I never quite understand the pacing in HBO shows. Its pilots rarely suffer from, well, what I can't help but call "pilotness"—that is, too forcibly setting things up for the coming weeks, in a way that feels less than natural (think Fringe). It usually is content to let early episodes sit as they are, with the understanding that things will pick up in the coming weeks. Maybe HBO believes it's a pay network, so therefore people are going to tune in for the entire season of something, rather than decide on early episodes alone—they paid for it all, so they might as well watch it. Whatever the case, I've rarely seen an HBO show that feels like it's appropriately letting out information as it should be. By the time the first season of most of its shows are over, I'm usually pretty okay with the show concept, but it took a long time to get there.
Bored To Death's first season is only slated for eight episodes, yet here we are with episode six, and it's only now that I'm getting a sense of what the show should be. In tonight's episode, Jonathan finally tells George about his private detectiving business, and it comes as no surprise that doldrum-fearing George is down; anything to break the monotony of nonstop handjobby lit parties. Because George decides to come along for the night's adventures, he finally meets Ray, who's been recently pulled into the fold as the go-to getaway driver. And lo and behold, when you take two caustic show elements and put them in the center of the private detective stuff, it feels a bit more unexpected and a lot more personal.
My biggest complaint about the show in the previous weeks was that entire episodes felt aimless; and now that George wants to keep tabs on the adventures, plus Jonathan and Ray are going to be spending a lot more time together, the show's got some aim. Hell, at least we can get more character's reactions to whatever kooky capers the show cooks up. Why it took the better half of a season to get there, who knows.
That's not to say tonight was smooth sailing: the show still hasn't quite figured out what they want to do with Jonathan, which is ridiculous on so many meta levels. Half the time, the character is way too removed from what's happening to be much of anything but a mouthpiece for plot. For example, I understand that Jonathan is trying to act like he's really unaffected by the details of cases while in front of new clients—he wants to seem tougher—but that entire first scene at the diner was painful to watch. (He's meeting a guy who needs a sex tape recovered to save his marriage.) Somebody needs to finally get Jason Schwartzman to stop playing "calm and collected PI guy" like he's bored to tears. The dialogue falls flat, the humorous asides seem less than comedic, and I can't help but want to change the channel. Jonathan gets in this mode a lot, usually at the beginnings of cases and always when he's having the majority of business-related discussions.
That's mode one. The character's second mode come out later in episodes, when Jonathan gets completely freaked out by what's going on, and his true self shows through. The scammer from tonight calls her brother, who busts in and tasers Jonathan unexpectedly --> Jonathan flips out and screams like a little girl. That's a lot more fun to watch, and it happens again when Jonathan and his buddies raid the scammers' house and when the boys run into the cop car at the end. Why it took the show six episodes to give us more than a few seconds of that, again, who knows.
Ray and George, though, are pretty well established at this point. Ray is going to be the perpetual voice of pessimism, the one who forces Jonathan to rely on his sensible side but the one who is going to be the most fun when shaken up. George is the devil on the other side of Jonathan's shoulder, teasing him to do something outrageous just cuz it'll make for a good story later. We get a hint of that tonight: Ray nags Jonathan about his lack of plan; George is just thrilled that something will get done. It's a shame the two characters spent most of the episode stoned out of their minds—not the kind of thing that makes for compelling Bored To Death scenes by any stretch of the imagination—because despite the fact that they clearly got along, it certainly seems like they'll be playing very different roles in the coming episode, and probably find themselves at odds.
But for now, we've got a sort of okay episode of TV involving a fake affair sting operation that turns into a real tryst, followed by a tasing and a fight with a stuffed pony head. I guess you can do worse.
- I hope tonight marks the end of the "Jonathan Ames has a big nose" jokes, as well as the self-absorbed writerly material, with this one focusing on the obsession with the Amazon.com ranking. There are better jokes to mine out there.
- I also wonder how long it'll be before a client repeats, or a bad guy makes a repeat appearance. Might not be a bad idea to keep that Rolodex handy, Jonathan.
- George is best when he's at his most pathetic: "Jonathan, I feel like a little kid! I'm drawing!"