How the Makers of Bosch Built Amazon’s Longest Running Original Series

TV Features Bosch
How the Makers of Bosch Built Amazon’s Longest Running Original Series

It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and just about everyone from Bosch’s sprawling ensemble cast is gathered at Boardner’s, an old art deco dive bar in the heart of Hollywood.

Everything in Hollywood is fake, the old nut goes, but watching the tightly knit machine of Amazon’s longest running original series hustle around the bar’s next-door “nite” club (the B52: “a cool local hang out for the who’s who and who cares”) as they work together to orchestrate a densely packed party scene from the Season Five finale, I can’t imagine anything less true. Today’s set is Boardner’s; next week, it will be the Salton Sea. On a show like Bosch, the word “set” means nothing. Or, rather, it means everything. Everywhere. There is, of course, the precinct set—which mirrors the real Hollywood precinct with such granular precision that detectives visiting to consult from the real one will sometimes forget where they are—and the commissioner’s office, but other than that, Bosch is set-less. To film a stark, contemporary noir like Bosch is to be almost eternally on location, cruising from L.A. landmark to L.A. landmark, from the totally iconic (Angel’s Flight, last season) to the utterly, grimily mundane (Boardner’s).

Functionally, this means that to do a “set visit” on Bosch is really to do a cast visit—which, with this cast, is really to do a family visit. Any cast that’s been working together for a long time and is made up of a good people is going to start feeling like a family, but on a series as deeply and respectfully ensconced in law enforcement culture as Bosch, and with an ensemble populated by unselfish character actors, the family dynamic is all but baked into the formula—a fact I can feel from the moment I step through Boardner’s doors.

“CUT!” is called in the middle of the day’s first take, just as Jamie Hector, who plays Detective Jerry “J.” Edgar, hugs Troy Evans (who plays Barrel, of Crate and Barrel fame), the surprise party’s guest of honor. Evans runs with it. “That good, huh?” he calls back, and, OK, it’s a joke, but also: Yes. It basically was that good. Everyone in the cast is an excellent actor, but it doesn’t take much to see that these people truly love and respect one another. Everyone I sit down with—and this is the fifth season’s big precinct-adjacent party scene, so everyone really means just about everyone—spends their time waxing ecstatic about all the other excellent people who make Bosch possible.

“I always look forward to the beginning,” Hector tells me, “but I’m [also] excited about the end, because we’ve done what we came here to do, which was to create art. It’s a collaborative effort, trying to do something great for the people, and for ourselves, too.”

Collaborative means they respect the work of the crew: “I know everyone always says this,” I overhear Amy Aquino saying as she stops after lunch to talk to a couple of crew members hanging around outside, “but we really do have the best crew ever.” (“This is the first cast I’ve ever worked with who is congenial with everyone,” one of the men tells the other once she’s out of earshot. “I’ve never worked with a cast like this before.”)

Spending so much time on location means that they might have multiple whole-company moves in a single day, which is extremely intense, explains Dajuan Johnson, who plays Detective Pierce. “But the team does it, and they’re kicking butt doing it, too.”

They also respect their consultants: Everyone from Johnson to Evans to Hector to series lead Titus Welliver tells me how instrumental LAPD Detectives Tim Marcia, Mitzi Roberts, and retired detective Rick Jackson are in keeping everything grounded in reality. Both Aquino and Jacqueline Obradors, who joins the series’ fifth season as Pierce’s new partner, Detective Vega, are particularly grateful for Roberts’ insights into being a woman in law enforcement.

“We had this big conversation early on about my shoes,” Aquino explains as we huddle in the dark around the cleanest table we could find on B52’s balcony. (This is sometime in the evening, after we couldn’t find a single light switch, a fact which would be incidental save for what I know the room looked like in daylight.) “The wardrobe designer wanted to put me in flats, and Mitzi said, ‘Oh no, if you’re a woman, you wear heels. Because you want to be taller. You want to have as much authority as possible,’ and I said, ‘OK! Well, would I wear a gun?’ And she said, ‘Women lieutenants wear guns; men don’t. Same reason. They have to reinforce their authority in ways men don’t have to.’ Little details like that make a big difference.”

