I remain unconvinced about whether or not streaming services are really the future. They’ve certainly had more hits than misses recently, but those will come in due course. “Traditional” media never strived to create a deliberate failure after all.
But that all said, Amazon and Netflix have had a couple of stormers in the last few weeks and I’ve binged both of them. (I dislike the word “binge”, but it’s true that I devoured each series over a single weekend).
Amazon’s big new series is Bosch, a new adaptation of a series of crime novels from Michael Connelly. I watched the pilot last year, and hoped that Amazon would make a full series – which they have duly done.
Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch is a Los Angeles homicide detective. He’s longer in the tooth than many of those around him. The TV Bosch has served in Iraq (in the books it was Vietnam, putting the current literary version of the character as even older).
The magnificently named Titus Welliver plays our eponymous hero. I didn’t know him from anything previously, although it looks like he’s done a fair bit of US TV work. He plays Bosch as quiet and controlled. He doesn’t have a fancy car, but he does have some usual TV detective quirks. He likes jazz, listening on vinyl with an analogue amplifier – valves and everything. And his house reminds you a little of the Stahl House – lots of glass, high in the hills overlooking LA. He lives in this luxury, we are told, because Hollywood turned one of his old cases into a terrible film. He put the money into his home.
The fact that Bosch is an older detective is one of the more pleasing elements of this series. Many of the characters are older, and they feel more real. Amy Aquino is his Lieutenant, not suffering fools too gladly, and Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) is the Deputy Chief, climbing the very greasy pole to the top.
Jamie Hector (also a Wire alumnus) is his partner, and their relationship feels real. He in turn is a properly drawn out character, even if we see less of his personal life.
Meanwhile Bosch has a daughter living with his ex-wife in Las Vegas (Sarah Clarke – known to me as 24’s Nina Myers) who plays cards professionally, using her police profiling skills now for personal gain. Again, it’s not an unrealistic portrayal.
The series definitely has its routes in noir. Despite being made in colour, and mostly set during the daytime, it has that languorous feel to it.
And it also has a real sense of place. The opening credits are outstanding. Simple, yet beautiful, using a an inversion effect to reflect the city on itself. Yes, Jesse Voccia’s theme music seems to be influenced a little by House of Cards – it has the same tone – but it works perfectly with the credit sequence.
As an aside, why is it only “premium” cable/streaming series that still invest in powerful opening credit sequences. A good opening sequence can really adjust your reality settings and set you up for the series’ reality.
I absolutely loved this series. I’ve read a couple of Connelly’s books, and he’s heavily involved in the series, both as an executive producer, and co-writing a couple of episodes. The rest of the writers are also experienced TV writers from the quality end of the spectrum.
But it’s interesting to note the extent to which Connelly has had control over this series. After he sold the film rights and watched them languish within Paramount as they failed to make a film, he eventually wrestled them back, and quickly did a deal with Amazon. There’s an interview with Connelly in the current episode of KCRW’s The Business.
The story is told well, never feeling stretched out across the ten episodes. It does that great thing of having a bit of a hook at the end of each episode that makes you want to binge watch the whole series. Here’s hoping there’s a second series.
[Update 18 March 2015: Amazon has renewed Bosch for a second season. Good news!]
Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is something quite different. It also started out different, with NBC commissioning the series from executive producer Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (of 30 Rock fame). But for one reason or another, they got cold feet, and the series was snapped up by Netflix.
Perhaps it’s the slightly unsettling premise of the comedy: four “mole women” have been kept hostage by a cult in an underground bunker for fifteen years, in the belief that some kind of apocalypse has happened outside. At the start of the pilot episode they’re rescued, and we follow the eponymous Kimmy – played wonderfully by Ellie Kemper (from The US Office) – who decides that she wants to start afresh in New York.
There she ends up sharing a down at heal apartment with room-mate Titus (Tituss Burgess) and their landlady Lillian (Carol Kane). Kimmy also manages to quickly land a job with the insanely wealthy Jaqueline (Jane Krakowski, also a 30 Rock alumnus) and her kids.
The comedy comes from Kimmy adapting to modern life – her pop cultural references ending with mid-nineties boybands – but also her determined positiveness. She dresses in vibrant colours, and most things have a positive spin on them.
This could sound a bit too twee, but there are moments of darkness too. We get lots of 30 Rock-style throwaway lines which sometimes reveal the unpleasantness of her previous situation. There are flashbacks too. But Kimmy is a positive character – glass half full.
I think I loved absolutely everything about this series. I laughed out loud – a lot. And the performances are just wonderful. There are loads of references littered throughout it, and even the slightly unusual “Autotune-the-news” styled theme music (from those very guys Wikipedia tells me) becomes insanely hummable. Indeed, the internet is already full of articles that say precisely that.
There are also guest stars aplenty – especially towards the end of the run. No spoilers here.
Frankly I’m annoyed with myself that I blitzed through all thirteen episodes of the first series over a couple of days. Thankfully, Netflix commissioned two seasons of the series from the off, so only another year to wait for more.
I’m really not disproving the notion that streaming services are all superior am I?