This week, the Pop Culture Club took on Bored to Death, HBO’s new comedy about a novelist who tries to break out of his post-breakup stasis by becoming a private investigator. In other words, it’s Raymond Chandler plus Woody Allen times Wes Anderson. The scene in which Jason Schwartzman takes a belt of whiskey to appear tough in a bar and then wheezes and nearly spits it up is straight out of Allen’s Play it Again, Sam; the whiny, affectless, overconfessional dialogue is all Anderson.
Set in Brooklyn, Bored to Death seems to be written solely for people who look and act exactly like the characters: self-absorbed, immature, overeducated thirtysomethings cozily snuggled up their own asses. I know this type, as I live in Brooklyn and walk among them. Ten years ago I was one of them, which is why I both feel close to the show, and yet can’t wholeheartedly embrace it: It feels a little too close. It’s the same reason I get squirmy when I see drunk twentysomethings loudly singing in the streets, convinced their exuberant whimsy is entertaining all within earshot — I flash back to a night in 1994 when I did the same thing, confident that passersby thought that a staggering Manhattanite howling “New York, New York” with his friends late on a Saturday night was a heeeeeelarious sight. Only in New York, folks! Yeah, only in New York, or any mall parking lot in America when Dave and Buster’s closes up for the night.
Wait, now I’m cozily snuggled up my own ass! So let me shimmy my way out and get back to the show, which had its moments: I did like the self-effacing mood of the show, as well as the interaction between Jason Schwartzman’s protagonist, Jonathan, and Zach Galifianakis’ cartoonist, Ray. (The “Raid on Entebbe” conversation was amusing and felt real…until they shouted out for a public vote on whether it was a common reference: that staginess felt a bit Friends to me.) But as much as I may have smiled, overall I found myself weary of Jonathan’s type. I don’t want to sound like a cranky old “In my day, when a woman broke our hearts, we didn’t yammer on about it; we went to work and only took occasional breaks to weep/curse in the men’s room!” type. But my patience for mopey navel-gazing is ebbing.
You may say, “That’s not a fair way to objectively review a show!” But I think the Pop Culture Club should be a way for us to discuss our personal reactions to a project. For example, personally, I find Ted Danson to be the most delightful presence a television show could ask for. And it is because of him that I will keep watching this show.
I have an unhealthy love for the show Cheers. Not sure why: it’s not like my mother used to breastfeed me while it was on. I just loved it, through high school and college, and I still get misty when I encounter a rerun, as if I just found some old home movies. To me, it’s a perfect sitcom. And Danson has evolved masterfully since then. In Cheers he was self-involved but dim, but over the past five years he’s carved out a niche with characters who are self-involved and brilliant. (This new direction actually started in 1999’s Mumford, but I don’t want to drop too much deep Danson knowledge on you.) This shift may sound small, but it’s not: now his characters are darker, more daringly unlikable. He was hilariously arrogant in the canceled-too-soon sitcom Help Me Help You, and chillingly egotistical in Damages. His Bored to Death role, the jaded magazine editor George, is like a combination of the two: He’s a wealthy, intelligent, but oblivious playboy, and he dines out on the role as hungrily as Norm would the Feeding Frenzy at the Hungry Heifer. I’ve seen the next couple of episodes, and he only gets better, especially in an upcoming adventure in which he gets a herpes outbreak.
Wow, for someone who complains so much about the self-involved, I sure did make this conversation about my personal likes and dislikes, didn’t I? Please, people, rescue me from myself! What did you think of Bored to Death? Did you find Schwartzman’s character endearing or annoying? Do you want to follow him on more cases? And is my love for Ted Danson unhealthy? But come on, I dare you to tell me he’s not awesome! I DARE YOU!
Okay, before we begin, let’s give out next week’s assignment: I’d like to continue with TV, since there are so many new shows out there now that we really need to sample them all. Julianne Marguiles’ The Good Wife came out of the box strong with its premiere ratings: What’s going on there? Let’s find out! It’s on Tuesday at 10 on CBS. And as she wasn’t on Cheers, I should be able to get some critical distance here.
Photo Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO