HBO has taken over the world. I’m serious. For every self deprecating viewer of Hollyoaks (nobody claims it is of a higher plane), there is someone quoting Omar, Kenny Powers or Bret and Jermaine. The church of HBO is a pseudo-religion, one which I am completely devout to. One which continues to grow in belief, aided by the ever critically mauled powerhouse BSKYB’s purchase of all HBO programming, giving everyone in the UK a fair playing field to watch the best content the little box in our living rooms have to offer. Well, as long as you have SKY TV and are willing to wait anywhere from 24 hours to 3 months for the same episode the US had prior.
Now shows such as Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones are strewn over every advertising board available, HBO with or without Sky’s help is now firmly in the mainstream. Or at least that’s what it wants you to believe, because behind the multi million dollar juggernauts lies a program which has had little exposure and in my eyes is the 2nd best show still running on the network, I’m a Larry David fan. A show with just as stellar a cast, if not more so then its bigger budget brothers and sisters; Bored to Death.
Coming from the mind of writer Jonathan Ames, Bored to Death revolves around Jonathan a typical suffering New York writer (trendy Brooklyn to be precise) what isn’t typical is that the same writer, via Craigslist, becomes a private detective for hire. Through writer’s block his moonlighting acts as an inspiring diversion, living out his Raymond Chandler novels; even if most of the time he’s drunk or high. Revolving around lost siblings, stolen skateboards and sperm, and even to sexual-fetish loving policeman trying to maintain their stature; his cases are majestically absurd.
The comedy of the show tiptoes the line of intellectual to plain slapstick, a mixture of innuendos and double entendres. You need only watch 30 seconds of the pilot to see that. What makes this balance of comedic style work so well is the brilliant cast the show possesses. With the talented Jason Schwartzman comes the rejuvenated Ted Danson and a post-Hangover Zach Galifinakis. Ted Danson in particular seems to be a man possessed. Having always played the clean cut everyday man Danson instead portrays a once successful but now suffering Magazine mogul with a penchant for Wine, Weed and Women; his character is far from the 99% yet he longs to be accepted by the 1%. Wearing suits, dining in the finest restaurants and having a rather large portrait of himself in his office is counter balanced by his desire to maintain youth, get high and the sheer excitement he gets buying ridiculous spy paraphernalia. He is a scene stealer, perhaps even a show stealer as some critics have suggested.
However Danson does not come unsupported. Schwartzman’s self loathing Jewish writer/private detective is the perfect foil, a man who struggles to complete his second novel and looks to Danson as a father figure and an intellectual equal. Thankfully the un-hangover like presence of Galifinakis helps to balance out the intellectual authority they both possess. As a trio their comedic chemistry is on point, and as a singular entity they all possess a goal which helps to push forward their individual arcs. Mix in great minor roles from the likes of Olivia Thirlby, Heather Burns, a beard fetish loving Kristen Wiig and a brilliant one-off cameo by Jim Jarmusch; and the cast only improves further. Series creator Jonathan Ames himself even finds time to cameo full frontal in the name of comedy, luckily it works.
Yet the series barely reaches more than 200,000 viewers week after week. It deserves more. On the surface it appears to be a middle-class comedy, one which could potentially stifle the average viewer. It does deal with the middle class granted, but it does so with a wink and a nod, acknowledging it and at the same time mocking it. Ted Danson’s character is one that strives to escape from the prison of the ruling class, coming along on the cases to break free from the mundane. Galifinakis strives for a perfect relationship of sex and family and Schwartzman wants to be middle class but fails at every turn. The comedy itself lies in the way the show navigates the middle class.
HBO’s programs act as that of a family; with the fathers and mothers (Boardwalk, Game of Thrones, Entourage etc) supporting the Sons and Daughters (Bored to Death, How to Make it in America, Enlightened etc). But just for once I would like to see the children come of age and be respected alongside in terms of quality. They might not have the budget and brashness of their adulated parents, but they deserve the same amount of respect and adulation.
The brilliant third season has just finished in the US and many fans feel pessimistic that it will be returning. It would be a massive loss to HBO, but their decision to place the program on a Monday evening where ABC’s Walking Dead also appears isn’t exactly fair game. Mix it in with a lack of advertising or promotional material which must only hit certain residential areas of Brooklyn and you get the feeling HBO has let go of its hand in the harsh world of ratings based television. All I know is I hope it isn’t the end, after all there is nothing as funny as a High Ted Danson. Honestly there isn’t.