[SPOILERS] My hopes were perhaps too high for new comedy-drama Bored To Death, based entirely on the cast, the premise, and the reputation of HBO. So it's with a heavy heart that I brand the show's pilot a dull, unfunny and languorous chore that failed to entertain or amuse me in any way...
Created by Jonathan Ames, Bored To Death's lead character is a pointless proxy of the author, also named Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), and likewise an author. The fictional Ames is struggling with writer's block as he works on his sophomore novel, but an affection for Raymond Chandler's oeuvre has given him a unique way to waste time and live out a fantasy, as he's sets himself up as an (unlicensed) New York private detective.
In this opener, "Stockholm Syndrome", Ames gets his first case -- to find a woman's missing sister, whom she presumes has been kidnapped by her meth-head British boyfriend Vincent (Richard Short). Quite why she doesn't go to the police before trusting a private dick with no credentials is anyone's guess, particularly as it's possible her sibling is lying dead in a gutter somewhere -- but that's the least of this episode's problems.
The fact is, for a TV series positioned to be a Wes Anderson-y gumshoe detective procedural, the mystery and how it unfolds would barely give Scooby Doo's scriptwriters cause for concern. Ames basically follows his client's hunch, asks some questions, bribes a barman, bribes a hotel worker, then finds his quarry in a hotel room, where the circumstances behind the girl's disappearance is revealed to be quite harmless. I guess the banality is supposed to be part of the joke, as Ames is expecting an exciting lifestyle ripped straight from a film noir, but instead just ends up traipsing around the city in the rain, wasting his own cash because he forgot to ask for expenses.
If you want to watch a lively Chandler-esque thriller with a modern twist, I suggest you seek out Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. There was nothing about this pilot to get me excited, no matter how desperately I wanted it to succeed. The casting is superficially great: spoon-faced Schwartzman as the wannabe-gumshoe (effortlessly eccentric, if difficult to like), Ted Danson as his pot-addicted publisher George Christopher (channeling his Frobisher character from Damages), and hirsute Zach Galifianakis as Ames' comic-book illustrator friend Ray (a scene-stealer in The Hangover earlier this summer, but given no such opportunity here.)
The infuriating thing is the potential going to waste. Give this idea to Wes Anderson and you'd have a fantastic movie; a screwier version of Manhattan Murder Mystery, perhaps. But the real Jonathan Ames (whom I'll assume is an egomaniac for putting "himself" in a TV series) fudges the idea every step of the way. I didn't laugh, I didn't get involved in the story, I didn't care about any of the characters. I just lamented the mishandling of a concept that should have been a lot of fun. I hear it improves every episode and that episode 3 is where Bored To Death starts hitting a stride -- but there was nothing here to tempt me back for more. The title is its own review for me.
20 September 2009 HBO, 10pm
written by: Jonathan Ames directed by: Alan Taylor starring: Jason Schwartzman (Jonathan Ames), Ted Danson (George Christopher), Zach Galifianakis (Ray Hueston), Alexia Anastasio (Lesbian), Ashley Bates (Door Girl), Reyna de Courcy (Rachel Weiss), Richard Short (Vincent) & Olivia Thirlby (Suzanne)