From the DVD Shelf: Bored to Death Season 1!
What a terrific show!
I feel like I’ve been discovering a wealth of TV show genius on DVD recently: Party Down (click here for my review of season 1, and here for my review of season 2), Louie (click here for my review of season 1), Boardwalk Empire (I am making my way through season 1) and now Bored to Death!
Created by Jonathan Ames (who also wrote or co-wrote all of the episodes), the series stars Jason Schwartzman as a fictionalized Jonathan Ames, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson. The trio are marvelous, and the wonderful way those three marvelous actors inhabit their three characters, and the way the three totally different men are drawn together over the course of the season provides the heart of the show and the main reason why I found it so enjoyable.
Jason Schwartzman plays Jonathan Ames. Like the show’s creator with the same name, he is a writer living in Brooklyn. Unlike the show’s creator, boredom crossed with a mounting desperation at his inability to start work on his second novel prompts this Jonathan Ames to post an ad on Craigslist advertising himself as an unlicensed detective. To his surprise, he begins getting calls from people asking for his help. To his even greater surprise, he finds himself throughly enjoying this new persona he’s able to create for himself, and the fact that, in his bumbling way, he’s actually passably good at being a Private Eye!
Ted Danson plays Jonathan’s mentor, George Christopher. The wealthy, dapper George is the editor of a prominent New York Magazine. I was blown away by Mr. Danson’s performance — he might be my very favorite aspect of this series. I of course loved Mr. Danson’s work on Cheers back in the day, and more recently he’s been entertainingly acerbic on Curb Your Enthusiasm. But, hang onto your butts, George Christopher may just be his best role. Am I overstating things? Well, probably. But Mr. Danson is lovable and hysterical as George, a man who is on the one hand at the height of the New York City intellectual elite, but also incredibly childish — innocent and filled with child-like glee at everything that Jonathan is involved in. Mr. Danson brings incredible joie de vivre to every scene he plays, and it’s quite beguiling.
The final third of this trifecta is made up of Zach Galifianakis as Ray, Jonathan’s schlubby comic book artist Ray. Ray is as much a man-child as George (and, I suppose, as Jonathan himself), though far less successful, and with far less self-confidence. Where George is suave, Ray is a bull in a china shop. But he, too, has a beguiling innocence that makes Ray quite lovable, even as we laugh at his no-filters bluntness.
Each episode features Jonathan taking on a different case (a woman hires Jonathan to see if her boyfriend has been cheating on her, a mom hires him to get back her son’s skateboard which was stolen by a local bully, a man needs him to recover an incriminating sex tape, etc.), while also telling parallel stories of George and Ray’s adventures and misadventures. Towards the end of the season, though, both George and Ray find themselves involved in Jonathan’s cases. I loved that development, as it gave the series’ three leads more opportunities to bounce off of one another, and lead to such marvelous moments as George and Ray’s getting stoned in their car while supposedly on stakeout for Jonathan.
The show features some terrific guest-stars. Olivia Thirlby (Juno, The Wackness) pops up several times as Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend Suzanne (whose breaking-up with Jonathan, in the opening moments of the first episode, starts the whole series in motion). Kirsten Wiig plays the hard-drinking dame who becomes Jonathan’s first client. (Ms. Wiig is ridiculously perfect as a comedic spin on the femme fatale archetype.) Bebe Neuwirth (so well-known as Lilith from Cheers and then Frasier) plays Jonathan’s literary agent. Oliver Platt appears several times as a magazine-editor rival of Ted Danson’s George, and The Daily Show’s John Hodgman plays his toadie Louis, who quickly becomes Jonathan’s nemesis. I also, of course, need to mention Heather Burns who is really the show’s fourth regular character. She plays Leah, Ray’s girlfriend. At times she seems like a saint for putting up with Ray, though at other times she seems even crazier than Ray is. Leah is a fun character, and she’s a fun female presence to provide a little bit of balance with the boys on the show.
Writer/creator Jonathan Ames has a unique voice, and he’s created a compellingly original show. Bored to Death is sharply written and very funny. Seeing these three bumbling characters thrust into Raymond Chandler-esque hard-boiled detective stories is a a brilliant hook for the stories, and I also loved how much the Brooklyn setting is a key component in the stories. I’d read some luke-warm things about this series, but I really loved it, and can’t wait to watch seasons two and three.