Fall 2009 TV: Bored to Death
Jonathan Ames played by Jason Schwartzman in a noir-ish detective series on HBO? Has someone has been reading my secret awesome-idea journal again? I’m already a fan of Jonathan Ames—one of the only authors I’m happy to say I’ve heard read at a bookstore in the last few years—I love Rushmore (but haven’t exactly loved much else that Schwartzman has been in, Huckabees and Darjeeling included), and I’m casually interested in anything noir, though I’d never claim to be an obsessive noir dude. I don’t think Jonathan Ames would either—but Bored to Death, the new series kicking off Sunday night on HBO, only uses noir detective novels as a jumping-off point. On the whole, Bored to Death isn’t terribly noir—the series (which I’ve screened the first six rough cuts of) actually has a helluva lot more in common with Ames’s novels such as The Extra Man, and that makes its subtitle “the noir-otic” comedy accurate. Once I got the hang of it, I realized that it is the neurotic Ames (both the writer and lead character) that makes Bored to Death the opposite of boring. In the wake of Hung (what a train wreck) and the increasing tedium of Entourage (this season is flat-out miserable), HBO could use another winner.
Here are a few things that I didn’t expect that you might want to know:
• The fictional Jonathan Ames's short story “Bored to Death” appears in The Double Life is Twice as Good collection. In the story, Ames advertises himself as a private detective in an ad on Craigslist.
• Bored to Death is semi-autobiographical. In the series, Ames writes for Edition magazine—he was actually a columnist for the New York Press—and this has as much importance in the plot as the detective thing. In fact, this really feels like the story of a young writer in Brooklyn. Ames has been dumped by his live-in girl and struggles with a novel, and the series even makes reference to real Ames novels—not faux titles—which would have been easy to do. It also makes reference to his upbringing in New Jersey. The show intoxicatingly mixes up fact and fiction. How much of Bored to Death is factual? I hope to get Ames on the phone this week to find out.
• Jonathan Ames dated a woman I know. She also dated former MTV VJ Dave Kendall.
• It takes a couple of episodes to hit its stride. Finding a balance between smart and quirky, sweet and hilarious, real and absurd is tricky, but Bored to Death gets in a rhythm pretty soon. It feels real enough—but not tied down by reality. Don’t expect to love it right away—but do expect to love it.
• It shows love for the outer boroughs, particularly Brooklyn. In fact, some episodes seem to take place completely in various parts of Brooklyn. Will this do for Brooklyn what Sex in the City did for Manhattan? Let’s hope not.
• Ames (the character) isn’t hard-boiled, he has issues. His ex-girlfriend thinks he’s an alcoholic even though he has switched to white wine. Ames’s short story “Bored to Death” is more upfront—in that piece, the Ames's character has been going to AA for two decades.
• People get punched out. Ames has a thing for boxing, which he has written about—and sometimes fisticuffs occur. Hey, violence is dramatic and it has that noir edge. I predict that actual boxing will surface later in the season.
• Confusion about sexuality or even an asexual viewpoint (both themes in an Ames novel) begin to surface partway into the season—however innocuously. Some could say this is the trademark perverted innocence of Ames. In one scene, Ames and his cartoonist pal Ray Hueston (Zach Galifinakis) debate which would be the bottom or the top in a gay relationship—and Ames (stoned at the time) seems to savor the possibility. From a guy who did a stage show called "Oedipussy," you wouldn’t expect anything less.
• Ted Danson is really, unexpectedly funny—as Edition magazine’s George Christopher, he keeps Ames around to get him pot and give him a taste of the youthful possibilities he once had.
• Zach Galifinakis plays Ames’s sidekick Ray Hueston —who thinks his schemes are idiotic but will still help him out of a jam.
• The detective aspect of the show is not that exciting—but it gets Ames into some extra ridiculous situations—which, come to think of it, is a lot like a noir detective novel. The girl is usually more interesting than the missing person/object/money.
• There's a free, advance Bored to Death screening TONIGHT at darkroom (2210 W Chicago Ave). 8pm–11pm, 21-and-up, R.S.V.P. for admission.