The following is based solely on the first episode of “Bored to Death”. Pilots are always tough to get kickstarted, so perhaps I will revisit later in the season.
The easy headline for snarky yuk-yuk-chasers is that HBO’s latest series, “Bored to Death”, bored them to death, or some variation of that moldy wordplay. It is mildly unfortunate that Jonathan Ames’s show has a title destined for such simplistic panning, but even more unfortunate that it deserves every word and more. It’s not a boring show; it’s worse. It is a wasted opportunity. With talents as grand as Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifanakis, Ted Danson and TV directing heavyweight Alan Taylor to hold together all that angst, this production simply deserves a better story.
The premise of “Bored to Death” is actually quite nice. Mentally blocked Brooklyn writer Jonathan Ames (yeah, the main character is named after the creator) moonlights as a private detective in hopes of kickstarting his creative juices. Still working on his second novel as the glow from his his first one fades, he is a man in search of a muse. The trouble is that the plot is presented so haphazardly, that description I just gave is based more on speculation than what I actually saw in the show.
What irks me the most is that nothing emotionally pushes Jonathan into the role of Craigslist dick-for-hire. Even though we are spoon fed this idea of him being a down-on-his-luck self-hating New York Jew who turns to the fantastic as an outlet, the emotinal progression just doesn’t warrant his descent into the life of a private eye. Furthermore, and this is just one of those problems about being born after the golden age of the mystery story, the gumshoe Ames becomes is based more on the visual incarnations of his heroes than the literary ones. Bogart’s snarl is more an inspiration than Chandler’s pen. He’s a writer, no? It’s not an entirely fair point, I’ll grant, since this is a television show, a visual medium.
Hopefully, Mr. Ames’s inspiration for this show comes at least in part from Dennis Potter’s brilliant BBC series, “The Singing Detective”. That show is a much more dramatic take on the writer’s reverie, but the similarities are apparent, particularly the visual and aural flair afforded the scenes of back- alley sneaking. Where “Bored to Death” falls short is in making the non- detective Ames incredibly mundane. Where Michael Gambon’s Philip Marlow was a fascinating man both from the confines of a hospital bed and in his dreams of solving crimes, Mr. Schwartzman’s Ames is a character all too familiar to anyone who has ever hung out with a writer. His bumbling sleuth work brings out the best of the actor’s wit, but it hardly covers up the blandness of his actual self.
We all wish we could be something that we are not. Jonathan Ames (the character) wishes to be more than just another impotent half-drunk self- deprecating Brooklyn writer. Alas, in his efforts to reach redemption it feels as though he will remain those things and join another group; those who are just fooling themselves into leading an interesting life only to find they are just another struggling artist in the sea of opportunity called New York.