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Private Eyes (Are Watching You): An Advance Review of HBO's "Bored to Death"

"When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand." - Raymond Chandler

The twin specters of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett preside over the action on HBO's new comedy series Bored to Death. The series, which launches later this month, stars Jason Schwartzman as alcoholic novelist Jonathan Ames, a struggling writer who, after getting dumped by his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby), takes out an ad on Craigslist as an unlicensed private detective.

As portrayed by the charismatic Schwartzman, Jonathan is a lovable loser of a 30-year-old man and he seems to drift through life in a state of arrested development, much like his boss George Christopher (Ted Danson) and comic-book illustrator best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) to varying degrees. The best word to describe him would be hapless: between his white wine and pot addictions and emotional adolescence, he's the portrait of 21st century malaise.

The series, created by real-life novelist Jonathan Ames, conflates the noir tropes of classic gumshoe drama with the painful comedy of modern neurosis. It's a comedy of errors by way of a self-absorbed Nick Charles. Or at least a version of him that can't hold his liquor or keep his job or his girl.

I had the opportunity to watch the first three episodes of Bored to Death a few months back and quickly fell under its mischievous charms. Or at least, those of the second and third episodes. Despite being the most straightforward of the first three installments in terms of plot, there's something a bit off about the pilot that makes it somewhat difficult to let yourself be sucked in right away. Consider it an overload of whimsy, perhaps. There's no real motivation for Jonathan to place that private detective ad other than stumbling on an old Chandler novel so it's a little bit of a narrative leap that he gets a client as quickly as he does.

Despite the slightly off-kilter quality of the pilot, the series' second and third episodes are superb and feature guest turns from Kristen Wiig, Oliver Platt, and Jim Jarmusch (here playing himself in the third episode) as Jonathan's life becomes more fleshed out. Part of that life involves an unnatural fixation on his now ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Thirlby) as well as a chronic need to transform himself from schlub to hero. Thus, the double life as a gumshoe. Despite being one of the laziest characters on television, Jonathan throws himself into his new line of work with glee, recalling detective techniques from his novels and meeting with clients (such as Wiig's pickled dame).

He also frequently moves into the orbit of Danson's George, a pompous magazine editor who has taken Jonathan under his wing and who calls him with all manner of emergencies (my favorite: Episode Two's herpes blister) or when he needs a supply of pot. Danson is absolutely fantastic as George and, coming off of his Emmy-nominated performance as Arthur Frobisher on FX's Damages, he makes George's arrogance and false poise a winning combination. Likewise, The Hangover's Galifianakis once again steals scenes, here portraying forlorn comic-book artist Ray, a man so under his own girlfriend's thumb that he dutifully reports for colonics and therapy just to please her.

The resulting world created by Ames and embodied by Schwartzman, and Co. is a winsome one, consisting as it does of jilted lovers, irrational psychotherapists, flirtatious colonic therapists, and a colorful assortment of bizarre individuals. Ultimately, despite some initial issues with the pilot, there's a offbeat and eccentric quality to Bored to Death that's hard to resist. Just be sure to bring a copy of "Farewell, My Lovely" and be prepared for a fun stakeout.



Bored to Death premieres Sunday, September 20th at 9:30 pm ET/PT on HBO.

Comments

Jenni Lou said…
Thanks for this! I am really hoping that this is going to be a winner!
wildhoney said…
This sounds like so much fun. I love a good, quirky comedy and with Schwartzman, Danson, and Galifianakis starring, it should be entertaining!
Hampers said…
It was fun going through your blog. Enjoyed it very much. Keep it up the good work.

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