When Bored To Death premiered, there was a lot to get excited about. The cast—Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, and Zach freakin' Galifianakis—was tops. The premise was formed but left room to play with: Writer Jonathan Ames, down on his career and dissolving relationship, shakes things up by becoming an amateur private detective. Yet the first season, while it certainly had its moments, was wildly inconsistent. Shows on HBO are less about plot and forward momentum than they are about a feeling, a mood, a specific perspective on a specific world. There were episodes that played with the contrast between Ames' fumbling regular existence and his faux-suave-but-really-fumbling detective existence. Then some didn't. There were some rich, character-based storylines, and then there were episodes that had those characters behaving wildly different. The rules of the Bored To Death world were only evident near the end of the season, when consistency finally set in.
I'm glad to say that the season two premiere is a lot more like the end of season one than the beginning. It's settled into a comfortable groove as wish-fulfillment for Ames (the creator and the fictional character) as well as a showcase for the talented ensemble. Bored To Death will never be a truly exciting show, but "Escape From The Dungeon" wrings some tension out of the case-of-the-week and lays the groundwork for George and Ray to have more to do this season.
The episode does begin with a jolt, though. Ames falls from a fire escape and rolls out of the way just as a pot comes crashing down where his head used to be. He darts off, mumbling something into the phone about how he found the one artist in DUMBO not driven out by gentrification (which is a joke that now, having lived in Brooklyn all of three weeks, I totally get—people in Brooklyn are so special!) Ames quickly makes his way to the school where he's teaching writing workshops, and the pace slows to a typical Bored To Death speed.
The character of Jonathan Ames hasn't developed much since season one, though is quirks are a lot more streamlined. He tries to lecture his students about good writing habits, but the tables are turned on his own career—and with the rejection of his latest manuscript, it's not lookin' so good. He has an intimate moment with girlfriend Stella (Jenny Slate) that has him giving the puppy-dog eyes and talking about how she's the best thing going for him right now. Ames has a way of bringing himself into every scenario (especially his fear that he's going to be "washed up at 30"), just as he does with the case of the week. A mounted cop hires Ames to break into the bondage dungeon he'd been frequenting because it has ties to drugs, and the police are about to raid the place. Ames is tasked to wipe the hard drive, a task that has him not only hire a dominatrix, but don a locked-up leather suit (complete with hood) and open up to her about his personal problems. In the world of Bored To Death, everyone is Ames' therapist.
And the weird thing is that we rarely ever see Ames give back. The police eventually raid the spot while Ames is still there, and thus Ames escapes out the back, wallet-less, with bondage suit still intact. This begins a comical run through the downtown streets where New Yorkers, typically a keep-to-themselves breed, ogle and stare. Ames finally finds a payphone that works and collect-calls Ray—who just so happens to be sulking in Prospect Park having just been dumped by his girlfriend. Ray thinks Jonathan is calling to console him; Jonathan fails to get the message across about how desperately he needs help, and the two end the call exactly as it started. It's a brief moment of miscommunication that serves to accent the already ridiculous things happening, but it's also telling of Ames and Ray's relationship. Ray's about to go through some stuff, and he's going to need his buddy around. I wonder if Jonathan will ever inadvertently neglect the poor guy.
I also liked how the episode set up some drama for George to deal with. His magazine is going through some hard financial times, and he has to cut his precious lunches and Orangina, plus work for writers like Jonathan. George is no longer the guy with the power; it's been usurped by consultants and new owners, and his only hope is to hang on for dear life until things blow over. It doesn't help that Jonathan shows up to the office unannounced in leather garb, teasing George's mischievous side to the entire board. The colliding worlds serves Bored To Death well, and I'm hopeful this season will find much more of that.
- That girl in the writing class pitching her book idea—it's every bad angsty idea rolled into one, right?
- "Stimulate with a Shabbus candle."
- "Yo, teach!"