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Bosch season 2 review: the networks don't make cop dramas like this Amazon show anymore

It made several big improvements in season two and became a gripping example of the form.

Bosch (Titus Welliver) is back on the job in season two.
Amazon Studios
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

In its first season, I didn't have a lot of use for Amazon's Bosch.



I could acknowledge it was a handsomely produced cop drama with some good actors. But it also felt a touch overstuffed to me, trying to do too many things at once, with a serial killer plot line I'd seen before. It was good, not great, and I stopped watching shortly after the season's midpoint.

In season two, though, Bosch has improved in all the right ways. I started watching it just to see what was up with the characters and ended up invested in a way season one never managed.

It's still an incredibly standard cop drama, so if you're looking for a reinvention of that particular wheel, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you want a solidly executed version of the form — or just enjoy a good detective novel — then Bosch season two should do the trick.

Here are five ways the show improved between seasons one and two.

1) It gave the other characters something to do

Lance Reddick finally gets a storyline worthy of his acting talents in season two.
Amazon Studios

In season one, Bosch often had the same problem as another crime drama based on a series of novels — Dexter. As on that serial killer show, LAPD detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) was at the center of the show to such a degree that the other characters always felt a little trapped in his shadow. (Dexter later fell apart largely because of this central failing.)

This makes sense. In the Michael Connelly novels that the series is based on, Bosch is surprisingly compelling, given that he's yet another cop who doesn't play by the rules and is a bit of a loose cannon. Connelly imbues the character with such care and nuance that you end up invested in everything from his crumbling relationships to his clichéd "my mother was murdered, so I became a cop" backstory.

But a TV show is often only as good as its supporting characters, and Bosch had a cast full of great actors to work with, particularly Lance Reddick as Deputy Chief Irving and Jamie Hector as Bosch's fellow detective Jerry Edgar. (Both actors, not coincidentally, are best known for The Wire. Bosch was adapted for TV by Eric Overmyer, who also worked on that show.)

Season two gives the show's supporting players better storylines to work through, particularly Reddick, who gets a great one. The show is still Bosch's, and there are still scenes where the other characters seem as if they only exist when he's around to acknowledge their existence. But it also feels much more like a really good cop show, where the protagonist is the center of attention but there's plenty of light left to shine on the other characters too.

2) The mystery is better

Jeri Ryan in Bosch
Great guest stars like Jeri Ryan are a big part of why this season's mystery is better.
Amazon Studios

The season one mystery was too overheated by half, and it centered on a serial killer, surely the most overdone plot in all of TV cop drama right now. Again, I never finished the season, so maybe it resolved well. But the "previously on Bosch" segment that kicks off the season two premiere does not suggest as much.

In season two, however, the mysterious murder of a man who's shot in the back of the head when he stops to help a motorist in trouble spirals outward into a case involving everything from the mob to Bosch's ex-wife and teenage daughter. Yeah, cops taking on the mob has its own set of clichés to deal with — some of which Bosch wanders right into — but it's at least less-tilled ground.

If a plot that huge sounds a little overcomplicated, it is at times, but the mystery also benefits from strong actors to guide viewers through every twist and turn. In particular, Brent Sexton and Jeri Ryan are fascinating as two people caught up in the web of this mystery — perhaps to an even deeper degree than the detectives initially realize. Essentially every player in this season will send you scrambling to IMDb to figure out what else you've seen them in. Sometimes that's distracting; here, it indicates the level of care in making sure a complicated mystery is easy to follow.

3) Bosch's personal life is better handled

Bosch's ex-wife and daughter, Eleanor and Maddie, play a more integral role in season two.
Amazon Studios

Bosch just cares about his work so much that he's got the aforementioned ex-wife, Eleanor (played by 24's Sarah Clarke) and Maddie (Madison Lintz), a teenage daughter he rarely sees. Even if you're not a cop drama fan, you can probably name at least two or three other examples of that particular form.

In season two, however, Bosch is forced to spend more time with his ex and daughter, and the series sketches a nicely wrought portrait of how exes can sometimes be better friends than they were as spouses. Bosch and Eleanor may not have much in common anymore, but they still have Maddie, and that's enough to keep them in each other's corner.

There's a regrettable incident where Eleanor and Maddie are kidnapped — one of the most overused cop drama clichés of them all — but it's handled quickly, and it forces Bosch into even greater proximity with the two of them. The fallout is worth the temporary idiocy of that plot.

4) The series functions much better as a workplace drama

Bosch attends the funeral of a fellow officer.
Amazon Studios

Cop shows live and die by the personalities wandering around the police precinct, whether series regulars or one-episode guest stars who play criminals brought in off the streets. Bosch has always had great casting, so it's had a leg up in this regard. But season two offers a much stronger sense of Bosch's Hollywood Homicide division as a workplace, rather than just a place he checks in every so often.

In particular, I'm always entertained by the antics of "Crate and Barrel," a Laurel and Hardy–esque duo of detectives who wander around the office offering up occasional commentary on the action. They're serious when the action calls for it (as when a fellow officer has fallen), but they mostly turn up to add levity to the proceedings.

Bosch is also engaged with the role its cops play within their neighborhood, full of intersecting populations that sometimes come into conflict. On Bosch, the cops aren't always right simply because they're cops (as on too many other contemporary police dramas), and sometimes they get things very wrong. But they strive to do the right thing, and that makes the show more appealing than the umpteenth Criminal Minds variation on other networks.

5) What was always good about the show is still good

Whether it's an action sequence or an investigation scene, Bosch's stories almost always take place in overlooked Los Angeles.
Amazon Studios

The title sequence remains one of TV's best, a series of strange mirror images that suggest a Los Angeles turning inward against itself. The score continues to mix jazz and percussion in a way that calls to mind dozens of other cop dramas without feeling overdone.

The series' use of Los Angeles locations remains its single best attribute. This is a show that doesn't take place in the gleaming Los Angeles you see on other shows. It runs around neighborhoods that don't always get put on television, from the rundown areas of downtown to faded supermarkets in the suburbs.

Too many shows set in Los Angeles stick to the trendiest neighborhoods. Bosch spends some time there as well, but it's also got a good feeling for the city as a whole, a place living and breathing and doing its best to not come apart.

Bosch season two is streaming in its entirety on Amazon Prime.

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