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.


Sometimes it’s an Easy Fix

So about a month ago I was in a pretty dark hole–depressed, overwhelmed, couldn’t sleep.  This kind of state comes and goes with me, but I couldn’t figure out why it was suddenly attacking me so strongly.  Then I realized: for the last week or so, I had been:

  • not praying as much as usual
  • reading the newspaper every day at work
  • following and researching stories about child abuse and homelessness
  • watching JAG right before bedtime, including episodes about gangs, suicides, and PTSD
  • and reading a memoir about the Vietnam War.

Duh!  I quit reading the paper, tried to quit clicking the “trending” news stories on Facebook, and brought the Vietnam book back to the library.  I gave myself permission to veg on the couch at night, instead of reading something “serious” and “worthwhile,” and I picked up a couple of fun pulp fiction mysteries.  I started saying evening or night prayer more often.  Voila!  Instant peace.

Sometimes depression comes on for no reason, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  But sometimes it’s your own darn fault.  Speaking of which, I started this blog with the intention of devoting most of my time to passing on beautiful things, didn’t I.  Sorry about that.  I don’t regret any of the posts I’ve written about disturbing topics, but I’m going to try to make the majority of them positive from now on!

P.S.  I’ve finally created an email account for the blog, and I’d love to hear from you at SunsetBlog (at) aol (dot) com.  Thank you so much for reading.  You make my day.


Realpolitik and Silence in the Face of Slander

Scales, Balance, Symbol, Justice, Court, Legal

Don’t laugh, but I’ve been watching a lot of the show JAG lately.  Beyond the hokey characters and soap-opera drama, there are a lot of interesting clashes going on: the tension between loyalty and objectivity, between diplomatic concerns and military strategy, and between justice and realpolitik.  The episode “Defensive Action” (filmed in 1996) follows the story of a pilot, “the CAG,” who is caught in a no-fly zone by a Serbian helicopter.  When the plane he is flying with malfunctions and its pilot is forced to eject, the CAG sees the Serbian helicopter shooting at the defenseless parachuter, and destroys it.  But because no one else saw the helicopter attack, the CAG’s actions are seen as a pre-emptive breach of the peace treaty, and he is court-martialed.

Everyone–even the prosecuting attorney–believe that the CAG was in the right; but because there is no proof, and because of the tenuous nature of the peace treaty, they encourage him to testify that he made a mistake.  As a naval officer, the attorney argues, his duty to the men under his command would be served best by resigning; after all, if he holds his ground and war breaks out, it’s the servicemen who will suffer for it.  The CAG is willing to accept this–“I’d lay down my life for my men.  Why not my career?”–but his lawyers advise against it.  In the end, his honesty on the stand compels the jury to acquit him, and all’s well that ends well.  The episode conveniently runs out of time for following up on the very real possibility that the CAG’s virtue has indirectly caused a bloody war.

I’m not sure what I think about this.  His original decision, to accept a dishonorable end to his career, actually feels like the better option to me; it seems to be a humble decision to bear slander for the sake of others.  Things get more complicated when you consider the fact that this noble act would actually involve lying, because the attorney is urging him not to justify his actions, but to say that he made a mistake.  It’s a bit hard to tell whether the CAG refuses to go along with this because he is dedicated to honesty itself, or because he’s dedicated to a somewhat vain esteem of his own integrity.

The story made me think about the ethics of refusing to defend yourself from slander.  It is certainly Christ-like to sacrifice your reputation or career for the greater good; but what if you have to lie in the process?  I suppose that’s not okay, but I’m not quite sure.  It certainly doesn’t seem like something that’s required of a virtuous man, but I can imagine a certain kind of radical, like St. Francis, being so eager at the opportunity for self-sacrifice that he’d jump at the opportunity.

Cross, Hands, Christian, Religion, Coat

Either way, this makes me rethink my ideas about standing on my rights.  I often daydream about putting offensive co-workers, rude shoppers, or idiots on the internet in their place with a zinger of righteous anger.  I’m too shy and slow-reacting to make this happen in real life, but the high I get from thinking about it is not healthy.  Even if I do have the right to get angry about being treated uncharitably (which is debatable, because, as a sinner like every other human being, I don’t really have a leg to stand on), it doesn’t follow that acting on that right is the best thing to do.  Yelling at a co-worker probably isn’t going to solve any problems, but it will almost definitely make us both feel bad.  And worst of all, it’s treating him like a punching bag.  Instead of remaining silent out of awareness of my own faults, or giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’m using his mistake to set myself up as morally superior.

I certainly don’t mean to say that it’s wrong to stand up for yourself, especially when we’re talking about fundamental rights being violated.  I’m not sure if this idea of being silent in the face of slander is something that Christ requires of us, or something that’s only for certain charisms or vocations.  Next time I’m at work, though, I’m going to try a little harder to remain silent when someone steps on my toes.

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?

Hop over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for more Seven Quick Takes!