TV: The funny side of death

 
 

The latest Sky Atlantic import is a slacker-noir comedy that’s a little rough around the edges, writes George Morahan

Early on in Bored to Death’s pilot episode, Jonathan Ames is asked if he is “another self-hating New York Jew”. Our protagonist answers with a rather dejected “yes”. For Jonathan is a writer, struggling with his second novel and instantly recognisable in that Woody Allen mould – urbane, painfully self-aware and writhing with neurosis.

After getting dumped by his girlfriend (and armed with a copy of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely), he decides to advertise himself as a private investigator on Craigslist. And therein lies the crux of Bored to Death: effete beta-male subverts hard-boiled detective fiction; surrealism ensues. However, it’s hit and miss to say the least.

The parts of the show concerned with Jonathan’s detective work are built around that juxtaposition. And although the inherent absurdity of it is good for some laughs, it can become a tiresome conceit. Jason Schwartzman’s performance as Jonathan can be just as exasperating. Whilst his arch onscreen persona works within the framework of Wes Anderson films or Scott Pilgrim vs the World, in a setting that somewhat resembles the real world, he can comes across as annoying and pretentious.

At times, Jonathan can be a dependably funny main character, but it’s only when he mingles with the supporting cast that Bored to Death excels. Zach Galifianakis plays Ray, a comic book artist and Jonathan’s best friend, while Ted Danson is the irrepressible George Christopher, a societal narcissist and sometime mentor to Jonathan.

Ray is at odds with most of Galfianakis’ post-Hangover roles and it’s one that suits him well. He’s grounded yet emotionally stunted and the closest Jonathan has to a voice-of-reason. On the other hand, George is almost fantastical. As the affluent magazine editor hanging onto Jonathan – thinking the youthful cool that he believes Jonathan possesses will rub off on him – Danson gets to play excitable and aloof as well as jaded and cool, all with undeniable charisma.

It’s another welcome step in Danson’s late-career renaissance. Initially famed for starring in sitcoms such as Cheers and Becker, the past few years have seen him reveal many new comedic and dramatic shades, both here and with his much-lauded turn in Damages.

The show finds an affable rhythm when Jonathan is playing off either one of them, but the three of them combine to hilarious effect. There’s not a lot in the way of plot, so it is vital for the continued growth of the series that the core trio is together as much as possible. For now, it’s an enjoyable diversion. As George says about himself and Jonathan, “we enthral and then we disappoint”. With a little more time, Bored to Death could do the very opposite.

Bored to Death is on Sky Atlantic, Mondays at 10:20pm.

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