While they're key in real life, when it comes to dissecting brand new television shows, first impressions are rarely reliable.
Whether it features a brunette Sarah Jessica Parker's ambition to take a man's approach to having Sex and the City in an odd cross between sultry New Orleans jazz and Jackie Collins cheese in the series' pilot or it uses a sitcom gimmick like escaping a marriage before it even begins with the runaway bride openers of Friends and Will & Grace, a new series – like a toddler – is uncertain of what it wants to be when it grows up.
And this need to grow has become especially evident after reviewing TV on disc over-the-years complete with the benefit of being able to watch the shows in quick succession. Typically it takes three episodes to set-up both the major story arc and themes of the debut season and up to six episodes to get over the growing pains to see if by the time it's evolved into whatever it's going to be, it's managed to grow on us enough to keep us tuned in for good.
Of course, other factors including the right time slot and a likable cast can make or break a series. But obviously if your show also boasts a killer premise and a promising pilot, you're faring fairly well in a country not known for its patience to let you ease yourself into entertaining us as in a commercial heavy ADD addled culture, we want the jokes or the action repeatedly and we want them to begin right now.
Considering both the limited accessibility of the premium cable channel HBO which immediately cuts down audience potential and the fact that the network orders very short seasons for its shows, Bored to Death had a few hurdles to climb right off the bat. Yet the fact that it was paired up with Curb Your Enthusiasm and kicked off in the season wherein Larry David reunited with the Seinfeld gang again gave the Jonathan Ames created series an extra boost in ensuring that it would be quickly extended with a second season order.
And while on the surface, both shows are comedies, they're strange bedfellows nonetheless. Essentially the masterful Curb is another wonderfully executed Seinfeldian “show about nothing,” whereas Bored delivers a high concept, high culture pilot complete with high class characters who make their living in highbrow fields and love getting high.
A series for an acquired taste to say the least, ironically in the same turn it's the “taste” that Bored to Death possesses that intrigues us even though we're not entirely sure we like any of the characters very much.Yet right from the show's retro Catch Me If You Can like title sequence to its Raymond Chandler-esque “noir-otic” premiere plot that pays homage to The Little Sister, film noir and witty '40s banter right from the start, we find ourselves rooting for Bored to be much better than it is because it should be, given the set-up.
Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited star Jason Schwartzman stars as scribe Jonathan Ames' onscreen alter-ego also named Jonathan Ames in this TV expansion of a story the real author wrote about his heroes Chandler and Hammett a few years ago.
Following the understandable break up of his relationship with Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby) who leaves her perpetually pot smoking, wine drinking, writer's blocked thirty-year old boyfriend, he decides that instead of doing the sensible thing and cracking down on his sophomore novel, he'll take out an ad on craigslist and advertise his services as an unlicensed private detective.
Embarking on minor adventures first solo and then with his magazine publisher friend George (Ted Danson) and Zach Galifianakis' Ray, a slacker ally with a car, Jonathan tackles “shadow jobs” to check a man's fidelity and hunts down everything from a skateboard, a sister, Ray's donated sperm, and a Jim Jarmusch screenplay in the process.
Given the succinct roughly twenty-two minute running time of the episodes, the cases themselves aren't very complicated. Yet admirably instead of making Ames a bumbling idiot, he does actually show some intellect in -- if not the execution of taking back missing items -- then at least in understanding how to locate them in the first place... even though he ultimately loses money with every single case because he pays tipsters left and right.
Admittedly it's hard to warm up to the characters initially. In fact, it not only requires three episodes to get a kick out of Jonathan but it also takes a slightly forced, stagey twist to do so as he loses Jarmusch's screenplay in a shrink's office and must continually try to retrieve it. Yet Danson's character fares far worse since the snobby George in particular seems like he would've been far more at home in the recent Ames adaptation of The Extra Man rather than Bored to Death.
Yet after the staff writers manage to get all three male leads in the same location and allow Danson and Galifianakis to play off one another, the show takes a turn for hysterical rather than ho-hum, in the first season's other standout episode “The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer.”
However, considering the fact that the screenplay and blackmailer episodes are the two best titles in the brief eight installment season, it's perhaps wiser to rent the series rather than purchase since even though it finally does manage to find its rhythm as it continues, you can't help but wish that the people and the plots would all consistently live up to that ingenious premise that launched the show.
By offering viewers a tour of Brooklyn along with Ames and Schwartzman, deleted scenes, episode commentary and interviews, the technically impressive Blu-ray set attempts to fill in the gaps of some of the uneven shows and its nap-and-you've-missed-it running time.
Entertaining enough to make me optimistic about the second season now that it's discovered which comedy teams work well and what angles enhance the series and which ones take it down, overall, Bored to Death is further proof that you need more than just first impressions to fully investigate a television series.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.