Review: The First Four Episodes of BORED TO DEATH Season Two

     September 26, 2010

Novelist and makeshift private detective Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is back with his ragtag team of friends and occasional colleagues, cartoonist Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis) and magazine editor George Christopher (Ted Danson) for the second season of HBO’s film noir inspired comedy series Bored to Death. While the first season seemed to be more about the bumbling antics of Ames’ moonlighting as an unlicensed private detective and the silliness that came from Ray and George tagging along (with some choice herbs always handy), this season seems to be focusing more on the characters themselves. There’s just as much fun to be had as the first season, but the series stiff suffers from inconsistency in its comedy, and a lack of focus and progression from our main character.

bored to death season two posterWhen we join Ames making a quick exit through a fire escape, the potted plants being launched at him clearly indicated his business is going as well as last season. In addition, Ames has taken post teaching writing classes at night (sorry, no Yo Teach references) after the rejection of his second novel. But it doesn’t seem all bad as Ames is getting comfortable with his new weed-loving girlfriend Stella (Jenna Slate), though her free-roaming sexual spirit may not keep her around forever.. However, his best friend Ray’s love life is thrown into upheaval as his longtime girlfriend Leah (Heather Burns) has broken up with him as George is loving the romantic spark in his life that won’t settle well with his rival Richard Antrem (Oliver Platt).

All three of our characters are just as bumbling in their love lives as they are in their occasional detective work. As the hits keep coming on the romantic side of things, Ames has never found himself in more dangerous trouble in his detective work (or at least as much that can come from criminals driving zip cars, or overbearing S&M mistresses). New cases see a police officer hires Ames to erase a harddrive from a private S&M parlor while Antrem hires him to spy on his wife on suspicion of cheating (which as you can imagine, creates all kinds of awkwardness between he and George). One of his cases may even come back to bite him in the ass thus causing him to truly risk his life for the first time in his detective line of work. But while there’s plenty of upgrades in the danger, intrigue, and drama, since this is a comedy series, I’m still expecting a little more out of it

Schwartzman still remains the weakest link in the series, though I think the source of this problem lies in an incomplete and inconsistent character who takes a backseat to the more interesting and far funnier performances by Danson and Galifianakis. Once again, the best scenes take place when the two have puffed the magic dragon before, during and after getting caught up in Ames detective work. And it’s not just the hilarity from their characters, but the bonding that happens between them, an element that never really manifests itself between Ames and either of those characters (or any other character for that matter). This is the tip of the icerberg in a growing problem in the series itself in that I’m not sure whose story we’re supposed to be more invested in and more importantly, where the story and its characters are going.

Of course, there’s plenty of laughs to be had, and this season’s guest stars from new appearances by comedian Jim Norton and Kristen Johnson to returning characters from Patton Oswalt and John Hodgman. I just wish that the series had more focus. But if the aim of creator Jonathan Ames (yes, in case you didn’t know, this is a pseudo-autobiographical series), is to keep the story lacking focus like its pot-smoking characters, then I guess all is well. But as a viewer it’d be nice for the series to be more than a collection of quirky, bumbling detective antics (no matter how good the cinematography, sets and other visuals are in re-creating the world of film noir) and actually have story with a point. I’m certainly not bored to death (see what I did there?), but I’m not sure how long the series can sustain itself.

THE FINAL WORD: The second season of Bored to Death brings more of the same in mild comedy, and unfocused characters, but the same lack of focus seems to spill over into a story that lacks substance and any real progression. It’s wholly enjoyable and still better than new “comedy” series on all the regular networks, but the hipster nature of Ames novelist roots can only be charming for so long.

Bored to Death airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO