Television, Uncategorized

This Is Bosch Season One

I’m a sucker for cop shows.  My dad was a cop, so maybe it stems from that, who knows, but it doesn’t matter what the format, fictional or otherwise.  I’ll watch it.  Bosch seemed interesting.  Though I have yet to see Transparent, I’ve heard nothing but good things from the Amazon series which made me assume Bosch would bemuch the same quality.  And it is.  Mostly.  Kinda.  I don’t feel as though my time was wasted in those ten episodes, if that helps.  It just never rises above mediocre.

Bosch is a strange character.

First, not every cop show needs to center around an officer who’s a loner, reckless, insubordinate, plays by their own rules, and is, yet, miraculously, still respected.  Even so, he is uneven to the point of continuity error, at once a breaker of department regulations and a stickler for them, loose with his morals when it fits the moment and not so when he’s calling out a fellow officer.  The series opens with him on trial for shooting a suspect, a plot piece aimed (pun?) to underline Bosch’s affinity for going it alone in spite of his partner.  And though acquitted, Bosch doesn’t learn from the incident, diving head-first into more dangerous situations, alone, without backup an episode later, all moments making Bosch less the lone wolf and more a man incapable of learning from his mistakes.  Perhaps this is the point and we are asked to see the humanity in his shortcomings.  I don’t know.  For me, it just makes him stupid.  Exacerbating this point, the narrative of the first season is more coincidence than good detective work.  Our main antagonist is stumbled upon.  A beat cop “has a gut feeling” and there we are.  Body in the back of a van.  This guy turns out to be a sloppy mastermind, a peculiar savant of serial killers who latches onto Bosch for no real reason other than they were both foster children.  I suppose the crazies need little incentive to be crazy, but Bosch is a series of unconnected events which manage to come tenuously together, of which the killer is only one.  The result is sloppy storytelling with the beats of the action results of chance and coincidence with little room for competent heroes.  In both the characterization of its players and the whys of its narrative, Bosch cannot seem to elevate itself to a point beyond spontaneity.

Perhaps this explains why the bulk of the cast is so one dimensional.  Bosch is fleshed out though, again, suffering from some split personality psychosis manifested by the writing.  His Captain is a walking vessel for hate.  Nothing more.  Like the tire from Rubber.  The Captain’s only purpose is to demand Bosch’s badge.  Again.  And again.

And again.

The Deputy Chief (played by Lance Reddick, forever a cop) is similarly uninteresting, spending the majority of his on screen time either behind a desk or on the other side of an unmarked black SUV’s window.  It’s a little staggering to me the number of government officials in Los Angeles who are chauffeured around in unmarked black SUVs, and who hold meetings in them rolled down window to rolled down window.  Bosch’s partner likes to look good.  Has a tendency to run his mouth at suspects when he doesn’t like them, which is often.  Most of the other officers are background noise.  In the same way I disliked Order of the Phoenix for cramming 900 pages into a feature film, Bosch feels equivalently without meat, all bones and no substance even after nearly ten hours.  I can’t help but feel the show would have benefited greatly from another three episodes, if only to give rest once on the details.

But I said it’s decent.  It is.  There are moments of interest when Bosch’s guard is lowered and he moves out of stereotype, most often when his daughter is around.  Too, the show has these vignettes of only a minute or two with characters grabbing coffee, pulling into a strip mall, sitting down at a meeting, mundane moments all which add a curious spark of life into the sometimes gray.  Brief flashes of living.  They are unspectacular in almost every way and yet not.  For me it’s the authenticity they lend.  A certain glimpse behind the scenes where we’re shown not everything is cops and melodrama.  These are perfect touches and needed distractions.

The acting is good.  No one ever feels out of place or under-performed.  Though Bosch as a character has his shortcomings, Titus Welliver isn’t one of them.  He’s great in the role.  Fully believable.  Jamie Hector is the only person I have trouble with, and I can’t tell if that’s more me than him, as I have difficulty placing him as anyone other than Marlo Stanfield.  He smiles more, but his delivery between the two is quite close.

Recommended if you like cop shows.  Recommended if you’re not put off by circumstance.



This Is Marco Polo Season One

Since this is meaty, I’ll try and be succinct.

I liked it.  Mostly.  The views are both breathtaking and sweeping, the immersion into this strange new world a communal experience with Marco as we move with him plucked from home and thrust, bartered, into his foreign life of servitude.  When he learns we learn, growing to better understand the machinations of the palace and politics.  Like a slow-spanning spiral our radius of understanding widens alongside his.  That piece of the journey works exceptionally well, and even at the close of the season, continues to do so.  With a benefactor as ambitions and far-reaching as Kublai Khan, the possibility of what’s left to be revealed is great.

Bits which worked: the package.  Between the vistas and the costumes and the overall palette, I felt saturated immediately by the culture.  Again, to repeat myself above: immersed.  The story progression had a natural flow.  Perhaps it’s a result of a ten episode season, but the narrative was a tight one without forks which appeared to break from the main supply for any reason other than to convolute and stir drama.  I’ll say there are some near exceptions to this, mostly in the character of Jingim, Kublai’s son and heir, who struck me as a less malevolent and bratty Joffrey Baratheon, his distrust of Marco in line with what I’d assume the prejudices of the period to be while nearing a xenophobic quality, lending his decisions a vaguely unbelievable air.  Distrust for sake of distrust.  We’ll eventually learn how some of his emotions were manipulated, making my argument moot to a degree, but even so, I found him exaggerated.  Each character is distinct, another good mark.  Combat is just the right balance of spectacle and tightness, the use of wires done subtly so as to offer a glimpse toward the fantastic without relying on them purely for showmanship.  Hundred Eyes should have his name changed to Mongol Matt Murdock.  Triple M.

Things I wasn’t wild about: the large-scale battle scenes were weak.  I understand a budget is being watched, and I’m not expecting Helm’s Deep here, but the directional choices of tight shots and few combatants shrunk the scale to a terrible degree.  In one particular scene, the fight is more a brief series of shots with a piece of art showing the outcome used as means of narrative, which worked well save the fighting.  Had it just been the sound of war overlaid with the art, the grandness could have been saved, allowing the audience to use their imagination to bolster that scale.  As it stands, this great conflict becomes a schoolyard spat.  One other quibble is the tension.  There are a handful of times the audience is led to believe a character is about to be removed both from show and body.  The difficulty with a period piece like this is anyone can easily see what happened to who and when, making many of the more weighty moments… exercises.  Perhaps it’s a little unfair, this criticism.  We should focus maybe more inside the framework of the known to the smaller pieces moving across the board, and I get that, but it’s an issue which struck me just the same.  To reuse The Two Towers, there’s no fear of Aragorn having been dashed along a cliff.  I mean, it’s Aragorn.  Don’t draw out the moment unnecessarily.

And last: the ending.  It’s a solid wrap-up, though the final reveal seems counter to the character we’ve seen throughout the series.  I’m being intentionally vague so as to avoid spoiling things, but someone who’s shown as pragmatic, thoughtful, decisive, and calculating, is made to be sloppy and incredibly overt.  I just don’t see that decision being made by him, and it feels like a poor addition.  Obviously we have a whole new season to see that kernel become fertile.

I’ve heard the show gets some flack.  I’m not familiar with what those criticisms might be, but we’re not talking about a perfect product here.  Is it enjoyable?  For me.  Was it better than a chunk of what I’ve seen on television these days?  Again, for me.  I still prefer Netflix’s House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black, but Marco Polo is a solid effort from them once more.  Recommended, if for the setting alone.


This Is The Wire

The number of shows or movies (or games or books or whatever else) people tell me to watch is ridiculous.  They range from “not bad” to “life changing”, some spoken of in a conspiratorial whisper, shared secrets from those in-the-know.  Admittedly, I do the same.  Firefly comes to mind.  Firefly always comes to mind.  It’s the perfect example of the hate which gets me up in the morning.  Spoiler alert: Firefly is the greatest piece of something ever, and though I am absolutely easy to rile, dreaming of all the missed adventures with Mal and his crew makes me want to breathe into a brown(coat) paper bag.

The Wire.  Same deal.  I’ve lost count the number of recommendations for watching over the years.  And it was always on The List, there near the top, but having no HBO or desire for HBO cut that thread short.  Then Amazon.  Sweet, beautiful Amazon.  They picked up The Wire, Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, probably a dozen shows in total I’d like to waste my life watching, and be happier for it, eliminating the only real hurtle I had to spending time with Baltimore PD.

So I did.

The short version is: people were right.  Very right.  In a time when storytelling seems to revolve around the next shock or rug-pull or attention-grabbing headline, The Wire is a wonderful thing.  I’m projecting the state of things today on a piece nearly a decade gone now, and I get that, but my argument is unchanged.  All those exist in The Wire – the shocks, the rug-pulls – but they’re subtle.  Understated.  A character dies and it isn’t this Red Wedding stuff.  Just happens.  As in life, sometimes there is no fanfare.  These are people operating inside a dangerous environment, and their departure is an extension of environment, choices, and, occasionally, random events.  I’m not suggesting I dislike those larger water-cooler moments.  They have their place.  For me, I find the impact of a death more startling when it’s a one-minute there, one-minute not moment, when all a person/character has worked for is just taken away, and life catches up.  The Wire makes death undramatic.  A natural part of an unchanging cycle.  By offering less of a “did you see that?” experience, the impact is greater, the void of their absence larger.  More difficult to fill.   It’s tough to explain.

That leads me into my next thought.  The people.  There are only a handful of shows I can think of where a character’s evolution feels right.  Honest.  Like with anyone, The Wire recognizes flaws and pitfalls, loosening the rope some of us seem so intent on fitting around our own necks, and giving these characters the chance to either tighten the thing or find their way out of it.  The result can be a little heartbreaking, having to watch someone continue to pitch inside a self-destructive spiral, but that’s how it is sometimes.  Like I said: honest.  One step forward, two/three/four back.  And what makes those missteps worse is the same downplay of the moment prevalent throughout the show, as though we and everyone else expected them to fail and there they are, again, into old habits.  The Wire is the first show I felt any real empathy for the characters and the people of.  I have my Spikes and my Walter Whites and my Blanche Deverauxs, but it isn’t the same.  There’s an odd fiction to them now.  This is also tough to explain.  With McNulty, Bunk, Bubbles, Lester, anyone, I can see them living still in some inescapable vacuum.  Isn’t to say it’s a negative vacuum in all cases, only that life will continue its march, and maybe they’ll be swept up, maybe not.  Able to stay out, unable to resist themselves.  I doubt McNulty will ever be happy.

I don’t know.  The Wire wasn’t escapism like so many others, and that’s exactly what makes it great.