They respect the writers, obviously: “It’s so easy when the scripts are really well-written, it’s so easy to just fall into it,” says Greg Cummins, the Crate to Evans’ Barrel. And they revere crime novelist Michael Connelly, who created the character Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch.

“[The show] is inspired by someone who has figured out a way to write timelessly,” Aquino says. There’s something very basic about the human interactions that Michael’s writing about, and it’s not bombastic, it’s just true—and quiet, and messy, the way life is.”

For his part (like, literally), Welliver has read all of Connelly’s books, many twice, some three times. (“Titus is so great!” Johnson laughs when I tell him this. “He doesn’t sleep very well.”)

Most of all, though, they respect each other. And that culture of respect, it’s clear, starts right at the top.

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It hits noon, and rehearsals for Barrel’s party are still going. Evans, still at the center of it all, is quite the cut-up. We’ve reached a scene that picks up in the middle of him busting his own chops at a table of his ex-wives. (One punchline: “…I’d take the dog, but then I’d have to pay her alimony!” Another: “… she took the Studebaker! Where’s the justice? Where’s the justice?”)

The sense is we are running late, but the cast has been utterly game throughout, bounding up to the B52’s balcony whenever they have a spare ten minutes, or five, or even just one, to come and chat. I’ve gotten in some solid conversation with just about everybody, but Welliver has hardly been able to sit down before being called back into the bar. He comes and goes three times before lunch finally arrives and, wrapped for the day, he’s freed for the interviews he has scheduled next.

“You want me in my Bosch wardrobe?” he asks the room. “I think the T-shirt I’m wearing says Fuck the President, so…”

I don’t need him on camera, but it turns out not to matter either way—before we can finally sit down for the last leg of our interview, he’s whisked away again, still fully Bosched up.

I can understand how exhausting it might be to be a series lead, buffeted from one duty to the next, but Welliver is all good cheer, just vibrating with generosity towards everyone he sees on set. This resonant, deeply engaged warmth, everyone from cast to publicists leads me to believe, is just who Welliver is—which obviously feeds into the qualities that make his justice-oriented Bosch who he is.

“Titus, in particular, really understands the role of what we call ’#1 on the call sheet,’” Evans tells me late in the day, when he finally gets to take a real break long after it’s grown dark. “Not only is he really good at his part, but if you look at his Instagram, every day he has pictures of him with the crew. Now that’s different than a guy who’s working, who’s a perfectly decent human being who will maybe once a year get a pizza for the crew, take a picture with them. But for Titus, these are his friends. And the same thing with me—he’s #1 on the call sheet, and I’m maybe #10, and he treats me with the utmost of kindness and respect. And that doesn’t always happen, you know? It’s just a constant effort that he makes to reinforce everybody that’s here, and to be a positive influence. And that accrues to the production. Like, this is a pretty long day for me, but I’m freaking happy to be here, you know? It’s just delightful.”

Cummins, Evans’ partner in (solving) crime, is just as mindful of the good example Welliver sets, but once he realizes that I’m the one responsible for The Article (it’s not an article), all bets are off. To hear him tell it, my little Crate and Barrel blurb seems to have elevated the characters’ status in this newest season (take that with as many grains of salt as you want). Whether or not this is true, it has certainly given Cummins plenty of fodder with which to tease Welliver.

“Oh, it’s good that you’re spending time talking to the minor characters,” the erstwhile Crate jokes when he sees me hanging around the parking lot at lunch, waiting for Welliver to return. “You tell Titus I said that. You tell him I told you to make sure and go talk to him, and thank him for putting so much work into our show.”

When we finally get a chance to sit down in his old trailer and finish our thrice-interrupted conversation, Welliver receives this report with a good-natured laugh.

