In HBO’s half-hour comedy “Bored to Death,” Jason Schwartzman plays a writer named Jonathan Ames. The series itself is created by the real writer Jonathan Ames, author of several books, including the acclaimed graphic novel “The Alcoholic.”
But the onscreen Ames has only written one novel, and is struggling mightily with his second. He harbors not only writer’s block, but an addiction “ “regimen,” he prefers “ to white wine and marijuana. When his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) leaves him high and dry at the beginning of the pilot, he doesn’t know what to do “¦ until he trips across Raymond Chandler’s aptly titled 1940 novel, “Farewell, My Lovely.”
Presumably re-absorbing the paperback, he impulsively posts an ad on Craigslist as an unlicensed private investigator. Just like that, he gets an assignment, helping a desperate young woman look for her missing sister, with whom she was supposed to attend a concert. With no true detection skills of which to speak, he carries Chandler in his pocket for inspiration/reference, burns through bribe money, and uses the name “Philip Marlowe” as an alias while on a stakeout.
Amid this work, he interacts with George (a game, scene-stealing Ted Danson), a self-medicating magazine maven for whom Jonathan freelances; and his best friend, Ray (Zach Galifianakis, still channeling “The Hangover“), a comic book writer/illustrator who’s henpecked by his sex-withholding, single-mom new girlfriend (Heather Burns).
The premise is interesting, and Schwartzman does all he can in the first episode to appear as inept yet as sincere as possible. Problem is, amusing though it is, funny it is not. But stick with it, because the subsequent episodes are much, much better. Instead of barely cracking a smile for the first half-hour, I laughed a few times in the shows that followed. (HBO’s “Hung” had the same problem, quickly remedied.)
For example, Kristen Wiig appears as a woman who suspects her boyfriend is cheating on her, and few play “detached soul” for laughs as strong as she. Another entry deviates from the formula slightly, with no case for Jonathan to solve, instead giving him an opportunity to advance his writing career when Ray hooks him up with a screenplay polish for indie-film maverick Jim Jarmusch, who plays himself (to the hilt). Naturally, Jonathan finds a convoluted way to eff it all up. Subplots include a herpes blister and a colonic.
“Bored to Death” grows to fulfill its promise, after a clumsy start. It’s asking for it by nearly living up to its title in the pilot, but it hits a significant incline from there, so give it a chance. Hell, in its first season, it took “True Blood” about five episodes to find its footing, and look how that turned out. “Rod Lott