Saturday, September 26, 2009

It’s Chandler’s Fault!

If you’re at all like me, you have been searching--mostly in vain--for a new TV comedy series you can look forward to watching every week. I’d almost given up hope (Curb Your Enthusiasm has never done it for me; 30 Rock used up all of its jokes several seasons ago; don’t even mention the appalling Parks and Recreation, which makes poor Amy Poehler look untalented; and Mad Men has too many characters who look alike).

But now, thanks to the Divine Sarah (Weinman, that is), I’ve fallen in love with a show called Bored to Death, which began last Sunday on HBO. It stars Jason Schwartzman as creator Jonathan Ames’ fictional alter ego, also named Jonathan Ames. Jonathan is a frustratingly blocked writer, a pothead, and a white-wine tippler who falls into a funk after he loses his girlfriend. He consoles himself by reading Farewell, My Lovely, and that inspires him to advertise his services on the Internet as a private eye.

Ted Danson, playing Jonathan’s former boss, George, is equally impressive on this series. He steals every scene in which he appears as a loonier, more endearing version of Arthur Frobisher, the amoral business tycoon he portrays on FX’s Damages. When Jonathan asks George if he really needs to take so much Viagra, George primly replies: “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. My heart medicine and heavy drinking have taken a toll.”

Jonathan doesn’t have many qualms about his new job. “I say that I’m not licensed, and that makes it more legal ... ish,” he tells his best friend and fellow Brooklyn loser, a graphic artist named Ray (Zach Galifianakis), who is appalled.

“Within 20 minutes of the pilot,” writes Weinman in Maclean’s magazine, “Jonathan morphs from a commitment-phobic struggling novelist and magazine writer recently dumped by his girlfriend Suzanne (Juno’s Olivia Thirlby) to an unlicensed P.I. on the lookout--with suitably disastrous and cringe-comic results--for the missing sister of a college co-ed who saw his ad on Craigslist. The impetus? A frayed paperback of ... Ames’s favorite Chandler novel ...” Weinman remarks in her own blog: “After watching the first three episodes, I’m still not sure if, to use a well-worn cliché, Bored to Death is going to play in Peoria, but I have to hand it to HBO for doing their best to try.”

Another interesting new show, especially for time-travel addicts, is ABC’s FlashForward. It’s in the Quantum Leap genre, stars the believable Joseph Fiennes, and might just be worth a look.


Anonymous said...

Ted Danson... is equally as impressive on this series.

I don't wanna be "that guy," but the 'as' is extraneous. "Equally impressive" does nicely. That's one of those grammatical errors that never fail to hit me like a pie in the face.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Thanks for pointing that out. The correct use of English is important here at The Rap Sheet, even if other publications don't demonstrate the same level of respect.


Kristopher said...

Since when is Mad Men a comedy?

MysterLynch said...

I have to say that BtD feels a little too Woody Allen for me.

Ted Danson is fantastic and will likely keep me coming back at least for a few episodes.

Maybe I need to be a New Yorker to fully appreciate it.

Sarah Weinman said...

It helps to understand Jonathan Ames as a New York centric phenomenon in order to appreciate the finer points of BORED TO DEATH (which, based on the first 3 episodes, has a lot of promise, but could go in a stellar or catastrophic direction depending on the scripts.) But the fact that I said that does illustrate the larger problem of the series: is it just too New York-y and insular? THE SOPRANOS was certainly a "regional" show, but it resonated because Tony behaves like a lot of people do - homicidally, psychologically or otherwise. If BtD can amp up the general human behavior aspect (Clouseau!) and de-emphasize the cringe comedy and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM tropes, it may stand a better chance of finding that larger "play in Peoria" audience.

Then again, never, ever underestimate Jonathan Ames. That guy has a weird knack for finding success even when he's not looking for it.