Last year, Bored to Death evolved from being a flawed, somewhat enjoyable HBO comedy confection to a much more assured, enjoyable HBO comedy confection. Even though it's a detective show of sorts, plot has always come second to the inner lives of our three heroes -- it's definitely the ensemble that has always kept me interested in the show. But we're now in our third season, and so, perhaps understanding that we'll have to have some plot movement eventually, Jonathan Ames keeps everyone in their own unconnected stories and even throws in a "to be continued" for good measure.
Did anyone else feel a little underwhelmed? The show is never as good when it keeps its ensemble apart, but that's not that rare in and of itself. But Jonathan, George and Ray's plots all felt a little dull. There's definitely humor in Zach Galifanakis awkwardly dealing with a baby (I remember some hit movie where that might have been a story element), but it's a pretty limited humor pool, and I feel they basically drained it dry with him putting whiskey on his nipple and trying to deal with a stroller (and getting called an "estrogen bomb" by a glasses-wearing douchebag).
George's story has more legs, partially because the very funny David Rasche is playing a funhouse mirror image of him as his daughter Emily's (Haley Feiffer) new boyfriend. The man is a genuinely horrifying caricature, all in bike clothes, being treated like an obedient dog by Emily, going on about brain emails (or b-mails) and generally giving George every reason to worry not just about his own daughter, but also about his new direction in life. Danson is best when he's playing George stoned, but not far behind that is him playing George blind drunk, and his chats with the waiter whose name he can't remember were a highlight.
In the case of Jonathan, he's treated to a rather shocking bit of news (his father is sterile and he was conceived by sperm donation), which he takes with his usual puzzled aplomb, but no doubt will have bearing later on in the season, or perhaps even the next episode. Jonathan's mysteries are usually a means to an end more than anything else, with the end being madcap comedy. There was plenty of that this week, with him stumbling upon a naked woman in a hotel, and ending up dangling on the clock hands of the Williamsburgh (no typo, I assure you) Bank Tower.
But there was also an effort at actual foreshadowing and suspense, with a mysterious gangster dude giving Jonathan's handshake a negative review in the opening scene and, later on in the best scene of the episode, Jonathan's frenzied reaction to waking up in a hotel room with a dead body and a gun in his hand. It was genuinely fun, high-stakes stuff and Schwartzman is very good at playing Jonathan's particular brand of unhinged (where he still apologizes to the dead guy he accidentally shoots again when cleaning his gun).
All of this, especially the dead body and Jonathan hanging off the clock tower, feels a little more big-budget and high-octane than the show usually is, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As fun as last season was, there probably has to be some escalation, even for a show this purposefully laid-back. So I'm happy that Ames is doubling down in that regard. But let Ray and George get in on the fun! I think my main problem with their subplots is how broad the satirical targets are. Danson and Galifanakis are pros, and they'll wring laughs out of almost anything, but it's hardly news that babies are annoying when they cry, or that old men dating younger women are often creepy.
So, right now, I'm going to tentatively approve and wait and see where the next few episodes take us. It won't take much for this show to slip back into more comfortable territory; here's hoping it points in that direction by episode two.
- Shoutout to Brooklyn's primo independent bookstore, BookCourt, where Jonathan performs his knife-throwing book launch party at the start of the episode.
- Samantha Bee returns as one of the lesbians who stole Ray's sperm -- she's nice and dry.
- For me, the biggest laugh of the night was Ray furiously looking for the lube and telling Leah "NO BACKING OUT!" when the phone rings before their rare, spontaneous sex.
- I like George's new restaurant, especially his gimmick of having phones brought to the table.
- George and Jonathan have oysters in Grand Central which makes George feel virile. "Like I should mount a woman immediately." "But you always feel that way."
- Ray recalls being called "Gay" by school kids, who had a particularly good rejoinder featuring his last name. "They would say, Hueston, we have a problem, because you're gay."
- "Because of the marijuana, my whole life is like that film Memento."