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The Best TV You're Not Watching: 'Bored to Death'

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Oct 24, 2011 | 9:46am EDT

Bored to DeathWhile HBO is better known for its powerhouse dramas, like Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, it is no slouch when it comes to comedy. Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm and others have garnered respectable followings over the years. However, there is one HBO comedy series that seems incapable of winning over a sizable audience: Bored to Death. It's a strange, intriguing and fun half-hour series that follows the adventures of writer-turned-detective Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) in his constant attempts to keep his life interesting. Our hero is both named after and modeled after series creator and lauded author, Jonathan Ames. Although the episodes are consistently more interesting and original than most things on television, Bored to Death remains a pretty under-the-radar show. But rest assured, this well-cast detective comedy is more than worth snooping out.

Why You’re Not Watching

It’s Not Exactly a Gripping Title

Death is a pretty polarizing topic, but boredom is almost universally despised. So, you’re not exactly roping in the masses with a title like the one this show has curiously chosen -- its reverberation in the incurably catchy theme song does give it a more fun connotation, though. At first glance of the premise, it seems like a slew of other titles might be more applicable and effective: Head Cases (think about it), Murder He Wrote, A Brooklyn Tale (and if you think all of these are horrible, that's exactly what I was going for). But once you become ensconced in the series and its characters, you realize that Bored to Death is the only appropriate thing to call this anything-but-boring series.

It’s Not Always Super Funny...Just Really Wry

I can see how, for a comedy, this might be a deal-breaker. There are full episodes that you might sit through without really laughing, but that’s not due to bad jokes—it’s just because they’re not really shooting for laughs. It’s hard, actually, to pinpoint what the show is really going for, but I’d say: a clever, joyful, and fun look at unbridled insecurity. But don’t get me wrong: sometimes, it is laugh-out-loud funny. But only when it tries to be.

The ‘H’ Word

If those two rationales seemed a bit flimsy, it’s because this third issue is invariably the real reason some people know about this show and choose not to watch it. Bored to Death is, unapologetically, the most hipster show on television. I know that has become a lazy, all-purpose term for things that are offbeat, off-kilter, or just plain off. But in everything from the Park Slope location to the celebration of white wine addiction, the self-aggrandizing self-deprecation and the characters’ often vocalized obsession over the “in,” this show is practically a hipster parade. To some, this might be offputting. But really, it’s just a show that both appreciates and acknowledges the peculiarities and flaws in the lifestyles of three (awesome) men with too much time on their hands.

What You’re Missing

Bored to DeathIt’s Like Entourage for the Emotionally Damaged

It has been said about Entourage that one of the big reasons people loved watching it so much was that they enjoyed living vicariously through its characters. While the lifestyles of Vincent Chase and co. were ones real people are hard-pressed to fall into themselves, it was enough to spend thirty minutes a week watching the dream unfold onscreen, and then fantasizing a bit in the moments after the ending credits about how much fun that sort of life would be. Bored to Death has a lot of the same effect, just on a different demographic. Entourage spoke to people who longed for glamour, wealth, admiration, and a few carnal pleasures. Bored to Death speaks to people who long for adventure, danger, and general lack of responsibility. The show makes you daydream a bit about your own risky rejoinders through the nicer parts of Brooklyn—spending your days drunk and high, breaking locks and solving mysteries with your incredibly interesting best friends. Sure, you’d be a little nuts to consider this your ideal lifestyle (and probably in some kind of a midlife crisis), but no judgment: Bored to Death certainly depicts a life more quirky and intriguing than that many of us are living.

Ted Danson Like You (Probably) Haven't Seen Him Before

I imagine the real Ted Danson to be the coolest man in the world, which would still be possible if he was even half as cool as his Bored to Death character, George Christopher. Danson is most famous for his dim but down-to-Earth lethario, Sam Malone from Cheers. Later on, he took on the cranky, misanthropic title character in Becker. And now, he has lept full-force into madness with George Christopher: the pot-addicted writer with a Robert Evans-esque personal history who, in his later years, battles his insecurities by taking on every possible opportunity at fun and excitement that graces his path. Some might assume Zach Galifianakis to be the comic goldmine in this show. While Galifianakis' character is undeniably lovable, it is Danson who steals almost every scene.

Artist and Nerd Empowerment

It's a show that not only revolves around, but makes heroes (and supervillains) of writers, comic book artists, sci-fi enthusiasts, literary buffs, critics, journalists, and the devoted fans thereof. From the inception of the series, we are thrust into the world of these people and their kind. We are taken to art galleries, creative writing classes, comic book stores, and sci-fi conventions. Unlike other shows that claim to celebrate nerd culture, this one actually makes us feel at home in this world. Bored to Death highlights the wonders and inspirations of the nerd world, as opposed to relying on jokes about its geekiness and peculiarities. It just might make you consider paying a visit to the next Comic-Con.

The Bottom Line

Genre + Genre = Whole New Genre

Detective comedies have been braved before. Often, they become spoofs, i.e. the great Naked Gun movies. Sometimes, the fun is derived from the super-dark, super-stylized nature of the project, i.e. the great Sin City. But Bored to Death is something new. It doesn't spoof detective movies—incidentally, its mood and themes are more reminiscent of detective literature. It uses tropes and traditions from this genre, combines them with the like from the comedy spectrum, and and ends up with something not really definable in either genre. Bored to Death is light-hearted, even when dealing with dark material. It's mysterious, even when the characters are in between cases, enabling one another's narcotic addictions. The ingredients of Bored to Death add up to a whole new type of show, that operates on a rhythm unlike most comedies, dramas or mysteries. It is quick-witted, but very calm and smooth, even in its most exciting, high-stakes scenes. So how do we classify Bored to Death? Fun.

Bored to Death airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.

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