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Why Bosch Is the Grilled Cheese of TV Drama

What makes Amazon's gritty noir procedural such reliable comfort food?
  • Titus Welliver stars in Bosch (Amazon)
    Titus Welliver stars in Bosch (Amazon)

    Bosch dropped its fifth season on Amazon Prime a couple of weekends ago. You probably missed it; most people miss Bosch's premieres, despite my best efforts over the last few years to sell others on the show's TV-comfort-food charms. Unfortunately, it is TV comfort food, at least for those of us who dine regularly on solid police procedurals, and that's a tough sell during Peak TV, when everyone's to-watch lists stretch into the multiple pages. "It's a strong B-plus whose negatives don't leave an aftertaste" just doesn't seem to cut it in 2019.

    Or does it? I'm not the only one who watches TV for a living who makes time for some California mac-and-cheese; both Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall…

    ...and Brian Grubb at Uproxx have talked up the show, around the fifth-season premiere and in the past. Grubb's recent piece posits that it's the proportions of predictable and prestige that make the show so watchable, and I completely agree. (Given the show's pedigree — based on a series by Michael Connelly and adapted and produced by Eric Overmyer, who's a vet of not just bingeable network procedurals like Homicide and Law & Order: Mothership but also prestige cop fare like The Wire — that expert blending makes sense.)

    But Bosch has and does a few other things that make it appealing, almost restful, to viewers who might need a respite from headline-grabbing, mood-dampening fare like Game Of Thrones or The Handmaid's Tale.

    The writing expects you to keep up…

    ...but it isn't required. The season arcs come straight from the books, apparently, often braiding plots from three or more different books into a single season, and the early going of a given season can feel dense, like you're missing something.

    You're probably not, but if you are, it's not essential to your enjoyment of the show, which is as much about atmosphere and realized characters as it is about cracking a cold case or clearing Bosch's name. …Again.

    The bothersome elements in the writing don't linger.

    Look, the titular Bosch's full name is Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch. That's a lot, before you've even watched a frame of the thing, but even the show eye-rolls it from time to time. There's also the occasional turgid exchange about the nature of truth, or a string of cop-show clichés about loose cannons or blue walls or how law and justice are two different blah blah blah trope-cakes.

    But this is professional cop-show writing from people with years in the field, who really know how to dig into the "process" part of "procedural"; the "rogue cop tries to clear his name" and "human vs. institution" journeys aren't new, but sometimes, an old story done extremely competently is its own pleasure. Certainly the acting corps knows how to sell it. And about the actors…

    The cast is a very pleasing, age-appropriate buffet of Wire alums, and "Hey, It's That Guy!" actors from '90s projects.

    Titus Welliver, himself a survivor of a Very Special Guest Appearance on Beverly Hills, 90210 back in the day, is perfectly cast as Bosch; there's something about his delivery and the way he inhabits his detectiveness that sands off some of the more Bobby Goren edges of the character.

    The rest of the main cast is the headline, though: The Wire's Lance Reddick and the underrated Jamie Hector as the police commissioner and Bosch's partner, respectively, plus various alums like Clark Johnson in season-long roles; Amy Aquino (Felicity; ER) as Bosch's direct boss (and another ER grad, Troy Evans, as "Barrel" Johnson); and Paul Calderón as former nemesis, now teammate Santiago Robertson.

    The single-season and recurring cast are just as impressive -- Juliet "Drusilla" Landau, C. Thomas "Ponyboy" Howell, and Richard "Paul Robinette" Brooks, to name just a few from the most recent season -- and it's not something you're necessarily conscious of at first, but after a while, you realize what's different about the Bosch cast generally: it's the right age. Ninety percent of the police/law enforcement procedurals on television think Chicago PD, the FBI, and so on are staffed largely by poreless twentysomethings with disorientingly perfect teeth and shoes, when in reality it can take years to make detective — and you would wear those years on your face. Reddick, Howell, Aquino, Brooks, Mimi Rogers, and Jeri Ryan in her recurring role…they're all still foxy, but they look and move like real people who have lived, and they're given realistically complex home and sex lives (that aren't all hetero and/or monogamous, and the show just incorporates those relationships without congratulating itself).

    So yes: Bosch is "only" a very good show, in a cultural landscape teeming with great ones — but if you think about it, very good is a comparatively rare achievement. And it's very good at being very good.

    People are talking about Bosch in our forums. Join the conversation.

    Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity, and her work has appeared in Glamour and New York, and on MSNBC, NPR's Monkey See blog, MLB.com, and Yahoo!. She's also the editor-in-chief and publisher of Tomato Nation, and true-crime blog and podcast The Blotter Presents.

    TOPICS: Bosch, Amazon, Titus Welliver