I just finished watching the first two seasons of the excellent Bosch on Amazon Prime. I admit that I’ve only just started the books by Michael Connelly, which the show is based on, although I usually try to read originals before watching adaptations; but the series stands on its own.

Bosch follows a homicide detective in L.A. with all the usual police procedure and lingo, mystery, and suspense, but its real strength is depth of character, political intrigue, and ethical dilemmas. Detective Harry Bosch (Titus Welliver) chafes under the restrictions of his boss Irving, the deputy Chief of Police, when his work is handicapped by considerations of public image or the demands of Irving’s own ambition. Irving, in the meantime, played by the marvelously impassive Lance Reddick, is not completely corrupt, but his desire to take control of the department and reform it leads him to make some shady deals and throw some of his subordinates under the bus.

There are layers and layers of politics here: departmental politics, race politics, clashes between the D.A., the mayor, the FBI, and the police; the necessity for good public relations versus the frustration of covers blown by the media; and the struggle to balance personal feelings, justice, and law. Bosch and the other officers often find themselves in a Dirty Harry-like situation where their desire for justice is at odds with their responsibility to afford due process and obtain evidence legally. Like Dirty Harry, Detective Bosch struggles not to be overwhelmed by the perversion and horror of his work; but he is also formed by his youth in an abusive foster home and the unsolved murder of his prostitute mother.

The serial killer in the first season, played by Jason Gedrick, is likewise the best psycho since Dirty Harry. He’s equal parts manipulative, emotional, and terrifyingly charming.  The first season was heart-stoppingly suspensful and intense; I had to take a break between episodes to emotionally recover, and the climax made me literally gasp and jump out of my seat. The second season’s villains are not so compelling, and its ending is not as satisfying; but it makes up for it with the way it continues to plumb the character’s depths and step up the intrigue, with the added complications of undercover policemen and FBI agents. The sideplot of Deputy Chief Irving’s regret for his compromises and the suffering of his family are especially compelling.

I especially like the way the series flirts with the struggle between idealism and realism, and the way it addresses the idea of “closure.” There are plenty of despicable, corrupt officials, but there are also many conflicted characters, both hardened veterans and new recruits who bear the scars of their internal struggles with duty and conscience. The viewer is forced to consider what crosses the line, from necessary cooperation with evil (plea bargains and informants) to understandable compromise (failure to expose illegally-gained evidence, because it would put a murderer back on the streets) to complete corruption.

Bosch also deals thoughtfully with the idea of closure. There are characters who use it like a buzzword to promote their agenda or downplay the lasting damage done by evil, prompting Detective Bosch to snap, “closure is a myth;” but in his own way he seeks closure as well, by trying to temper the evil of the city with some justice, even when it comes too late to save lives. The plot intertwines with memories of Bosch’s childhood traumas, which have obviously not healed beyond a certain point. I also felt the desire for closure as a viewer! Bosch’s conviction that he was put there to “set things right” give the show a powerful drive. I’m not fond of completely dark television, and this show provides just enough redemption to temper the darkness.*  Here’s the trailer, which gives you a pretty good taste of the show; let me know what you think!


* Be warned: it is very dark. Not only R-rated but not for the sensitive. The visuals are not too graphic, aside from some nudity and disturbing images of dead bodies, but the subject matter is heart-wrenching: child abuse, prostitution, rape, and so on.


7QT–Intro to Star Trek for Snobs

So maybe you’d be embarrassed to be caught watching Star Trek? I used to be like that too. Here’s 7 reasons you won’t regret giving it a try:

1.  It’s a great blend of intense philosophical, political, or emotionally gut-wrenching storylines with pure comic relief, action adventure, and cheesiness. It’s not just fluff, but it won’t drag you down if you watch it every night, either. Episodes often consider issues like when a natural or artificial creature crosses the line into sentience, how legitimate it is to interfere with someone else’s culture, what the rules of privacy are when you’re telepathic, and when you’re justified in breaking the law. The Original Series deals more heavily with logical and philosophical issues; The Next Generation deals with the struggle between fighting for justice and forcing your ideals on someone; Deep Space Nine deals with political intrigue and the struggle for ethics in the middle of war, deception and suspicion, racial tension, and a corrupt economy; Voyager deals with the struggle to adapt in crisis situations without losing your essential identity; and Enterprise…well, it’s horrible, but it has some great fight scenes. Don’t watch Enterprise.

2.  The Prime Directive. This exists mostly in the world of The Next Generation, and it dictates that Starfleet explorers may not interfere in the natural development of a civilization; for instance, they can’t burst into a primitive society and blow holes in its religious worldview, and they can’t give advanced technology to people who aren’t ready to use it responsibly. This leads to a lot of thoughtful episodes where well-meaning captains break the Prime Directive when it seems like their obvious moral duty to step in, but their actions have disastrous unintended consequences. Shades of colonialism and nation-building!


3. The Borg. An honestly terrifying collective of “assimilated” cyborgs who think with one communal mind, the Borg raise questions of free will and individuality. The character Seven of Nine, in the Voyager series, struggles to regain her humanity after being freed from the collective, embodying a major Star Trek theme: what does it mean to be human? Some of the best parts of Star Trek involve the struggles of Seven of Nine, Data (an android), and The Doctor (a hologram) to define their sentience and individuality. Similarly, Vulcan characters, who rely on logic and suppress all emotion, struggle to appreciate the value of human emotion, and pagan, warlike Klingons struggle to embrace negotiation and compromise.

