I have not read any of author Jonathan Ames’ prose, so I can’t claim to be a fan of his literature. However, I am a very big fan of his television writing, in particular his original comedy series for HBO, Bored to Death. This half hour series premiered last fall (the second season starts tonight) and turned out to be one of that season’s most pleasant surprises. Bored to Death is a silly mystery show about a bored writer who smokes too much dope, drinks too much wine and decides to liven up his life by becoming a private investigator.
Jason Schwartzman, the dry, whip smart actor so closely associated with Wes Anderson, stars as a character named Jonathan Ames (yes, it’s another one of those meta shows) a struggling writer whose girlfriend leaves him in the opening episode. To combat the depression that accompanies this breakup, Ames puts out a Craigslist ad offering his services as a private investigator. This is completely illegal, of course, because Ames is unlicensed to be a PI, but he doesn’t believe he’ll get in any trouble. After all, he only wants to help people. Schwartzman’s acting is sweet and intelligent. Like any struggling artist, his Ames seems to be restlessly searching for answers and private investigating is a diversion from having to face a blank page.
Ames goes on a series of simple cases, solving minor mysteries for people, but it’s not the cases that give Bored to Death its humor and make it fun. It’s his interaction with two associates throughout each episode. His best friend, Ray, a Brooklyn based comic book artist, portrayed by the gregarious and infinitely funny Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Due Date). These two, who seem to be on different planes of social and intellectual existence, are close enough to call each other on their own pretentions and are also the type of friend that you want in your corner when things go south. Watching Ames and Ray together is just as endearing as it is funny. Rounding out this cast of misfits is Ted Danson as Jonathan’s boss, George. George is a divorced partier who enjoys getting high and drunk as often as possible. He’s never short on anecdotes or wisdom he wishes to bestow upon Ames. God bless Ted Danson, who has been on a roll the past few years, first with his stunning dramatic work on Damages, and now with his stoner-idiot turn as George.
The writing on Bored to Death is wry and it is very New York centric. There are times when watching an episode that it feels a little too hip for its own good. However, this is a minor criticism for a show that each week plays out like a small independent film. Behind the camera, some superb directors helmed the first season, including Michael Lehman, Paul Feig, Nicole Holofcener and Alan Taylor and the list of guest stars include the always enjoyable Oliver Platt, Heather Burns, John Hodgman and Bebe Neuwirth.
At just eight episodes, Bored to Death: The Complete First Season is a quick watch. The bonus features are nothing to jump for joy about (a making of featurette, deleted scenes and some commentaries), considering that this is an HBO box set and the network and their video release department generally offers a plethora of features on their releases. Still, Bored to Death delivers more than enough laughs and entertainment that make up for this slight shortcoming.
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