HBO’s new comedy “Bored to Death” is at times a little too pleased with itself, like a hipster who tries really hard to get you to notice how little he cares. But in between those times, it’s also quite funny.
By hitching the conventions of the private-eye genre to a comedy about a Woody Allen-esque neurotic, creator Jonathan Ames has crafted a charming, if mostly low-key, show that grows on you as it goes along. It should fit well with HBO’s other comedy about a perpetually disaffected man, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (“Curb” debuts at 9 p.m. ET Sunday, and “Bored to Death” follows at 9:30).
“Bored to Death” stars Jason Schwartzman as a moderately successful writer named, like his creator, Jonathan Ames, who’s just watched his girlfriend move out because he drinks too much and smokes too much pot. (Jonathan’s protests that he’s throttled back to just drinking white wine don’t help.) Blocked on his second novel and under the influence of a Raymond Chandler novel in addition to the wine, he places a Craigslist ad offering his services as an unlicensed detective.
The cases Jonathan picks up are more soft-boiled than hard-; he deals more in stolen skateboards and out-of-touch sisters than murder and kidnapping. It’s a good thing, because Jonathan is just about the least threatening P.I. in the history of the genre. That’s part of the joke, of course, as the diminutive Jonathan has to reason, pleads and occasionally bribe his way to the information he needs. It’s not terribly efficient, but it eventually gets the job done.
Schwartzman is more or less playing the straight man here, and he gets huge amounts of help from Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”), who plays Jonathan’s friend Ray, a comic-book illustrator, and especially Ted Danson as George Christopher, a magazine editor who gives Jonathan assignments but mostly just wants to hang out with the younger man, whose life he envisions to be much more exciting than it actually is.
Danson’s character is pretty much all id, a guy who’s desperately trying to stay young and hip and succeeding only to a small degree. George is the comedy flip side to Danson’s Arthur Frobisher character on “Damages,” needy and a little pathetic but without all the power and the evil streak. Danson is very obviously having a blast, and it comes through the screen.
Galifianakis stole “The Hangover” with his alternate-universe take on the character, and he’s playing another oddball in “Bored to Death,” but he smartly keeps his quirks at a low ebb. He and Schwartzman mesh easily on screen.
The first couple of episodes of “Bored to Death” are uneven; it feels a little overwritten, and it can come across as a show whose eyebrow is permanently arched. But when the show settles into a rhythm around the third episode, things start to click. It’s a nice little addition to the mini-renaissance TV comedy is enjoying this fall.
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