Review: ‘Bosch’ and the Art of the Pure Police Procedural
Posted April 13, 2018 3:26 p.m. EDT
Among the many new statistics created by baseball maven Bill James is the similarity score, which compares players across eras. The most similar player to the New York Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes? Gus Zernial of the early 1950s Philadelphia Athletics.
If similarity scores could be applied to television shows, there’s no doubt which current series would score as most similar to the classic 1950s cop show “Dragnet.” Detective Harry Bosch doesn’t actually say “This is the city: Los Angeles, California,” but “Bosch” — whose fourth season went up Friday on Amazon Prime — is the spiritual heir to that granddaddy of laconic LA procedurals.
It’s part of a tradition that carries down through “Adam-12,” “Police Woman,” “Quincy, M.E.,” “The Shield” and “Southland,” and it wears its nostalgia proudly. Neither the character nor the show makes apologies for being old school. “Bosch” isn’t the best or most original series, but it’s honest and reliable, like Bosch. It plays fair with the viewer, and among fans of its genre, it has a rabid following.
Developed for television by Eric Overmyer from novels by Michael Connelly, the show accommodates the modern serial drama’s requirements for psychology and back story. Bosch’s daughter and ex-wife are significant characters, and the unsolved murder of his mother (with its echoes of the Black Dahlia case) continues to haunt him in Season 4. (A fifth season has already been ordered.)
But the soul of the series is procedural crime-solving, and that’s more than ever the case in the new season, which focuses on the murder of an African-American lawyer who was about to go to court with a brutality case against the Los Angeles Police Department.
Bosch and his team spend their time doing phone dumps, poring through financial records, searching homes and offices and then searching them again, and endlessly, fruitlessly tailing suspects through the Southern California streets and strip malls. They do it all on camera, and they complain about it. A lot.
The romantic associations of the setting balance this attention to the quotidian details of police work — the classic bargain of Los Angeles noir. “Bosch” is discreet but determined in its use of evocative locations, which this season include the Bradbury Building, the Biltmore Hotel, Du-pars at the Farmers Market, the abandoned Red Line tunnels beneath downtown and, most prominently, the Angels Flight funicular that still runs up and down Bunker Hill. The Smog Cutter, the Silver Lake dive bar, makes its final appearances, having closed late last year.
Anchoring it all is the deliberate, heavy quietude of Titus Welliver’s performance as Bosch, communicating untold skepticism and disdain through an arched eyebrow or a downturned lip. Welliver can suggest an entire personality in the way he stares at a whiteboard or silently chooses which chair to sit in, and the show has matched him with other nonhistrionic actors like Jamie Hector (as his partner), Sarah Clarke (his former wife) and Madison Lintz (his daughter).
The unhurried pace of “Bosch” can sometimes slow to a crawl, the writing can be workmanlike and the secondary storylines involving Bosch’s family or Los Angeles politics can be thin. But when it errs, it errs on the side of literalness rather than falseness, of plainness rather than pretension. The show doesn’t require patience so much as relaxation. Surrender to its hard-boiled charms, and it will treat you right.