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When a wicked case of writer's block strikes Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), he has a most bizarre inspiration. Utilizing the power of Craigslist, Jonathan hires himself out as an unlicensed private investigator and suddenly finds himself with plenty of distractions. He's quickly joined in his extracurricular activities by his best friend, Ray (Zach Galifianakis), and ultimately his playboy boss, George Christopher (Ted Danson). The odd chemistry between these three disparate personalities is what ultimately holds this dramedy together. Galifianakis and Danson, particularly, simply dominate every scene they're in, while Schwartzman plays the hapless and unlucky-in-love Jonathan with a perfect blend of dramatic pathos and misplaced confidence. While it took the series a few episodes to find its winning formula, by the end of these short eight episodes, it truly becomes something special, and well deserving of its second season pick-up by HBO.
Based loosely on the life of, and not so loosely on the character of, the real Jonathan Ames, Schwartzman does a good job of bringing the story of a down-on-his-luck writer with good intentions, but bad decision-making skills, to life. That's exemplified by his best friend, Ray, brilliantly portrayed by Zach Galifianakis. It may be Galifianakis doing the stoner, off-kilter character we've seen him do in everything so far, but this is an actor who absolutely chews up a screen. In fact, through the first half of the season it's Galifianakis who carries the series through some of its slower elements.
With a great deal of focus on Ames' struggles with his ex-girlfriend -- she wanted him to get his act together and stop smoking weed and he wanted to...smoke weed -- it took awhile for the show to realize what it was at heart. It's a buddy comedy with three very talented actors taking on three very different personalities. But through their love of pot, sex, booze, adventure, and a "we're up for anything" attitude, they find themselves each other's best friends by the end of the season.
I almost didn't make it through the entire season when it was first airing, because I was getting turned off by Jonathan's constant whining and complaining. There just wasn't enough of the good stuff, and a big element of that was the criminal underutilization of Ted Danson as George Christopher, the pampered rich editor of a magazine Jonathan writes for. I'm not sure if the creators of the series forgot what a brilliant comedic actor Danson is in the shadow of Galifianakis' rocket-ship to stardom, but once they figured that out, everything clicked.
It isn't until the sixth episode that George goes on his first case with Jonathan and Ray, but as soon as he does, it becomes a must-see comedy. Ray and George become fast friends over their joint love of cannabis, which, as you can imagine, doesn't make them the best allies for Jonathan in his hapless attempts to be a brilliant Raymond Chandler-like detective. Bad for Jonathan, but hilariously awesome for us.
The writers have some fun with Jonathan's cases, bringing us guest stars like Kristen Wiig, while smartly expanding the stories of Jonathan's main life and the other characters. Think of it as a procedural, in that it has a case to solve nearly every week, but it's so much more about these characters trying to figure out what they want to do and what will really make them happy in life.
Jonathan's editor, played by Danson's old cast mate from Cheers, Bebe Neuwirth, hounds Jonathan throughout the season about his second book. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Jenny Slate finds a show where she is allowed to curse with a recurring role as a woman Jonathan shares some intimate (sort of) time with. Patton Oswalt is set up for a recurring role as the proprietor of a "spy store" the boys find in the city. And then there's John Hodgman's Louis Green, a literary critic who absolutely trashed Jonathan's first novel when it came out.
The season culminates on a bizarre boxing match, featuring the three main cast members facing off against different people. Ray squares off with a fan of his comic book artwork, while Jonathan mixes it up with Hodgman's Louis Green, and George takes on Oliver Platt. Platt portrays Richard Antrem, editor of GQ and a huge rival for George in the magazine business. George's Edition is facing some rough times, though he is able to get work for both Ray and Jonathan, which he hopes will boost revenue.
As for Ray, his season arc involves a lesbian couple wanting his sperm so they can hopefully have a baby as artistically talented as he is. Expectedly, the situation turns out to be far more complicated than that, and has Ray questioning his own maturity and how he really feels about whether or not he wants to have children. Jonathan spends the season pining over Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby), the girlfriend who leaves him in the pilot. She is seen to clearly still have feelings for him, but is standing firm that he needs to start acting more mature before she can take him back. George, on the other hand, appears to be bored with his wealth and success and wants to just cut loose and have fun, which is exactly what he finds so attractive about Ray and George.
While it does have some rough edges throughout these first eight installments, you can see the foundation being laid for the great buddy-comedy series to come. Fans of Zach Galafianakis' work on the big screen should absolutely be following him to this show. He's doing what he does best, but he's also showing some emotional depth and range. As much as I love him in the movies, he's proving to be very good on television. Lucky for us, he appears to be able to do both right now.
But Galafianakis isn't alone on Bored to Death, and by the end of this season, this comedy trio stands among the best ensembles I've seen. It's a more subtle, quieter humor, but it's funny nonetheless. Like the best dramedies, you find yourself caring about these characters, and torn as to whether we want them to get their acts together and have better lives, or keep being miserable for the sake of our twisted amusement.
I guess since it's only eight episodes long, it's to be expected that we wouldn't get much in the way of extra material. The "Deleted Scenes" reel doesn't offer any great laughs or revelations, nor do the commentaries. The "Making of Bored to Death" short talks about how Jonathan Ames created a show about himself, basically, and how his vision permeates every aspect of the series. "Jonathan Ames's Brooklyn" takes us around the haunts that made up Ames's life, as well as the places some of the more memorable scenes of the show took place. Unfortunately, other than visually seeing the places and getting a few more moments with Ames, it's kind of hard to see the point of this piece, as he doesn't offer any brilliant or insightful commentary. Maybe that's kind of the point. Just as the fictional Ames is struggling to find the words, so too is the real one.
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