Judge Bill Gibron easily fell under this goofy HBO show's satiric showboating, even at the end of its run.
Our reviews of Bored To Death: The Complete First Season (published September 1st, 2010) and Bored to Death: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published October 4th, 2011) are also available.
Bored to death? Not hardly.
It's never easy to come into the middle of something. It's not just the whole "walked into an ongoing play" paradigm. No, it's more than that. By the time something has taken three seasons to establish its tone, it's insular and unwelcoming. It doesn't mean to be, it just is. You've been out diddling with reality TV excesses, standard sitcom silliness, the occasional hour-long drama, and the occasional Netflix streaming marathon. Still, walking into a show like Bored to Death after 16 episodes is like asking for trouble. You don't know the characters, can't fathom what they're truly on about, and probably miss the majority of the jokes flying over your "should have been there from the start" head. Don't worry, however. This weird little entry in the HBO catalog offers easy access, when you get past the premise. No, the set-up isn't particular difficult, nor are the players that out of touch. Still, this is a series that needs your attention from the get-go. Otherwise, you will miss many of its fascinating freak show nuances.
Facts of the Case
The premise of all three seasons has failed novelist Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman, Rushmore) turning to unlicensed private detecting as a way of bringing some meaning to his life. Typically joined by best friends Ray (Zach Galifianakis, Due Date), a comic book artist, and George (Ted Danson, Body Heat), a womanizing magazine editor and wannabe restaurateur, it's clear that our lead is using these side journeys as a means of making up for a life devoid of actual adventure.
After two seasons, situations are set for a freewheeling third. Jonathan has just published a new book, Ray has proposed to his on-again, off-again gal pal Leah (Heather Burns, What's Your Number?) and has had success with a superhero character he created named "Super Ray." George, on the other hand, continues to wake and bake, walking away from his job at Edition NY because of its desire to turn more conservative (and his pot habit). Season Three will see a murder frame-up, a battle of competing eateries, and some sperm bank intrigue…otherwise known as the typical life and times of these urban eccentrics.
The eight specific episodes offer the following narrative threads:
• "The Blond in the Woods"—At a celebration for his new book, Jonathan learns that his dad is sterile and not his real father. Jonathan is then framed for murder.
• "Gumball"—Hoping to find who framed him, Jonathan turns to an old pal (Patton Oswalt, Ratatouille) for help. Ray discovers he is the father of a lesbian couple's infant son.
• "The Black Clock of Time"—While on the New Dick Cavett Show, Jonathan is confronted by his nemesis. He is also made aware of information that could lead to the identity of his biological father.
• "We Could Sing a Duet"—George is angry that his daughter is dating a 60 year old. He turns to Jonathan for help, while Ray falls for the affections of an older woman as well.
• "I Keep Taking Baths Like Lady MacBeth"—Hoping to help himself relationship-wise, Jonathan seeks counseling. When that doesn't work, he decides to investigate a romantic rival.
• "Two Large Pearls and a Bar of Gold"—Ray's love life falls apart, while Jonathan is hired to guard some jewels by an old college flame.
• "Forget the Herring"—With the help of Rose (Isla Fisher, Rango), Jonathan gets closer to discovering the identity of his real father.
• "Nothing I Can't Handle By Running Away"—George accepts his daughter's relationship, Ray begins bonding with his son, and Jonathan is kidnapped.
The comedy of quirk is tricky indeed. Go overboard on eccentricity, and you're bound to lose at least some of your intended audience. Don't provide enough oddity and you end up with the standard sitcom piffle masquerading as a walk on the weird side. Luckily, Bored to Death does a lot more of the former (accentuating the bizarre nature of its characters) than the latter (limping along like a calculated laugher). It doesn't always work, but it kinda, sorta grows on you—and no, not like a fungus. Three seasons in, however, getting into the rhythms and reasons behind a semi-successful basic cable romp (it has since been cancelled by HBO, though a wrap-up TV movie is in the works…maybe) can be like running up hill. Successfully getting to the top may never match the painful struggle of trying to sync up with the already established. Still, funny is funny, and luckily Bored to Death is a show built around same. While craziness abounds, this is a series where, once initiated, the laughs come fast and furious.
