Saturday, 8 February 2014

Bosch: the series is here... happily it's great

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm a big fan of Michael Connelly's books. Whether he's writing relative new kid on the block Mickey Haller, or his original creation Hieronymus Bosch (understandably he goes by Harry), I'm never disappointed with a new Connelly novel.

So it was with a sense of anticipation mixed with trepidation that I approached Bosch, the newly-unveiled pilot for a Harry Bosch TV series produced by Amazon under their new television-production arm. Would they get it right? Just as importantly, would it generate enough interest to go to full series?

To be honest, I wasn't overly worried going in, since the pedigree is reassuringly top notch: the showrunner is The Wire's Eric Overmyer, Titus Welliver has been great in everything else (and certainly looks the part in the title role) and most importantly, Connelly himself has been deeply involved in the whole production, from casting to co-writing the opening episode.

An oft-reported clause in Connelly's deal guarantees that the show will be shot in Los Angeles, not Toronto or Prague or somewhere else standing in for Los Angeles. This pays off immediately in the cold open as Harry chases a suspect by car and on foot through various unmistakeably-LA locations. The sequence, taken from early Bosch novel The Concrete Blonde, sets up the main subplot of the pilot: Harry facing a civil suit for fatally shooting said suspect. Having read the book, I know the answer to whether or not the shooting was justified, but interestingly, the pilot is slightly vague on the details of what happened. This gives Bosch's character a little ambiguity for the episode, which does a great job establishing his outsider credentials without falling into any of the usual clichés. Okay, showing him smoking right beside a No Smoking sign is a little clichéd, but it's funny.

The rest of the story is taken from City of Bones. Neither subplot is in any way resolved during the episode, and it looks like they're going for season-long narrative arcs rather than done-in-one procedurals. I think they've made a sensible choice. Cherrypicking elements from a couple of books to focus on for a season seems like a smarter option than attempting to adapt a book per episode, or making up brand new stories that happen to star Harry Bosch. Going on the evidence of this episode, the series doesn't aim for a slavish adaptation of the books, but it does import plenty of characters, story points and atmosphere from the source, so that it captures the spirit of the novels. In this, it reminded me a little of Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson's loose adaptation of James Ellroy's LA Confidential: breaking down the source material for parts and reassembling it in a new, but equally compelling, configuration.

The series looks great, making use of some well-chosen LA locations (including an actual in-service police squadroom), and managing to capture the contemporary/classic noir feel of Connelly's writing. Welliver is excellent as Bosch, managing the fine balancing act of convincing as a loner without being an asshole to everyone around him. The supporting cast is also strong, with a few familiar faces. I was pleased to see Hershel from The Walking Dead seems to have survived his decapitation, as the character was reassuringly identical. Most pleasingly of all, they managed to squeeze in a couple of moments of Harry sitting on the deck of his home, drinking beer and listening to jazz, brooding as he gazes out at his city.

I was looking forward to watching this going in, but Bosch managed to exceed my expectations. My regard for the source material no doubt contributed to my enjoyment of the pilot, but I suspect I'd be just as keen to watch more if I'd never read any of the books. I enjoyed this just as much as a fan of high-end procedurals like The Wire, of the languorous character studies of Mad Men, and of classic film noir and the city of Los Angeles itself.

You can watch the Bosch pilot for free until the end of February by clicking on the links below, and you can help make sure Amazon orders a full series by reviewing and rating it afterwards.

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