Titus Welliver's righteous LAPD homicide cop Harry Bosch begins the second season of Amazon's Bosch on suspension for a stunt he pulled when last we saw him. Shaving off the beard he grew during his time away from the job, he playfully considers sticking with some mutton-chop sideburns and/or a mustache, before finally chopping it all off to the great relief of his daughter Maddie.
This is at once a wink to the various epic stages of Welliver's facial hair on Deadwood and a nod to the fact that, in Michael Connelly's best-selling series of Harry Bosch novels, his hero sports a thick policeman's 'stache. Welliver began the series clean-shaven, in part because he didn't have time to grow anything after he was cast. But the shaving scene is a way for the Bosch creative team to make clear that, even as they continue to incorporate plot ideas and characters from Connelly's novels, they're not going to be slaves to the source material.
Which, great as those books are, is probably for the best.
Season 2, which Amazon will release tomorrow (I've seen the first five episodes), borrows elements from Bosch novels Trunk Music and The Drop, leaning heavily on the former as Harry and partner Jerry Edgar (Jamie Hector) investigate the mob-style killing of an adult film producer. But it takes those plot threads, as well as some lingering ones from last year, and weaves them into something that feels more like a TV show built to last.
Though Bosch has carried 18 books of his own so far, not to mention frequent appearances in Connelly's parallel Lincoln Lawyer series, he's so intense, and such a self-righteous loner, that a strictly translated version of him wouldn't work all that well as the protagonist of an ongoing TV series. So Welliver and Bosch showrunner Eric Overmyer have tweaked their hero a bit, making him younger (book Bosch fought in Vietnam; TV Bosch in Kuwait) and more willing to socialize, while still retaining the sense of mission and anger so that he's Bosch enough for the title to not feel like a cheat.
It helps that the new season doesn't revolve around TV's 11 billionth charismatic serial killer, which was an enormous drag on the first go-around. Instead, Bosch and Edgar get mixed up in a secret FBI investigation, the agenda of their victim's glamorous widow (Jeri Ryan), an obnoxious Vegas wiseguy (Matthew Lillard, continuing his surprisingly great adult career renaissance from The Descendants and The Bridge), and a retired LAPD cop (Brent Sexton, another Deadwood alum) eager to be even peripherally involved again with a police investigation. It's more film noir than before, and the tone of it all seems better suited to the compact performance Welliver is giving.
Just as importantly, the world and characters around Bosch feel more fully-formed. There are a couple of parallel storyline involving Bosch's sometime-nemesis, LAPD deputy commissioner Irvin Irving (Lance Reddick), who's both getting involved in the mayoral election and shadowing his son George (Robbie Jones) on an investigation (which brings in yet another Wire vet in James Ransone), and both of those at different times fold in Bosch and Edgar's boss, Lt. Grace Billets (Amy Aquino). Where before every character existed only to either aid or impede(*) Bosch in his crusade for justice, now they have lives and concerns of their own – and unlike on a show like Dexter, the material for the supporting cast is compelling enough to survive the leading man's temporary absences.
(*) The weakest parts of the early novels tended to involve various two-dimensional LAPD bosses waging petty vendettas against Bosch for his refusal to play by their rules. The first season of the show heavily featured one of those idiots, but he's been transferred far away when we return.
I still wish Overmyer had taken his time detailing Harry's complicated relationship with Eleanor Wish (Sarah Clarke) – a former FBI profiler who now plays cards with Vegas high rollers – which covered many years and many books on the page. But jumping straight to Harry having an ex-wife and a teenage daughter (played by Madison Lintz) offers some wry humor – as well as frequent tech support for our Luddite hero – and the fact that so much of Harry's investigation this time is in Vegas makes Eleanor's presence feel less extraneous than it was in the first season.
There's a lot of great material to draw from the Bosch novels, but also a lot of crime drama clichés that function entirely because of the lean quality of Connelly's prose and how vividly drawn Harry is as the main character. The first season of Bosch unfortunately leaned on a lot of those clichés while at the same time easing back on some of its hero's most distinct personality traits. With season 2, everything feels much more in balance, and much more confidently its own thing, rather than a tentative adaptation figuring itself out through trial and error.
By the end of the first season, I feared this show made from one of my favorite book series had little to offer me. Now, though, I'm eager to not only watch the second half of this season, but to see what Overmyer, Welliver, and company can do going forward.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org