(Second Look is a new Processed Media column, revisiting shows episode-by-episode that have ended their production runs. if you have a show you’d like us to cover, email us at email@example.com)
Bored to Death was a quirky little mystery comedy from Jonathon Ames, American author and former New York Post columnist, and ran for three season on HBO (2009-2011). The oft-overlooked show was a unique little television entity, and held a special place in my heart because it was about creative types: struggling writer Jonathon (Jason Schwartzman), his cartoon artist friend Ray (Zach Galifanakis), and Jonathon’s boss, cynical post-smoking baby boomer George (Ted Danson, in the most brilliantly hilarious role of his career).
The show’s first episode, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ begins on a street in New York City, as Jonathon watches Suzanne (his former girlfriend) move out of their hole-in-the-wall apartment. Why? Because he smoked too much pot and drank too much white wine – at least, that’s what Jonathon would have you believe. Faced with an empty apartment, stuck in writer’s block, he becomes inspired by an old Raymond Chandler novel to take out an ad on Craigslist as an unlicensed private detective.
A bit silly? Yes, but Jonathon is a man at a crossroads – like a lot of other young Jewish men we’ve seen living in the Big Apple in movies the last forty years – in his life. Multiple, in fact: he’s learning to be single, he’s contemplating giving up on writing a second novel, and most importantly, he’s really trying to figure out what kind of man he is.
Some of this comes from his boss George, a free-flowing, bitter old magazine editor, who is tired of the lethargic life of the entitled. He’s even more lost than Jonathon, trying to find some happiness in a lifeless existence of social appearances and pill-popping. It’s an archetype, just like Jonathon’s character, but Danson’s energetic performance really drives the show’s comedy, and in the pilot, provides some of the best lines.
Danson establishes himself as the scene-stealer quickly; his scene in the bathroom with Jonathon (pictured above) is both the best and the funniest of the pilot. It’s not only a sharply written conversation between two co-workers and friends who know each other a little too well, but also moments where both characters reveal a lot about themselves. George is suffering from ‘baby boomer boredom’, and looks to Jonathon to bring some excitement to his life.
There’s also Ray, Jonathon’s goofy artist friend – and a somewhat humanized version of Galifanakis, something I wish we’d get to see more of in movies, we’re he’s relegated to silly man with the wacky, out of left field lines. He still gets his moments in Bored, and in ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, it comes in the form of a few hilarious dialogue lines and not much else, but the following episodes (spoiler alert) will get into the interesting dynamic of him and his wife.
The episode’s plot revolves around Jonathon’s first ‘case’, from a teen girl who can’t track down the sister she came to visit. The mystery itself isn’t the most interesting or complex thing in the world, but watching Jonathon fumble his way through the investigation is amusing stuff: the scene where he realizes that he spent more money on bribes and hotel rooms than he was getting paid is hilarious.
‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is a reference to the role-playing situation Jonathon finds the girl he’s looking for in – and arguably the weakest scene of the pilot. Even with the funny scene of Jonathon locking himself in their bathroom to answer his phone (“this is my boss, and I’m going to take this”), it felt like one of those situations that plays out funnier on the page than on television. Using it as a title places too much attention on the scene, although complaining about the title of the episode is a bit silly.
The last few minutes of the episode did feel clichéd: a cop sits Jonathon down, warns him not to continue lest he be prosecuted, and then it does a bit of an awkward job setting up the relationship of Ray and his wife for the following episodes (though “I read them in my diary” was one of the funniest things I heard all episode). It expectedly closes with Jonathon receiving an email from what will be his second case, and feels as shoe-horned in as the two scenes before it.
People familiar with NYC landscapes will also find some nice little scenic nuggets, and film buffs can enjoy the strong use of POV shots in the premiere (something I really enjoyed). The show’s cinematography is another understated feature, using its surroundings well, and providing a some cool shots that would fit perfectly in any mystery novel (I’m thinking of Jonathon smoking in the rainy alley outside the shady hotel).
All in all, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is a great introduction to the series, with some genuinely terrific performances from the three male leads. These are strengthened by a number of great guest appearances along the way (Kristin Wiig has a sultry turn in the second episode, for example) and the show only gets funnier and zanier as it goes along.
A few other thoughts about the pilot:
- shout out to Jason Schwarzman for the theme song. It’s a great table-setter for the tone of the show, especially the upbeat, jazz-infused soundtrack of the show.
- I can’t say enough about Ted Danson and his role on this show. Absolutely one of the funniest roles on television, and a travesty he didn’t come close to an Emmy for the role (although it shows what a joke they are).
- WIRE CAMEO: did you catch Marlyne Barrett (Council President Nareese Campbell) as one of the tenants in Jonathon’s building?
- best line of the episode comes from Ray: “We gotta sit outside. Some early post-natal yoga class exploded – it’s like a nursery in there.”
What did you think of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below. I’ll be back next Tuesday with a review of ‘The Alanon Case.’