Bored to Death is a show built around the expectations that exist within our three leads and the kind of narrative they're involved in. Schwartzman is often seen as a smart aleck simp, a wuss working his way through life with a combination of Droopy Dog delivery and well-honed smarm. Galifianakis has become the go-to guy for goof, parlaying his non-sequitor stand-up surrealism into equally peculiar character turns in multiple mainstream films. And then there's Danson, remembered mostly for the womanizing Sam Malone ala Cheers, and a latter career spent staining said cred, if ever so slightly. Put them all together and you expect a twee Three Stooges, post-modern irony subbing for straight physical comedy. Instead, creator Jonathan Ames (yes, like the main character) clearly wants to play with perceptions. That's why each of our stars get moments that remind us of what they do best, while offering equal examples of pushing beyond their claimed comedic comfort zones.
Thus, we get the pseudo hardboiled noir elements, the detective novel riffs, the locational in-jokes, the genre homages, the brilliant cameos and hilarious guest starring bits, as well as personal problems and predicaments that bring out the best, the worst, and the bongs of those involved. Yes, there is drug humor here, but Bored to Death is far from a stoner delight. Instead, it's more in line with revisionism, using the different tropes of various types to tell its often incompatible plots. Still, it's hilarious to watch Danson devolve into a joint toking tool, his aging good looks disappearing in a cloud of sweet smoke. As for Galifianakis, his borderline buffoon act grows more and more addictive as Season Three moves on. He has wonderful moments when confronting his baby's mommas, and toward the end, when he's resigned himself to fatherhood, there's a real sense of honest sentiment. Yet it's Schwartzman who maintains the series' delicate balance. He's Walter Mitty circa the new millennium, a failure trying to fantasize his way out of same. He's not a bad private dick, just a lazy, labored one.
For Season Three, the murder frame-up arc works well, as do the parallels between George's daughter's aging boyfriend and Ray's discovery of "Elder Love." The paternity angle also offers up some sensational bits, including another stellar cameo once the "truth" is revealed. Those who remember the days of Dick Cavett and his intellectualized talk show will enjoy his appearance here and there can never be enough Patton Oswalt for this critic. He's always good, even when providing a minor turn on some [adult swim] series. There is a bit too much insider information here, nods to its New York setting and locations that only residents would truly appreciate and one imagines that those who don't like stupid smarts (read: predetermined dumbness made by those with a sense of self-righteous superiority) will cotton to some of the comedy here. Still, Schwartzman, Galifianakis, and Danson are so good here that they overcome even the obvious shortcoming. Too bad the series is ending. Bored to Death may not be a classic, but it's very good indeed.
As for the Blu-ray release, we get a similar styled package as the other seasons of the show. The added content features four interesting commentaries (too bad there's not one for each episode) as well as Ames' own point by point breakdown of each installment. We are also treated to deleted scenes and outtakes. Technically, the 1.78:1/1080p high definition image is excellent. Maintaining a cinematic sense, we get nice details, crisp colors, and deep contrasts. There's not a lot of depth here, but this is better than many mainstream TV programs. On the sound side, things are constantly pressed forward in the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. Yes, we get some immersion and the back speakers spark with ambient city noise. The jazzy score also gets some love, though its sonic splash grows a bit grating towards the end.
Some will say Bored to Death was gone before its time. Others will argue it was nothing more than one novelist's long simmering attempt at broadening his media horizons (Ames is a famous writer, for your information). In either case, dismissing it requires at least three specific examples of being drop dead wrong. In Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson, we have a trio of terrific idiots. Their bumbling adventures and anti-social shtick, when it works, is just wonderful. Often, you can't walk in at the end of something and understand its appeal. In this case, catching up with Bored to Death in Season Three has one definitive result. It makes you desperate to go back and experience everything that came before.
Not guilty. Very good, and sensationally surreal.
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