Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bored To Death [television review]

* The series has just completed its first season run of eight episodes; re-airings can be seen on HBO and HBO Canada
Bored To Death is the TV equivalent of a hipster indie movie that revels a little too much in how quirky and eccentric its characters are. The core of this series' idiosyncrasies lie with star Jason Schwartzman, who has mined this territory in films before (in I Heart Huckabees and The Darjeeling Limited, to name a couple). Schwartzman's character is based on New York writer Jonathan Ames, who created and writes the show (the character uses his real name). Ames (the TV version) is a frustrated writer trying to come up with his second book, while also contributing occasionally to a magazine run by editor George Christopher (played by Ted Danson). His girlfriend has just moved out, fed up with a stagnant relationship impeded by Jonathan's immaturity and fondness for wine and weed. Zach Galifianakis (from The Hangover) plays Ray, his best friend, which makes sense as he too is a self-loathing, insecure slacker with a serious case of arrested development. Inspired by reading an old detective novel, Jonathan puts an ad on Craigslist and decides to shake up his life by becoming a private detective (albeit an unlicensed one). Shenanigans ensue.
Danson's and Galifianakis' characters are underused in the series' first few episodes, leaving us with a little more Schwartzman than I care to spend time with. His deadpan, offbeat comedic style isn't completely without its charm, but a little can tend to go a long way. Danson's character is the best part of the show and he thankfully gets more screen time as the series progresses. Still, the relationship between Jonathan and George doesn't always quite feel legit...George is twice Jonathan's age and moves in elite social circles, which Jonathan certainly isn't privy to. The basis of their relationship is that George befriends him for his pot supply and desire to hold on to his youth. Parts of Danson's character bring to mind his Sam Malone character from Cheers, as someone with little desire to act his age.
The storylines so far have been uninspired and, occasionally, fairly threadbare. You can throw in silly, too. Each show involves a new case for Jonathan to solve, sometimes as a detective for hire or just to resolve a conflict in his own life. So far we've had him tracking down an unscrupulous lesbian couple selling Ray's sperm, retrieving a sex tape being used to blackmail a married man, retrieving a skateboard for a boy from some teenagers, getting back a movie script given to him by director Jim Jarmusch that he loses and following a man to see if he's being unfaithful. There's a later episode that involves a ridiculous boxing match the three main characters end up participating in.
The female characters on this show are basically an afterthought. A revolving door of familiar faces shows up from week to week (such as Olivia Thirlby as Jonathan's ex-girlfriend, Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig, Parker Posey, The Daily Show's Samantha Bee and Danson's former Cheers castmate Bebe Neuwirth), but they have little to do that is noteworthy, other than assist in advancing the plots. Make no mistake, this is most definitely a guy-centric show.
I haven't completely given up on Bored To Death. Somewhere below the art house noir and hip weirdness exterior, I think this show has potential if the scripts improve and more of the ensemble is used. HBO has already picked it up for a second season, so we'll see if it's more of the same or something better.
Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