife and daughter, played respectively by Sarah Clarke and Madison Lintz, find themselves uncomfortably entangled in Bosch’s professional life and having to flee their Las Vegas home. The detective’s habitually dapper partner, Jerry Edgar (aka J. Edgar), played by Jamie Hector, must engage in some serious action here, and he remains a perfect foil for the more maverick-ish Bosch. Brent Sexton (ex-Justified) portrays a cop-turned-security guard who is just a little too helpful. And special mention should be made of Jeri Ryan’s outstanding turn as Veronica Allen, a not-as-sweet-as-she-looks retired stripper who was married to the recently deceased filmmaker. It’s quite a different side of Ryan than we witnessed back when she played the sleekly outfitted former Borg drone, Seven of Nine, on Star Trek: Voyager.

If you haven’t seen this new run of Bosch yet, let me suggest you follow my lead and binge-watch the show. The narrative is dense enough with character and plot developments that it only makes sense to take it all in quickly, in big gulps, so you can appreciate how Bosch’s dense tapestry knits together. But don’t tune into Season 2 unless you have already viewed last year’s run of Bosch. The two seasons interlock nicely, with some loose ends being tied up this time around, and the latest story arc doing much to answer questions surrounding the long-ago slaying of Harry Bosch’s mother and the roots of our hero’s obsessive personality.

WATCH MORE: If you would like to see some behind-the-scenes footage—filmed rather gonzo-style in Venice, California—that captures location shooting for episode seven of Bosch Season 2, click here, here, here, here, and here.


Dana King said...

The Beloved Spouse and I finished Season Two last week in a mini-binge, as we were to be away for the weekend and didn't want to have the last couple of episodes hanging. We both liked Season One without being over the moon about it, but Season Two was, for both if us, a definite step up. Part of this is because we no longer see Jamie Hector as Marlo Stansfield or Lance Reddick as Cedric Daniels. The production values and writing are spot on, as are the performances. We particularly liked the alteration in the relationships between Harry and his ex and daughter.

The only quibble we have is with some of the plotting, where things are fudged to get maximum impact and we wish it could have been done better. Example from Season Two (Spoiler alert): when Harry and J. Edgar figure out everyone is going to the bank to open the safe deposit box, Harry and J. Edgar drive like hell to get there at the most opportune time dramatically. All the while we're talking to the TV: "Why aren't they calling for cops closer to the scene to get there?" That's a quibble, made more prominent in our minds because the rest of the show nails the police work.

Not like that's going to keep us from already looking forward to Season Three. It's an outstanding show.

Will Errickson said...

Nice shout-out to John Farris's masterful horror novel! And just added Bosch to my to-watch, as well as my to-read, list.