There are two levels of drama to the events on Bored To Death, and both were on display tonight in fine form. The first comes from what happens on the surface. Stella's old flame is in town (played by Josh Gad), and she asks Jonathan if they can have an open relationship. Plus, before that can happen, she wants all three of them to have a cuddle party. Clearly, this is an outrageous thing for a sane person to ask. In the words of Jonathan: "Polyamory is a thing you talk about for months and never act on." Yet Jonathan goes for it, because Stella convinces him that it'd make for an interesting story, and that it's something other writers have gone through. At the very least, I can relate. When something really embarrassing or awkward occurs—99 percent of the time my fault—I've sometimes consoled myself by thinking, "Hey, at least I can tell the story at The Moth." (It rarely makes me feel better, but maybe one of these days…?) The problem is that these moments are Jonathan Ames' way to distance himself from what's happening. I know the show is a fantasy, but it's tough to invest in the episodes when Jonathan himself isn't.
But what I like about Bored To Death is the way it starts with these writerly scenarios and then makes them all too emotionally real. That's the second level to the drama, and when it's around, it heightens Bored To Death's comedy from the twisted mundane to the affectingly twisted mundane.
So back to that first example, Jonathan can sit there and drink with Stella's ex, even engage in a little competitive hand-kissing and wine-chugging and symmetry-attaining. But once Josh Gad emerges from the bathroom and says, "Let's do this," we're talking about something else entirely. The same thing happened when Jonathan, emasculated by Stella's former horse cock-toting man, asks Ray to look at his penis and assure him he's within the normal range. Do it, he pleads, because it's something writers have penned stories about in the past. Then Ray's in there, so anxious to calm Jonathan's anxieties that he drops trou as well, revealing the uncircumcised, similarly sized beast within. It was an odd little moment of friendship, but I'll take it.
The main driving force of the episode concerns the return of Richard and Oliver Platt. He calls Jonathan into his office and hires him to spy on his wife Priscilla. Richard doesn't like George, he says, but he does respect the man and trust that if George trusts Jonathan, he can trust Jonathan. We all pretty much knew where this was going, though: Jonathan waits in Priscilla's bedroom to spy on her, and discovers that George, Priscilla's ex, is the one who's stickin' it to her. Jonathan, forever loyal to George, lies and tells Richard everything is alright. So Richard announces that he's coming back home just as George is finishing up with Priscilla—Jonathan still in the closet. Jonathan makes himself known, and Priscilla suffers the embarrassment of that scenario for a while. This is still in the fantasy, writerly land.
But then Richard comes home and learns the truth. First he lashes out (mostly some weak shoves), then he sits and quietly takes it all in. George, not sure what to do, sits next to him; Jonathan, even less sure, joins them. Richard stares off into space. "Wanna get a drink?" he asks. George ponders the question for a minute—what an odd thing to ask the guy who's been having sex with your wife. But, eventually, George says yes. Richard puts his hand on George's leg in a total bro-support kinda way, brings Jonathan into the fold, and the episode is pretty much over. Bored To Death captures this moment: a man at his lowest willing to let bygones be bygones almost immediately. It was tragic, and a little bit sweet.
Plus, with these heightened dramatic scenarios around, the off-hand humor feels a lot punchier. Ray spends the majority of the episode pining for Leah in the form of mixtape-making, yet has some of the best lines of the show's run. ("It makes me look like a sea captain"; "I'm not going to the alley, not going to fall for that again.") It's been a slow build, but Bored To Death is learning that by giving the characters real stakes, the comedy follows.
- "She's been suppressing a smile for weeks."
- One thing that bothers me: Any sort of service figure on this show (doctor, etc.) overshares with almost no probing. George's doctor tonight, with her story about horse penises…outrageous, but a little too outta-nowhere.
- This week's Brooklyn-specific bit: The meat packing district is starting to feel like LA. We Brooklyners know what's up!