Three (White, Male) Tough Guys Sign Off. Is It a Moment?
Biologists trace changes in the environment through deaths: a lake of prone fish or a sudden drop in the honey bee population. The television ecosphere is less conducive to scientific analysis – the recent arrival of the latest episodes of “Bosch”, “Mr. Entre” and “Jack Irish” in just over a month might be a coincidence. On the other hand, it could be a sign that the climate has become less conducive to harsh crime dramas with middle-aged white male heroes.
This convergence wouldn’t be worth mentioning if the shows involved were ordinary, but all three were superior, albeit disparate, examples of their kind. (Spoilers ahead for the final season of each show.) “Bosch,” whose seventh and final season aired June 25 on Amazon Prime Video, was the best procedural police show during its airing. The Australian comedy-drama “Mr. Between the Two,” whose third and final season ended July 13 on FX, was sui generis, a clever, deadpan and quietly silly deconstruction of badass clichés.
“Jack Irish,” which wraps up its three-season, three-season series with Monday’s episode on Acorn TV, was lighter and more stereotypical than those two, a jovial but pessimistic neo-noir with an anguished private investigator surrounded by colorful reprobates. He was brought up by his charming Melbourne setting and a stellar cast led by Guy Pearce as an Irishman. (The fact that two of the three shows are Australian may say something about the more pleasant environments to traditionally male-led story forms.)
Laconic, old-school Los Angeles detective Harry Bosch (played by Titus Welliver), shy fixer Jack Irish and sardonic hired Ray Shoesmith in “Mr. Inbetween” (played by Scott Ryan, also the series creator and writer) were very different types of characters. What they had in common was their respect for their codes, and that personal ethics – roughly similar and familiar notions of fair play, loyalty and unhappy but sometimes necessary violence – were the linchpins of the shows, as they have been for nearly a century of stories about the tough tired of the world.
They have also made shows increasingly outmoded at a time when old formulations of genre fiction are subject to criticism and revision for their racial, gender, and system-institutional biases and blind spots. If you allocate production dollars to a network or streaming service, a high-profile comedy polishing the genre roles in a sci-fi sitcom or thriller that changes the usual racial portrayal will likely attract more publicity, and more positive from the start.
‘Jack Irish’, ‘Bosch’ and ‘Mr. In Between’, which premiered from 2012 to 2018, represented a milestone – like most genre shows of the past few decades, they’ve shown at least one take awareness of contemporary sensibilities. Their distributions were reasonably diverse; and while you could denounce the color partner as a backslash cliché, that meant Jamie Hector (Bosch’s partner Jerry Edgar) and Aaron Pedersen (Irish friend and protector Cam Delray) got major roles. When the stories involved Latino neighborhoods in Los Angeles or South Asian immigrants in Melbourne, the scripts were notable in their attempts to be respectful.
None of this was unusual for a contemporary show trying to dispel the increasingly uncomfortable fact that its protagonist was a 50-year-old white man on the wrong side whose dramatic arc tended, albeit reluctantly, towards violence. Perhaps in response, another thing all three series had in common was that their lone wolf heroes were caring and involved fathers.
Bosch, throughout the series, was as defined by his relationship with his daughter, Maddy (Madison Lintz) as he was by his police work; she softened it, and it hardened her, to the point that she took the police entrance exam last season. This paved the way for an previously announced untitled spinoff series in which Welliver and Lintz will likely share the headliner, with a now-retired Bosch working as a private investigator.
“Sir. In between” made fatherhood even more central. Much of the show’s comedic energy and dramatic complications stemmed from Shoesmith’s stern but devoted parenthood to her daughter, Brittany (Chika Yasumura). Irish was more traditionally lonely during the airing of this show, a choice that made sense considering the series began with the murder of his wife. But in the last season that just ended, a son suddenly appeared, a filius ex machina that allowed for a painfully invented, albeit inevitable, happy ending.
This is perhaps the most telling thing that all three shows had in common: Unlike previous antiheroes like Tony Soprano and Walter White, their central characters were given the opportunity to come out on high notes. Harry Bosch’s incorruptibility ended his career in law enforcement, but his daughter has what it takes to carry on the family tradition. Ray Shoesmith’s murderous livelihood eventually caught up with him and forced him into hiding, but even in his new life as a ride-hailing driver, no one is going to hold him back. (The last shot in the series, of Ray flashing his almost manic smile into the camera, was ideal.)
The evolution of traditional hard storytelling is well advanced – you can see it in shows that cover themselves by remaking it in historical fiction, like “The North Water” or “Taboo,” or fantasy, like “The Mandalorian,” or more directly in shows that simply reverse the hero’s gender, like “Briarpatch” with Rosario Dawson, “Jett” with Carla Gugino and “Reprisal” with Abigail Spencer. “Ted Lasso” is perhaps the spectacle of our moment of weariness pandemic, but there is still an appetite for violent loners with codes.
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