TV

Bored to Death: Series Premiere

Bored to Death indulges a decidedly male fantasy for New York creative intellectualism in the same way Entourage does for Hollywood’s struggling actors-turned-stars.


Bored to Death

Airtime: Sundays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Thirlby
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: HBO
Air date: 2009-09-20
Website
Trailer
Amazon

We all lead double lives.

-- Ray (Zach Galifianakis)

Heartbroken and creatively blocked, writer Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) puts an ad up on Craigslist. Struggling to begin his elusive second novel, he offers himself as an unlicensed private investigator for-hire, complete with tweed sport coat and tattered copy of Farewell, My Lovely. Absurd? Absolutely. Enjoyable? You bet.

Brooklyn serves as the ideal playground for Jonathan and his best friend, internet comic artist Ray (Zach Galifianakis), seeing as they are both sensitive, talented, and self-centered artsy types who ritually argue factoid semantics over coffee. As Bored to Death begins, they are mutually supportive victims of emotional arrested development (TV shorthand for adulthood ineptitude), bonded over their respective creative torments. When Ray laments the slow deterioration of his own romantic relationship with single mother Leah (Heather Burns), Jonathan suggests that he might build some good will with her if he forfeits takes a job as a grade school art teacher to bring in steady income. "Don't be disgusting," Ray replies.

Jonathan's own focus is his cases, most blandly familiar (since they are, quite literally, by-the-book). Luckily, the emotional and moral gyrations of his double life make Bored to Death more entertaining than the usual film noir parody. Making obscure literary references that no one gets, Jonathan drinks two glasses of white wine nightly, and wiggles his toes excitedly when he reads in bed. He's too educated to be proletarian, too stoned to be hardboiled. He also manages a close friendship with George (Ted Danson), the well-manicured editor of a high profile magazine where Jonathan freelances. What George wields in literary cred, he lacks in self-confidence. His friendship with Jonathan initially reads like a mutually desperate attempt to recapture a virile youth. George serves as both father figure and frat brother, suggesting that he and Jonathan have similar effects on women ("We enthrall and then we disappoint"). The men smoke weed together in a bathroom stall during a society mixer, and George dismisses Jonathan's worry that he may be an alcoholic, assuring him, "Men face reality, women don't. That's why men need to drink."

George lifts this line from Jonathan's novel, revealing in the series' premiere episode some of the regressive gender politics at work in their world. Tongue-in-cheek or no, the dames here could be easily plucked straight from his 1930s detective novel urtexts. In Bored to Death, women are buxom objects, helpless victims or doting mommies, described by sexist shorthand ("She was my best ex-wife"). On a subway, Jonathan marvels at a curvy brunette by declaring, "The world is completely melting and yet beautiful women are still being produced."

These political hiccups are unfortunate, but not deal-breakers. Bored to Death is undeniably smart, and so it could very well be laying the groundwork for all these wincing moments to be properly unpacked by an apt post-modern femme fatale (mom?). Created by nebbish writer Jonathan Ames, the series indulges a decidedly male fantasy for New York creative intellectualism in the same way Entourage does for Hollywood's struggling actors-turned-stars. And yet, however much Bored to Death burps the erudite men-children it's raising, it still refuses them any substantive comfort. This deficit is exemplified in Ray, with eyes bloodshot from weeping or a hangover or both, as he demands, "I want to be put to sleep. I want to be tucked in. I want to be the only child in a woman's life."

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image