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BORED TO DEATH (HBO)
(Sundays at 9:30/8:30c beginning September 20)
The network's description: "Jonathan Ames, a young Brooklyn writer, is feeling lost. He's just gone through a painful break-up, thanks in part to his drinking, can't write his second novel, and carouses too much with his magazine editor. Rather than face reality, Jonathan turns instead to his fantasies - moonlighting as a private detective - because he wants to be a hero and a man of action. Created by Jonathan Ames (author of several books, including the acclaimed graphic novel "The Alcoholic"), the show follows the misadventures of a fictional Jonathan Ames as he pursues his quixotic dream of emulating his heroes from classic private detective novels. BORED TO DEATH stars Jason Schwartzman ("The Darjeeling Limited") as Jonathan Ames; Ted Danson ("Damages," HBO's "curb Your Enthusiasm") as George Christopher, a high-profile magazine editor and Jonathan's boss; and Zach Galifanakis ("The Hangover") as comic book illustrator Ray Hueston, Jonathan's confidant. Guest stars on the first season include Olivia Thirlby, Heather Burns, Kristen Wiig, Parker Posey, Bebe Neuwirth, Oliver Platt, Patton Oswalt and John Hodgman."
What did they leave out? Jim Jarmusch also turns up in the third episode playing himself.
The plot in a nutshell: When his girlfriend Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby) dumps him for drinking and smoking pot too much (even after he switched to white wine), Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is lost without her. He finds he can't do anything, let alone work on his second novel or his paying freelance gigs. Thankfully he stumbles across some old Raymond Chandler novels and finds himself inspired... to emulate them. And much to his surprise it works: his ad for an unlicensed private detective on Craigslist triggers a call from a college girl (Reyna de Courcy) looking to find her sister. Armed with only his knowledge how pulp heroes like Philip Marlowe helped damsels in distress, Jonathan begins his quest to find the missing girl. Along the way we meet Jonathan's best friend Ray (Zach Galifanakis), an emasculated comic book artist; and his boss George (Ted Danson), who sees Jonathan as his supplier of pot, mischief and everything in between. Inevitably Jonathan finds the girl, but not before wading through a haze of self-loathing to get there. The following week Jonathan gets a new client in the form of Jennifer (Kristen Wiig) who's convinced her boyfriend (Peter Hermann) is cheating on her, a case which improbably reunites him with Suzanne. And in the third episode, George introduces Jonathan to Jim Jarmusch, who's interested in hiring him to polish his latest screenplay. Now if he can just hold onto the script. In the end, life may not be so "boring" for Jonathan after all.
What works: Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifanakis and Ted Danson are all incredibly talented, funny guys. It's just unfortunate then that...
What doesn't: ..."Bored to Death" isn't funny at all. Equally as problematic is that Jonathan's cases prove to be flimsy excuses to get into his head. Of course the missing girl turns out to have been kidnapped by an ex who loved her too much to let her go (just like him!). Of course Jennifer is battling a drinking problem that's affecting her significant other (just like him!). Only the third episode aims to shake things up by having Jonathan become his own client after he loses Jarmusch's script during a botched one night stand. Not surprisingly, that too circles back to an obvious window into his current predicament. For a big buy like having your lead character be a fake private detective, having his cases tie so perfectly back into his life definitely exposes its seams. All of this of course would be forgivable if Jonathan's head were an interesting place to be. Even Suzanne's movers aren't impressed - Mover: "What are you? Another self-hating New York Jew?" Jonathan: "Yes I am, yeah." In other words, Jonathan is straight off the assembly line of neurotic New Yorkers on television. Only Danson's George and Galifanakis's Ray seem to be having any fun - the former's random bouts of philosophizing and the latter's general manchild-ness are welcome breaks from the action. Sure they're mostly random, disconnected vignettes but they do possess an energy that just might create some laughs. They're however not enough to eclipse the humorless malaise that permeates the bulk of the show.
The bottom line: Insert cliched line about being "bored" here.