is not the most auspicious day to launch a new series, but the success of Michael Connelly’s Bosch
on Amazon Prime is not something that will depend on luck. Because this project is driven by Connelly’s will to see his character depicted on the screen the way he was conceived on the pages of his novels. Connelly has taken huge risks, and been rewarded in the sense not only that the finished product reflects his own work, but the ensemble work of people who seem to be just as driven by their ambition to make something deep enough to encompass the silences that fuel Connelly’s writing at its best.
Having watched the first four episodes of Bosch, I can confirm that it’s a show both satisfying to long-time followers of the books, but in no way dependent on them; it has its own context and dynamic. It’s different, as it should be, but what is consistent is the world-view of Connelly’s writing and the strength of Bosch’s character.
Last week Connelly and Titus Welliver, who plays Bosch, flew into London for an overnight trip to promote the series. I managed to interview Welliver, but first caught up with Michael (disclosure: I’ve written an afterword to one of his books, twice interviewed him on stage in London, and even gone to baseball games with him) who was tired but visibly happy. Even the red-eye from LA was a blessing for him: ‘I’ve been so busy with Bosch, I haven’t been able to write, so it was good to have a few hours to work on the next book, which brings Bosch and Mickey Haller together.’
Connelly said he’s waited twenty years for a chance like this, but what’s fascinating is the way he made it happen. ‘I’ve invested most of my adult writing life in this character,’ says Connelly, ‘and I didn’t want him to be something that he’s not.’ He bought the rights to the character back from Paramount, for a ‘seven-figure sum’, and hooked up with Henrik Basten, a Swedish-born producer who was such a fan of the Bosch books he named his son Harry. With writer/producer Eric Overmyer, a veteran of quality shows like Homicide: Life On The Streets, St Elsewhere, The Wire, and Treme, they took the unusual step of writing both the pilot episode and the show ‘bible’, detailing the characters and plot line, before pitching the show to the networks and streaming services.
On that basis, Amazon asked for a lunch meeting, and wanted to take the project ‘off the table’. ‘Amazon sold more of my books than anyone in the world, and the bottom line is I write books,’ Connelly says. ‘I was thinking, these will be one-hour commercials for my books. And they weren’t intimidated by their audience. It was such a change. With the networks, you make the pitch and they go behind closed doors and you never hear from them.’
Connelly says that if the show makes it through a second series, he will ‘break even’, but that doesn’t account for ancillary sales (foreign or DVD) nor for the boost to his book sales. But you get the very real sense that it isn’t about the money. Having had a disappointing ride in other non-Bosch television projects, Connelly simply wants the best for his character.
He insisted on only two elements of creative control in the control, approval of the ‘showrunner’, and that the show be shot entirely on location in Los Angeles, which is such an integral part of the stories. There are moments of real brilliance: as Harry follows a dog up into the woods where the bones which start the case are found, it turns from bright urban LA to Grimm Brothers forest.
And in episode four, written by Connelly and George Pelecanos and directed by the great cameraman Ernest
emerges into the LA River chasing a suspect who’s disappeared.
The plot is worked together from three of the novels, City Of Bones, The Concrete Blonde and Echo Park. The casting is fascinating: Jamie Hector and Lance Reddick from the Wire became Bosch’s partner Jerry Edgar, and deputy chief Irvin Irving respectively. The strong supporting case includes Amy Acquino as Lieutenant ‘Bullets’ Billets, Steven Culp as the DA ‘Rick’ O’Shea, Scott Klace and Troy Evans as the detectives ‘Crate and Barrel’, and Mark Derwin as Capt Harvey ’98’ Pounds. They look like real people and, as Connelly says ‘like my books, they talk like people talk in the middle of their lives, not in the middle of a script.’ Jason Gedrick as the villain, Raynard Waits, brings a Michael Keaton-like unpredictability to what is often a by-the-numbers sort of role. Mimi Rogers is chilling as a lawyer who specialises in suing the police; one fine early cameo is provided by Scott Wilson, as a retired doctor whose dogs digs up the bones that get the main case going. ‘That’s where I felt like a real producer. I know Scott, we’d been going to Dodger games together for 20 years. If you bring people in who know and like the books, they get it.’
But the key piece of ‘getting it’ was the casting of Bosch, and although Connelly and his team were convinced Welliver was the right actor, it seemed as if they would never be able to get their schedules to jibe. After getting through the small talk, of having the same birthday and both being born in New Haven, Connecticut, I asked Welliver about the role, and the strange circumstances under which he finally landed it.
TW: There are so many moving parts in life—I was a single parent and doing Transformers, and I was had one of those situations coming in to New York for a meeting with them, and I’d lost my cell phone, and I was afraid they’d be thinking ‘is he just jerking us off’ because I read the script in 20 minutes and basically had said ‘OK, where and when’, but I was worried it had gone away.’
What was it that appealed to you?
TW: I wanted to work with literate people I respected. Bosch has tremendous depth, he’s not just a cigar-chomping hard-boiled guy. I loved his vulnerability, his deeply lonely troubled world of solitude. The problem is he’s an observer, so how do you make that physical, active? And this show allows you to be contemplative without spelling it out. The networks are terrified of silence, they don’t trust the audience to get it. But it’s a metaphor for the detective process, it’s a grind. We see Harry sitting at his desk, going through files for something he may have missed. It’s like literary judo, he flips it over.
And we’ve got quality TV here, where they’re thinking outside the box, which you can do in this non-network universe. We did the shot of Bosch emerging into the LA River, with a drone, from overhead and panning out, to show he’s alone, and then set him into the context of the city. The drone was terrifying, sort of THX1138. It has to stay a certain distance away from you, with its blades spinning, but I’d rather jump out of a plane!’
You’ve specialised in detectives, and in quiet characters who have all this stuff going on inside, particularly in Deadwood.
TW: Yes, Adams was a listener, a student of the human condition. He was in a state of constant observation, and so was I because working with Ian McShane was like a master class, except he’s so generous. I did this scene, Adams is on the bed, and David Milch said ‘he’s waiting for his life to begin’, and without having to say anything, we got that, quietly. He understood this, and there’s nothing he didn’t write that wasn’t in there for a reason, but he always would give the audience the benefit of the doubt that they would get the little things you do.
It sounds like a straight progression to Bosch?
TW: Exactly. You know, I never wanted to do a show and two seasons in get bored and become a pain in the ass to everyone. I’ll do Bosch as long as they’ll have me.
NOTE: This essay will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)