A Don Quixote for the modern era?
Based on a short story he wrote for McSweeney’s back in 2007, Jonathan Ames’ Bored to Death is the latest HBO export to make its way across the pond. The New York-based comedy revolves around a fictional Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), a struggling writer who, following a break-up with his girlfriend, decides to post an ad on Craigslist offering his services as a private detective. Joining him in his misadventures are friends Ray (Zach Galifianakis), a sexually frustrated comic book illustrator, and George (Ted Danson), a narcissistic, marijuana-loving magazine editor.
Unsurprisingly, the show is dotted with literary references and is essentially a modern-day take on Don Quixote: Jonathan is inspired to become a P.I. after reading Farwell My Lovely by Raymond Chandler. Paul Auster, who, similar to Ames, used his own name for a character in The New York Trilogy, also receives a passing mention, along with countless nods to Fitzgerald, Hemingway and other stalwarts of American literature. That said, the show is not exactly high-brow – though it may appeal to a certain type of viewer more than others – and most of the comedy is derived from the combined idiocy and neuroses of the three male leads.
It should be stated that Bored to Death is not a sitcom in the same sense as say Modern Family or How I Met Your Mother. The humour is much more Arrested Development in style, frequently provoking wry grins as opposed to side-splitting laughter. Although some critics have argued that the series simply isn’t funny enough – The Telegraph’s Rachel Ray describing it as ‘a show which lives up to its unfortunate name’ – all sitcoms tend to take a few episodes to get off the ground. While the pilot certainly couldn’t be deemed laugh-heavy, it does have its moments, and the season markedly improves with each passing episode.
The quality of the casting has undoubtedly helped the show retain a healthy number of viewers in the US where it has been renewed for a third season, which is due for release later this year. Schwartzman and Galifianakis are excellent in their respective roles as Jonathan and Ray, but it is Danson who really steals the show. Following his stints on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Damages, Danson continues to broach new territory in his career, playing the childlike, pot-smoking George Christopher to absolute perfection. It is he who earns the most laughs and his name which adorns the message boards of fan-sites.
Primarily shot on location in Brooklyn, the photography is equally noteworthy and has a distinctly cinematic quality to its appearance. A resident of the borough himself, Ames claimed in a New York Times interview that his aim was to ‘capture the neighbourhoods that we live in, unlike Law & Order which is Manhattan or Sex and the City which is Manhattan. Personally, I know almost no one that lives in Manhattan anymore.’ In many ways a tribute to Brooklyn, Bored to Death also pokes fun at the borough, be it through the ubiquitous strollers which clutter local cafés or a tongue-in-cheek episode title from the second season – ‘The Gowanus Canal Has Gonorrhoea!’
Although the show is unlikely to appeal to all audiences, Bored to Death will probably establish a reasonable cult-following in the UK. If nothing else, it at least provides a way to stave off the mind-numbing ennui of modern-day existence. A vaporizer would probably do the job just as well.
Bored to Death, Mondays, 10pm, Sky Atlantic