HBO’s Bored to Death is a half-hour comedy series created by writer Jonathan Ames about writer Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman). In the extras the real Ames states his life informs the series but it is not autobiographical. In the series premiere the fictional Ames decides to become a private investigator like Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe after being dumped by his girlfriend Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby) because the 30-year-old Brooklynite wouldn’t quit smoking pot or drinking alcohol, though to be fair he was down to white wine.
The eight episodes of the first season revolve around Ames’ unlicensed detective work as he helps others with their lives, which keeps him distracted from having to deal with his own issues, such as accepting why his girlfriend left and trying to complete a second novel. The series’ humor is amusing, though frequently dry. The characters are frequently the cause of their own problems, making them familiar to anyone who has seen a few low-budget indie films out of New York.
Schwartzman is a perfect fit as Jonathan, floating between hollow confidence and a malaise brought on by having to be a grown-up; however, although the focal point, Jonathan is the least interesting character of the series. More entertaining are his friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and his boss George (Ted Danson). Ray is a comic book writer who is sexually frustrated by his girlfriend Leah (Heather Burns), the mother of two children. Ray is also frustrated because she is constantly on him to improve physically and emotionally. George is the editor of “Edition” and his id is stuck in overdrive as he constantly on the lookout for something fun to do. The series is better whenever either one of them are paired with Jonathan.
The series has drawn an impressive collection of talent to guest star. The roster includes Kristen Wiig and Parker Posey as Jonathan’s clients; Bebe Nuerwirth as his book agent; John Hodgman as a writing rival; Oliver Platt as a publishing rival of George’s who is also married to Priscilla (Laila Robins), George’s most orgasmic ex; and Patton Oswalt as a spy-equipment-store owner where Jonathan shops.
The video is presented with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode displayed at 1.78:1 that is impressive. Colors are strong and the blacks are rich; the latter helping to evoke film noir from the shadows and delineation on display. There’s very good detail such as the clearly seen textures of Jonathan yellow-brown corduroy jacket. There are some scenes with grain issues; light colors of blue and red frame the grain, appearing like the image was blown up from 16mm to 35mm. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 isn’t fully used for this front-heavy mix that mainly delivers dialogue. The ambiance is so inconsequential it’s not clear why anyone bothered. A little more tweaking could have brought the scenes and the city to life.
There are bonus features on both discs and they come in HD. Disc 1 includes commentaries on episode 1 and 3 with Schwartzman, Ames, and the each episode’s director. There are also deleted scenes from episodes 3 and 4 (4 min). On Disc 2 there are commentaries on episodes 6 and 8 with Schwartzman and Ames joined by director Adam Bernstein and Ted Damson respectively. There are two deleted scenes from episode 8 (3 min). “Jonathan Ames’ Brooklyn” (13 min) finds the writer joined by Schwartzman as they visit the locations where the series shot. “The Making of Bored to Death (20 min) is a typical look behind the scenes of the HBO series.
Bored to Death is not your usual sitcom so those interested in a slightly different comedy should give it a chance though there won’t be much lost by sampling it on DVD.