Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pilot Review: Bored to Death

Bored to Death (HBO)
Premiered September 20 at 9:30pm

Putting a form of the word “boring” in a show’s title risks foretelling its fate, and that’s never a good place to start. Jason Schwartzmann stars as a down-on-his-luck writer who moonlights as a private eye. He’s not a terribly effective detective, and his first case is more puzzling and weird than legitimately interesting. It’s nothing like “The Singing Detective” where the author hallucinates himself and others in period garb. Instead, Schwartzmann explores the seediest parts of New York City, the only thing that really gives the show any kind of film-noir feel. He’s on his own for the cases, without a partner or femme fatale (or any femme, after his girlfriend leaves him minutes into the first episode), and therefore the case is the meat of the pilot episode. The case, a woman concerned about her missing sister, isn’t terribly inventive or original. The show rides on Schwartzmann’s humorous, sardonic interactions with the culprits and the victims. It’s entertaining, to a point, and probably the strongest element of the show, but it can’t carry this show. It’s clearly spelled out that Schwartzmann’s character Jonathan is bored out of his mind, and the audience likely will be too. Part of the problem is that the show has only three main players. Besides Schwartzmann, there’s Zach Galifianakis, who earned rave reviews for his performance in “The Hangover” but shows little promise in the pilot, as his best bud. Ted Danson also stars as Jonathan celebrity employer, but his character seems concerned with nothing besides smoking pot as often as possible. Three extremely unmotivated characters portrayed by decent but not excellent actors don’t provide much enticement to watch HBO’s latest comedy. The best performer in the pilot, Olivia Thirlby (“Juno”) was ousted after only a few minutes as Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend. This show doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing.

How will it work as a series? I’ve heard that the series takes a few episodes to really get going, and the fact that HBO greenlit it is a big deal. Along those lines, different cases each episode could mean that the show really can get better, and may also rise and fall depending on the interest factor for each episode’s case. The closing e-mail with a new case could jump-start our detective’s business, but based only on the pilot, this show may have some trouble getting off the ground with a certain lack of…ambition.
How long will it last? HBO shows have a terrific success record, and even those that don’t last long make it to a second season. Only “Lucky Louie” and “Tell Me You Love Me” have been recent duds, and this series, paired with “Curb Your Enthusiasm” should help it out a lot. This show may take off, and unlike broadcast network series, ratings and buzz don’t actually affect its longevity as much. One season is guaranteed, and while I don’t think a long life is in the cards, a second season might be if the show improves.

Pilot grade: C