One of the many cases LAPD homicide cop Harry Bosch juggles in the third season of Bosch involves a wealthy movie director accused of murdering a woman during sex. As the director gathers his team to contemplate why Bosch (Titus Welliver) is going after him so ruthlessly, and how to turn the tables on the detective, he starts considering how this story might play out in one of his movies.
“It’s so trope-y,” he shrugs. “Who would believe it?”
That’s the thing about Bosch, both in the long-running series of Michael Connelly novels and now in the Amazon drama run by Eric Overmyer. In theory, he is a walking, talking repository of cliches about The Cop Who Cares Too Much (Dammit), and most of his cases are the type that have been dramatized so often, even the writers of Criminal Minds might flinch at them and say, “Yeah, that’s been done to death.” But the novels, and the show — starting with the second season and moving into the third, which debuts this Friday (I’ve seen the first five episodes) — tell those stories with such craft and specificity that the tropes become a feature, not a bug: these are the greatest hits of hard-boiled LA crime drama, performed by masters at their craft.
The show can’t always breathe new life into the cliches: the first season was mostly serial killer by numbers, and too mono-focused on Bosch even as Overmyer and Welliver softened him a bit in the translation from page to screen, in a way that didn’t lend itself to shouldering such a huge narrative burden.
But Overmyer has written for some of the greatest cop shows ever made, including Homicide and The Wire, and starting in season two, he figured out how to incorporate the best aspects of the novels into something that actually felt like a television show(*).
(*) To answer the inevitable, “So can I just skip season one?” question: Yes. Yes, you can. As it is, Bosch the show begins midway through the book series in terms of Harry’s career and personal life, so there’s already backstory you’ll be catching up on no matter where you begin. Bosch is a dedicated LAPD detective; you can figure out the rest pretty easily.
In fact, Bosch follows the “novel for television” structure I have been known to rail against. It’s purely serialized from beginning to end, and while some episodes may end on cliffhangers, none of them really distinguish themselves from one another; each is just the next chapter of the story. But where too many Amazon and Netflix dramas struggle badly to maintain that structure over an entire season, Overmyer — who worked on the final two seasons of The Wire and then co-created Tremé — has plenty of experience with making it work. There was no blatant wheel-spinning point last year, nor through the first half of this season, and the biggest adjustment he made from the start of the series to now is simply adding so much more material — both story and character — that there’s always a new place to go to keep the season from sagging.
Some of that involved treating the supporting cast as more than just props to support Bosch. Welliver is, as usual, superb — focused and self-righteous, but always as this specific guy rather than the caricature — but it helps to have the people around him feel like, well, people. Season two spent a lot of time on Bosch’s lieutenant, Grace Billets (Amy Aquino), a lesbian always aware of her precarious position in the LAPD command hierarchy, and on Deputy Chief Irvin Irving (Wire alum Lance Reddick, doing career-best work), whose relentless political rise was disrupted by a personal tragedy. Season three keeps tracking both of their stories, while also finally delving into what makes Harry’s partner Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector, also a Wire vet) tick, and how exactly he feels about working alongside such an intense and secretive cop. We even go home with Edgar at one point to meet his wife and son, and where on many shows this might seem a warning sign that he’s about to get shot in the line of duty, here it comes at a point where Overmyer has made clear that Hector deserves more to play than he was given in previous seasons. It’s a good cast, and a good group of characters, and (unlike on, say, Dexter) the show not only doesn’t suffer when the title character is off-screen, but the time spent getting to know everyone else only makes Bosch’s interactions with them more interesting.