Recently, HBO axed three of its little-watched, somewhat-appreciated original series. Along with relative newcomer How To Make It In America and the diminishing returns of Hung, the network said goodbye to Bored to Death, a show that had some real high points but never quite attained (or really deserved) a fervent cult. Writer/creator Jonathan Ames provided the show with a version of the hipster-dense neighborhoods of Brooklyn that was sometimes mocking and sometimes sympathetic, but for all the pop culture savvy both recent and deep cut, BtD was most successful as a weekly adventure with three very likable characters.
Jason Schwartzman always served as a pleasant stand-in for his character’s creator, though it was the fictional Ames’s relationship with best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and marinated father figure George (Ted Danson) that gave the show three seasons’ worth of legs. After a shaky first season and a mostly fun second, this year’s third and ultimately final outing turned inward as it examined these three characters as individuals and as they relate to one another.
It’s obvious that Season 3 of Bored to Death wasn’t intended to be the end of the story. Aside from the fact that it ended on a supremely weird note (more on that later), it spent a lot of time keeping the primary trio in separate stories that likely would have been more rewarding as references in a fourth season than they were on their own. George’s misadventures with his daughter, Emily, and her much older fiance didn’t pay dividends until the end of the season, while Ray mostly meandered through plots that required Galifianakis to be more of a goofball than an understated, surreal supporting character. It would have been fun to see where these characters would go with the new maturity they discovered in Season 3, but as a fan of the show I’d like to suggest that they at least landed in thematically appropriate places.
Ray ended Season 3 seemingly broken up with his series-long girlfriend Leah for good, finding solace in the suitably weird fans of his “Super Ray” comics and accepting George as his father figure much in the same vein as Jonathan did prior to the first season. His new quasi-independence makes him a more stable character, no longer entirely anchored to some other player and achieving some degree of agency that makes him seem bound for greater things. We part from the series with a version of Ray who has embraced the non-traditional aspects of his personality, from a center of a freaky pop culture obsession to a man attracted to women old enough to be his grandmother, and he seems happier for it.
George spent the majority of the third season dealing with the commitment issues that have ruined his many romantic relationships as well as his connection to his daughter. The Season 3 finale finds him opening up to his amorous music teacher and embracing his daughter’s bizarre life by being a supportive figure while still framing himself as a work-in-progress. Ted Danson was always the most fun part of the show, so it’s counterproductive to eliminate all of the flighty foppishness that makes George so entertaining, but seeing him find the happy medium between his self-indulgence and his need for something deeper feels like a triumph, however small.
It’s likely that Jonathan’s conclusion will remain the most divisive, at least among the small, not terribly vocal fan base of Bored to Death. The series ends with the writer-cum-detective dancing happily with his lover/half-sister, having yet to actually inform her of their shared blood. Now, this may give viewers the creeps, but let’s step back from the literal interpretation for a moment. Bored to Death isn’t realistic. It’s a show that has featured, among other things, Jim Jarmusch circling our protagonist while on a bicycle to deliver a dramatic blow, a climactic chase through a Korean day spa and later through a grocery store, and perhaps the first ever televised gay furry S&M faux-noir substance abuse awareness message. The series is far from grounded or in the business of promoting any certain values. Jonathan’s detective work and personal dramas were always about his comically self-centered attitude. I’d argue that it makes perfect sense for the character to find happiness with a person who is essentially himself. Behind all the incest-jibblies that plot engenders, there’s an incisive understanding of the character that’s both more honest and more funny than a, erm, traditional pairing would provide.
So, though the show probably could have used a fourth season to make good on the lessons its creators seem to have learned and to tie up its dangling, kinda unsettling plot threads, I’m okay with Bored to Death ending as it did. A perfect series, it was not, but as George Christopher would say in the heady haze of a vaporizer high, it was “absolutely delightful”.