If "Bored To Death" were a rotten series, it would be SO easy to make a joke about the title. Fortunately, Jonathan Ames' HBO comedy series dodges the bullet -- its mix of comedy, mystery and Ames' own personal experiences is hilarious, the writing is excellent, and Jason Schwartzman heads a brilliant little cast that manages to charm you as they make you laugh.
Writer Jonathan Ames (Schwartzman) is depressed when his girlfriend moves out. So after seeing a Raymond Chandler novel, he goes onto Craigslist and advertises himself as a private eye: "I'm not licensed, but maybe I'm someone who can help you."
Surprisingly, there are some takers. Ames ends up taking on several small-time cases, mostly centering around people/things that are lost or stolen -- a sister who vanished, a boyfriend who may be cheating, a script he accidentally lost himself, a stolen skateboard, a Russian convict who wants to find his true love, a blackmail tape, and lesbian con-artists who are... well, stealing something rather personal.
And while he does all this, Jonathan is dealing with the problems of his own life, such as his lingering love for his girlfriend and his stalled second novel. His friend Ray (Zak Galifianakis) is struggling with his controlling girlfriend Leah and his graphic novel career. And Jonathan has to babysit his insane boss George (Ted Danson), the owner of the magazine he writes for, who has his own set of weird personal problems (and frankly he doesn't seem to live in the same world as the rest of us).
"Bored to Death" is one of those comedy shows that doesn't really resemble anything else on TV -- it has a distinctly arty, New York flavor, but avoids seeming pretentious just because its lead characters are so earnest. And while there are plenty of hilarious situations (George and Ray attacking a blackmailer... armed with toys), it manages to never quite cross the line into total absurdity.
And the writing is really, really clever. Without resting too long on any one joke, the writers dabble in humor from colonics, therapists, sperm donation, vegans, pot, the Russian mafia and plenty of subtle literary references. It has plenty of hilarious lines ("I've always been intrigued by Stockholm Syndrome. Makes me think of my childhood") and funny dialogue, particularly between George and ANYBODY ("How long has Jonathan been in there?" "I don't know. I'm on marijuana minutes"). But the writers also include some powerful character-building moments, such as George's lingering love for his ex-wife (and what he does because she asks him).
Schwartzman is charming as a rather dweeby writer who is desperately seeking some kind of happiness in his life, but isn't entirely sure how to find it -- so he tries to help other people. Galifianakis is plenty of fun as his big hairy pal in dissatisfied maleness, and there are some great smaller turns by Bebe Neuwirth (as Ames' editor), Parker Posey and Oliver Platt. And of course, Ted Danson is ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT as Ames' world-weary, mildly insane boss.
If you like a clever, quirky little comedy without a laugh track, "Bored To Death" definitely won't live up to its name -- it's weird, funny and somehow endearing. If only I knew when season two was coming out.