Monday, June 22, 2020
June 22, 2020: BoschStudying: Harry
[Like most of us, my lockdown has offered the opportunity to check some TV shows off of my list. One of the best I’ve seen is Amazon Prime’s original show Bosch, based on the longstanding series of police procedural detective novels by Michael Connelly (who is part of the show as well). The best part of Bosch is its characters, so this week I’ll AmericanStudy the five most important!]
On the lead character who echoes but also enriches and challenges a couple familiar types.
I’m far from the first person to say it, but it’s so true that it bears repeating: there have been few better fits between actor and character in TV history than that of Titus Welliver with Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. Welliver has played tons of great characters over the years, working repeatedly with both David Milch and Ben Affleck among others, but one consistent through-line across those roles, as Welliver has been the first to note in interviews, is that many have fallen within the broad category of the hard-boiled cop/detective. Given that Michael Connelly has described a college experience (at the University of Florida) reading Raymond Chandler as a key origin point for his career as a mystery writer, it’s fair to say that Harry Bosch (the first main character Connelly created, beginning with his award-winning debut novel The Black Echo ) could be described as a hard-boiled detective in his own right. All of that felt instinctively true before I had watched a second of the show, and barreling through the six current, phenomenal seasons (with one more still to come) did nothing to dissuade me of the notion.
At the same time, Welliver has also in interviews frequently used another phrase to describe Harry: “such a quintessential anti-hero.” I’ve written a good deal in this space about TV anti-heroes, perhaps the single most defining character type of this 21st century Golden Age of Television, from Tony Soprano to Walter White to Jimmy McNulty to Frank Underwood to Don Draper to Jack Bauer to Al Swearengen to Boyd Crowder to Vic Mackey to Dexter Morgan to Olivia Pope (and I could go on and on). Many of those figures are overtly criminal in their defining activities, and many others are at least more than willing to break the law to achieve their goals, so perhaps the closest parallel to Bosch would be McNulty, a police officer who is genuinely trying to be “good police” (and certainly succeeds at times) but whose personal flaws and demons frequently lead him to make mistakes that damage both himself and his communities. Given that the extended first scene of the first episode of Bosch features our protagonist pursuing and killing a suspect, after which his superior officer, Lance Reddick’s Captain Irving (on whom more later this week), says something along the lines of, “Jesus, Bosch, again?!,” there’s no doubt that Harry is established immediately through precisely that balance of good cop and flawed man.
But despite those multi-layered familiar tropes, I would ultimately call Bosch something quite different than either the classic hard-boiled detective or the quintessential anti-hero. Jimmy McNulty’s flaws and mistakes can be traced to many of the same vices (or pleasures, depending on how you frame it) that have defined so many hard-boiled detectives—sex and booze, to put it bluntly. Harry Bosch drinks quite a bit, and has it seems had more than his fair share of difficulties with relationships (although on the show they are mostly in his past). But what Welliver has so compellingly called the “darkness” in Bosch comes from a very distinct and much more intimate place, one linked to (without spoiling all the details, since we learn much of this across the first season) his childhood and his mother, the darkness of the world in which he grew up and which so fully shaped both what’s strongest and what’s weakest, most admirable and most frustrating, in him. Those things mostly go unspoken—this is a show that respects its audience as much as any I’ve seen, and demands a great deal of us—but they comprise the beating heart of both the character and the show, and make it something familiar yet strikingly unique and engrossing as well.
Next BoschStudying tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Takes on this show or others you’d call especially lockdown-binge-worthy?