“The irony is,” he says, “when we were shooting the pilot, I had a scene with Crate and Barrel where I bribe them with Celtics/Lakers tickets, and they were just great. I remember finishing the scene and turning to Michael Connelly and saying, ‘These guys are so important.’ Not just because they’re funny—they’re not funny haha. They’re almost a little Shakespearean. They’re like a crazy Greek chorus.”

See? This cast just cannot stop talking each other up.

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While I’ve spent most of the day struck by what deep believers in teamwork everyone working on Bosch is, I’ve also been trying to get a sense of what they think it is about Bosch that has given it such long legs. The number one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the source material is exquisite.

“We have this phenomenal source material,” Welliver tells me. “This character who has evolved and gone through all this stuff and different cases, adventures. There’s something about [the writing] that makes the show not only watchable, but something fans want to binge; they have to get to the next chapter.”

It’s not just the drive of the plot, according to Aquino, but the depth of the characters—especially in the space of 10-episode seasons.

“It’s all about exposing the internal character of the individuals who are involved with solving the crime,” she explains, meditating on Connolly’s writing, “rather than about just, you know, whodunit. Whodunit is kind of secondary to who’s doing it, who’s doing what to figure that out.”

The impact of Bosch’s long-game approach, more relevant than ever in the age of streaming, is something the actors are appreciating more than ever, now that they’re 50 episodes in. Hector, especially, has found himself impressed by what they’ve accomplished.

“It’s always amazing to me, but watching it per episode, then watching it per season, and then watching it over four seasons, you see how one thing leads to another. And a lot of the time you don’t realize it until you’re in it, and then you look back on it, and then it’s like, ‘Oh..’”

So it’s not just one another the Bosch team respects. It’s the job. It’s the material. It’s the kind of honest, nuts-and-bolts, justice-seeking stories they’re striving to tell. And those stories, which unfurl just one or two major cases over the course of each season, leave plenty of space for the relationships among the characters working them to intensify and evolve.

What’s especially fascinating—what demonstrates to me just how deeply connected these actors are to the roles they’re playing, and how effectively those roles are written—is that by the end of the day, nearly everyone I’ve spoken to has told me, in terms ranging from confiding to well, obviously, that it’s their character who’s got the greatest moral compass in the show.

It may seem obvious now that something like Bosch—excellent, if studiously unflashy, with a massive global audience already baked into the equation—would kill on Amazon, #1 global distributor of Harry Bosch books, but apparently producer Eric Overmyer, who I caught up with by phone after my set visit to get his take on the series’ legacy, had doubts.

“You know, I was real dubious at first. This was back six or seven years ago, and Amazon hadn’t done a drama. And I was really skeptical about the whole streaming thing—boy was I wrong—but Mike [Connelly] really sensed it,” Overmyer says. “The book tie-in was crucial, because [it meant] there was a worldwide built-in audience for the show, so as long as we didn’t fuck it up—which we didn’t—and as long as we cast the right person, that would give us a pretty good jump on things.”

“Mike Connelly asked me when we were doing the pilot, ‘How long do you see yourself playing this character for?’ Welliver says of assuming the role. And I said, ‘As long as they’ll have me.’ There’s nothing about this character that I don’t love playing. It’s rewarding in every sense of the word. I mean, I’d do this in real time—they’re still making this when I’m 65, I’ll do it.”

If the series does go on that long—and if broadcast procedurals Supernatural and Grey’s Anatomy can last 15-plus seasons, there’s no reason Bosch, with its tight, short runs, couldn’t go another seven—then I already know what the end will sound like. In fact, I already have it recorded, at the very end of a short sound file labeled simply, Background 1: Crate, clinking silverware on drinking glass, quieting a small bar filled with exuberant well-wishers, saying with feeling, “Thanks, everyone, for coming!”

Season Five of Bosch premieres Friday, April 19 on Amazon Prime Video.

Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She can be found @AlexisKG.

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