There's a great deal of marketing synergy propelling Amazon's first hourlong drama series "Bosch," which debuts on Friday.
"Bosch" refers to Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch, Michael Connelly's internationally famous fictional detective, a perfect fit for Amazon, previously known as a purveyor of books. Not since HBO's "Game of Thrones" has a new series had such a well-established following.
Connelly also has "The Wire's" Eric Overmyer as a fellow executive producer and co-writer on the series, and a personal work ethic — 27 going on 28 books — well suited for the rigors of television. This first 10-episode season of "Bosch" draws on two of the Bosch novels, "City of Bones" and "The Concrete Blonde," but with so many books on the shelf, Connelly has plots to spare.
What "Bosch" doesn't have, alas, is the spark that causes a series to catch fire. Set, as the books are, in modern-day Los Angeles, "Bosch" conjures a noir-tinged L.A. that admirably avoids the clichés to present a view of the city known to its actual residents. But beyond that, the series relies almost entirely on the established popularity of its main character, who doesn't make as natural a transition to the screen as one might think.
Even with the talented Titus Welliver in the role. Bosch, as we meet him here, is depicted as the Last of His Kind. He's a former soldier and old-fashioned cop whose allegiance is to his own (high) moral code, even when it puts him at odds with the bean-counters, the sycophants, the rules-and-regs folks.
Which it often does and indeed has as the series opens.
While chasing a murder suspect, first with his partner Jerry (Jamie Hector) and then, breaking protocol, on his own, Bosch shoots and kills the man, who appears to be drawing a gun.
The LAPD clears him, but the man's widow sues. The first four episodes are framed by Harry's civil trial, where a self-aggrandizing prosecutor (Mimi Rogers) and a predatory journalist makes it clear what Harry is up against: a world in which the media does nothing but exploit, while police and politicians care more about protecting themselves than the public.
A world in which he, Harry Bosch, is his own thin blue line.
Harry wears his aggrieved self-righteousness on his sleeve, which makes it easy to see why so many people don't like him and equally easy to share that opinion. Welliver has a mercurial ability to charm as well as menace and/or mourn, but his performance here is so constricted by the tropes of the Last Good Man — clipped preachifying, lots of middle-distance gazing, a constant battle to quit smoking — that he has no room to beckon much less beguile.
Fortunately, the beauty of Connelly's books, like most good detective fiction, lies more in the crimes than the characters. When Harry becomes involved in the years-old murder of a young boy that may or may not cross-hatch with a more current series of killings, "Bosch" picks up steam.
Also there's an excellent supporting cast, including Alan Rosenberg as a spiritually groovy forensic anthropologist; Lance Reddick, characteristically enigmatic as Deputy Chief Irving; Annie Wersching, as Julia, the rookie Bosch becomes involved with; and Amy Aquino as Grace Billets, Bosch's commanding officer.
Though underused in early episodes, both Jerry and Grace do their best to snap Bosch out of his sad-eyed martyrdom complex, but with a seemingly malicious L.A. Times reporter on his tale, it's tough to see that happening any time soon. (Connelly is a former reporter, including for The Times, and no TV writer is harder on journalist characters than former reporters. Make of this what you will.)
Still, there is no denying Harry Bosch's proven popularity and the comfort many find in the strong silent guys who dig in their heels and try to keep the world from spinning in the wrong direction. If "Bosch" doesn't soar, it's solid enough, and if you like the series, you're just a click away from all the books.