By day, Jonathan Ames is a neurotic, pot-addicted, alcoholic writer. His girlfriend just dumped him (for being a neurotic, pot-addicted alcoholic). He wrote a successful novel, but is now plagued by writer’s block. He spends his days bored and depressed, sipping white wine, which he tells himself is barely alcohol at all. Tired of doing grunt work for his magazine-editor boss and pining for his girlfriend, Jonathan decides to make things interesting. He posts an ad on Craigslist as an unlicensed private detective, and within a day he gets his first case.
Such is the premise of HBO’s “Bored to Death.” The show is a “noir-otic” comedy: clever, heady, and anxious with a touch of adventure.
Thanks to a potpourri of quirks that accentuate his eccentricity, Jonathan is an intriguing and oddly heroic protagonist—a little bit sketchy, slightly sleazy, often annoying, and always neurotic. Pipsqueak actor Jason Schwartzman plays Jonathan with understated finesse. A veteran of similarly bizarre comedies like
I Heart Huckabees
The Darjeeling Limited
, he appears comfortable in the zany role.It is on a whim that Jonathan begins moonlighting as a not-exactly-legal detective. It makes him feel like a superhero—purposeful and with a joie de vivre. He has no experience or formal training, so he relies on knowledge gained by reading detective novels to solve his cases. And it turns out that when you have a lot of time on your hands to follow people around and muck around in their business, mysteries begin to unfold.Most of the time, though, Jonathan just talks to his clients about his personal problems. The fact that his girlfriend dumped him for being an alcoholic is a popular conversation starter. Floundering, he craves sympathy.One shoulder for him to cry on belongs to his best friend Ray, a teddy-bear-esque oddball comic book artist played by Zach Galifiankis (the weird prospective brother-in-law in
Bored to Death
Sundays at 9:30 p.m.HBO
Whiny, needy, and loyal, he is a winning companion for Jonathan. Ray’s high-maintenance, therapy-loving, health-conscious lover Leah is part girlfriend, part mother. She makes him get a colonic cleansing, uses sex as a bargaining mechanism, and demands emotional intimacy. Anxious in her own right, but also empowered, she provides a significant dose of estrogen in the male-dominated show.Jonathan, on the other hand, is a part-time slave to his employer, George. George is a jaded, pot-smoking, lady-loving, and—you guessed it, neurotic—magazine editor and member of the Manhattan elite. He calls Jonathan often—for marijuana, to help him mask a herpes sore, to accompany him at schmancy soirees—and serves as something of a father figure, albeit a very self-centered one. Both Jonathan and George are narcissistic to the point of not realizing that the other is thinking only about himself.Rounding out the cast is Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend, Suzanne. Played by Olivia Thirlby, Suzanne is too good for the Jonathan of the present but still believes he has potential. If Jonathan can reclaim his spirit, there may be hope for the couple. Her presence offers hope that Jonathan can emerge from the haze of depression.“Bored to Death” is cerebral and psychological. Despite its wacky premise and characters, the show addresses serious themes, among them loneliness, inertia, and fractured relationships. “Bored to Death,” though pretentious itself, astutely mocks the snobbery of psychoanalytical, artistic New Yorkers. Combined with pithy writing and a powerful cast, “Bored to Death” offers a witty Freud-mine of humor to explore.