I don’t talk much about TV on here, because frankly no one but my friend Amy wants to hear my feelings about how Nick Burkhardt on Grimm is a moron (and I’m continually about six episodes behind in Justified), but I’ve just watched the Amazon Prime pilot of BOSCH — based loosely on City of Bones, a mid-series Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly — and I’ve watched it twice, and the way I’m watching it makes me think about photography.
I’ve talked a little, variously, about cinematography in various films; color use, light, what have you, and while I notice it in TV — the first two seasons of Justified are among the most lovely and atmospheric episodes of TV ever made, the later three just not quite as perfect but still lovely — I don’t necessarily think about it the same way. I give zero fucks, for example, how Major Crimes is filmed. I am interested in Flynn and Provenza doing stupid things, and Captain President Detective Roslin messing up things with Rusty. I do not care how they make Los Angeles look. Apparently, though, I do care what they do with Michael Connelly’s Bosch series, because it is deeply beloved to me, and Connelly’s writing is so vibrant, so dark, so sad. Those novels, especially the early ones, up through Nine Dragons or so, are truly genuine L.A. noir, and that has a feel. That has a look.
Amazon Prime is getting into the made-for-streaming game, which I’m into, and this is one of their pilots, which I’m into because I love the shit out of Connelly’s Bosch novels; it did well, so it will probably be picked up. The main plotline — child’s bones found buried in the Hollywood hills — is a pretty solid one; it’s a pretty solid Bosch novel, too, and it goes some interesting and super dark places. It’s not a bad introduction to Bosch, really, especially if you want, in the books, to escape the early self-destructive Bosch, but before you get to the later, domesticated, single dad Bosch. (I like that Bosch, too, because I love Bosch’s smartass daughter, but still, the latest books have a different feel than the first dozen or so.) The dialogue in the pilot clunks; the fact of the matter is that it’s lifted, almost the entire episode, straight from the opening to the book, right down to Bosch being on call being someone wanted to go to a Lakers game. It works in print; it didn’t sell on screen, partly because — and here’s the problem — they got the light all wrong. That awkward scene with Brasher and Bosch? It’s twilight. It’s not clear, it’s not clean, it’s not bright, not like the pilot gets it. You can be awkward but less awkward in twilight, you know.
And that’s the bigggest problem I had with the whole thing; they’ve got the light of these books — which Connelly conveys beautifully in text — all wrong. There are moments of that fierce Los Angeles sunshine glare in the books, but, fuck, Harry Bosch is a tunnel rat, the whole first few books are about him crawling around in tunnels in Vietnam, blowing shit up, and what that’s left him with in Los Angeles. Hell, Connelly wrote one called Lost Light, for fuck’s sake. All of the Bosch books are twilight, streetlights, early morning fog. They’re not Los Angeles sunshine. They’re the seedy bits, the alleys, the hookers left dead on street corners. The whole show is too goddamned clean to be about Harry Bosch — the only thing they get perfectly right in the pilot are the few scenes in Bosch’s house, which is visually perfect and, if they do it right, sixteen kinds of metaphors for how fucked up Harry Bosch really is.
Truth: Harry Bosch is fucked up. Not even a quarter of how fucked up Harry Bosch is got through in that pilot. Harry Bosch is a goddamned sloppy fucked up lonely drunk. I have plenty of problems with the added line of the court case, which is true to the books, just not City of Bones, and not in its details. Those rainy flashbacks almost get the right feel of the series, though, so that’s something. But the plotline itself, it’s far seedier and sloppy and brutal in the books — and gets dragged out, at least the case itself — for quite a while, and I don’t really feel like it’s adding anything here except wah wah wah poor put-upon Harry Bosch. Harry Bosch does that himself, Amazon, with or without a sanitized version of the Dollmaker case to hang over his head. It would be and should be compelling TV — Titus Welliver has a great face for it, and he’s talented even if Connelly’s dialogue apparently just crashes noisily on TV. (In fact, I really like him as Bosch; he’s very close to how I picture Bosch when I read the books.)
But they just don’t have the light right. I’ll keep watching, but that’s a hard goddamn thing for me to forgive. How can you fuck up Los Angeles noir light? Amazon has. It’s magical.
(Bosch wouldn’t wear Chucks, but this is the right light. For the record.)