4.  Bajorans and Cardassians. This racial conflict in Deep Space Nine, obviously based on Nazi history as well as Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yields some of the most moving episodes. Cardassians struggle (or not) to respect their former conquests and take responsibility for their atrocities; Bajorans struggle with dehumanizing Cardassians and demanding an eye for an eye. The stars of this subplot are Gul Dukat, the former Cardassian dictator who fluctuates fantastically between arrogance and hatred, blind self-justification, and a bizarre Messiah complex; and Kira, the Bajoran ex-freedom fighter and terrorist, who struggles to overcome the violent, black and white worldview she’s accepted since youth. There’s a really knock-out episode (“Duet”) in which a Cardassian, a low-level government employee haunted by his failure to resist the atrocities committed by his superiors, takes on the identity of a war criminal to bring himself to justice.

Brent Spiner as Data

5.  Fantastic acting. You probably think I’m joking, since Star Trek is known for its heavy-handedness and William Shatner style; but there are some really amazing performances: Brent Spiner, a Broadway veteran, convincingly plays the emotionless Data as well as Data’s misguided human creator Soongh and his corrupt counterpart Lore; Patrick Stewart, with his Shakespearean experience, plays Captain Picard with grace and deep emotion; and Andrew Robinson (who played the serial killer in Dirty Harry!) brings mesmerizing complexity to the role of clever, obsequious Garak, the “simple tailor” with a dark past that’s never quite revealed. Garak’s ever-changing life story and his subtle manipulation of everyone around him make him fascinating to watch.


Andrew Robinson as Garak

6.  The Ferengi, chiefly present in Deep Space Nine, offer spectacular comic relief. They’re a race of swindlers, and their lovingly detailed society is built around Sacred Commerce and the Rules of Acquisition (“Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success. Don’t hesitate to step on them”). The character Q, from Next Generation and Voyager, is hilarious every time he shows up. He’s an omnipotent but silly being from the supremely evolved Q “Continuum” who shows up at inconvenient moments either to lecture humanity on its primitiveness or to use his powers to amuse himself by annoying the busy crewmen. Next Generation and Voyager also feature a lot of comic relief episodes on the holodeck, where the crew can unwind in any simulated setting they can imagine–historical, fictional, or fantastical.


7.  I don’t care what you say, William Shatner is cute.

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7 Quick Takes: Kids’ Shows that are not Horrible

Seven kids’ shows that are not horrible, in order from “shows I can’t help sitting down and watching with the kids” to “shows I don’t mind in the background” to “shows I’m not crazy about, but are remarkably unobnoxious.”  These are all available on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

1. Pocoyo

I was skeptical, but this is pretty hilarious. Fun soundtrack, ducks who can dance like Michael Jackson, and narration by Stephen Fry.  Here’s a pretty creative episode featuring Ride of the Valkyries:

2. Peep and the Big Wide World

Okay, I might have a weakness for cartoons with little segments of cute kids doing science experiments–or ducks with hats?–but I really enjoy watching the egotistic, ridiculous Quack (who reminds me a bit of the Humbug in The Phantom Tollbooth, or maybe Toad in The Wind in the Willows, the sarcastic Chirp, and the enthusiastic Beaver Boy, whose teeth get bored if he doesn’t have something to chew on.  Tongue-in-cheek narration by Joan Cusack and education that’s not too heavy-handed make this easier for grown-ups to watch.

3. Tinga Tinga Tales

This is like a lovely children’s book–classic stories, moral endings that aren’t too heavy-handed, and beautiful design.  I love the animals’ different accents, too.

4. Mighty Machines

I learned a lot from this show.  Every machine you can think of, from construction vehicles and race cars to factory robots and salt mine jeeps, explains their job in random hokey accents.  They sound just like you do when you’re playing with your kids and speaking in persona garbage truck: “hey, look how much garbage I can push!  Boy, does that stink!  Have you ever SEEN this much garbage, kids?”  I can’t find a link of the steamroller with the Louis Armstrong voice singing “I roll up, / I roll down, / I push the dirt / into the ground, / oh yeahhh,” so here’s the glorious intro:

5. Kipper

This is just a sweet, gentle show.  It’s great for kids who really need to calm down but refuse to nap.  Narrated, believe it or not, by Martin Clunes of Doc Martin!

6. Wonderpets

Okay, I find the animation in this very freaky, and it’s pretty heavy-handed.  But it’s also kind of sweet, and pretty funny.  And we sing the song all the time at the deli.  What’s gonna work?  Teeeeamwork!
7. Handy Manny

Okay, hear me out!  This looks like the usual Disney obnoxiousness, but it’s really not too bad.  My favorite parts are that Manny speaks with a pleasant, adult voice, instead of a whiny, hyper kid’s voice, and that the Spanish words it teaches are integrated into the dialogue naturally (instead of shrieking, Dora-style, “CAN YOU SAY ‘HOLA??!'” Manny will say “today we’re going to la playa–the beach.”)  Much less annoying, and much more educational.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised to find that Reading Rainbow is much better than I remembered, Sesame Street is hilarious and not at all the PC, Cookie-Monster-now-eats-kale travesty people freak out about, and Curious George is just as delightful and imaginative as the books, if not more. What are your favorite kids’ shows?

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