HBO has become known more for the series they broadcast more than the films. If ten people on the street are interviewed about HBO, all of them will start gushing about 'True Blood', 'The Sopranos', 'Flight of the Conchords' or any of the numerous shows that have produced some of the finest episodes to hit the home theater market. 'Bored to Death' is one of the latest entries into HBO's treasured collection. Without the hook of vampires, the mafia, or hilariously catchy tunes, this series takes a low key approach to gathering an audience. The first eight episodes have hit DVD, and I promise you won't be bored to death watching them.
Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is a writer who just lost his girlfriend Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby). She decides to move out after finally growing tired of his pot smoking and white wine drinking. The broken hearted romantic tries to turn to his best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis). Ray is a comic book artist with his own relationship problems. Rather than listen to Jonathan, Ray simply waits to talk about his own issues. Jonathan's other should to lean on is his self-centered, pothead boss George Christopher (Ted Danson). George's wealthy lifestyle has him in a world that doesn't seem to sync with Jonathan's and the advice he offers is little help. Jonathan decides to turn his attention to Craigslist and place an ad as an unlicensed private detective for hire. His reasonable rates setup the eight episode arc that is season one of 'Bored to Death'. From a missing sister to sperm stealing lesbians, Jonathan burns the candle at both ends trying to balance his P.I. work and his professional life as a writer.
How many watched 'Carnivale'? It ran for two seasons on HBO and had one slow burn episode after another. For those who stuck with it, 'Carnivale' was deeply rewarding and VERY underrated when listed with other attention grabbing series out there. The key was sticking with the show. 'Bored to Death' could certainly be one of those shows....someday. While most viewers may tune out after a few episodes, the gentle hum of each episode begins to create a buzz. The series is like a random indie flick that ends up surprising you once the credits roll. It is very subtle with its humor and pacing, which play perfectly to the styles of Jason Schwartzman and Zach Galifianakis. They both portray artists who try and escape their reality with fantasy. The superhero that Ray draws is in his likeness. He sees himself as more than just an artist. Jonathan wants to live out the pulpy, noir stories that he reads about in the dime store novels. It would be like Guido going out and hunting ghosts like Jason Dark. While it may seem like a good idea on paper, reality has a funny way of keeping the ideas down to earth. The adventures lead Jonathan to quirky characters that provide plenty of humor during the first season. Ted Danson is a jolt of energy when paired with the low key leads. Some of his ideas and philosophies are so moronic; one can't help but be frustrated, yet oddly amused, by his lack of concern. Richard Antrem (Oliver Platt), Jennifer Gladwell (Kristen Wiig), and Michelle Whiting (Indie queen Parker Posey) also keep Jonathan Ames busy in his professional and personal, but not yet licensed, life. The show isn't going to 'Wow' anyone, but it certainly entertains while marching to the beat of its own drum.
'Bored to Death' is presented with an anamorphic widescreen transfer that is pretty straight forward. The series seems to embrace the noir roots and go for simple earth tones. There are plenty of browns and a warm golden light that seems to accompany scenes filmed indoors. The transfer does have a bit of a grainy feel to it. I'm not sure if this was intended to give the series a bit of a throwback feel or if it is due to the series being converted down from the 1080i broadcast to find a 720p audience on DVD. Overall, the transfer is average.
Audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0. Since the majority of DVD Review readers speak English, I focused on that track. The lossy track does well given the limitations of DVD. The rear speakers are used sparingly, but the music up front sets a nice tone for the series. As with any noir or noir inspired series, dialogue is everything. The center channel does an outstanding job with dialogue, coming off clear and precise. There are also English, French, and Spanish subtitles included on the discs.
For an eight episode series, 'Bored to Death' came with some surprising extra features. 'Making of Bored to Death' (19:56) has all of the standard interviews, clips, behind-the-scenes, and synopsis that one would expect from a featurette. 'Jonathan Ames's Brooklyn' (12:31) goes on location with series creator Jonathan Ames and Jason Schwartzman to showcase specific scenes from the show. There are also two deleted scenes (4:16) included. One is from "The Case of the Missing Screenplay" and the other from "The Case of the Stolen Skateboard". Rounding out the two disc set are cast and crew commentaries on four of the episodes. Ames and Schwartzman are the constants in each commentary. Three of the four commentaries also include the respective episode's director and the fourth is with Ted Danson. The commentaries are certainly a highlight. They give deeper perspective to the series and will supply a few chuckles along the way.
Is 'Bored to Death' the best series ever? No. Is it worth your time? Yes. While different tastes may lead to different reactions, I have no problem recommending 'Bored to Death' to the masses. The slow burn may turn some off, but there is no denying that the series has a steady pulse that could surprise those who may have changed the channel a few episodes in. Informative commentaries and a good presentation certainly help justify a purchase or at the very least a rental. Take a chance on Jonathan Ames; you'll be ahead of the curve once the series hits its stride.