Jonathan Ames graduated from Columbia with an MFA in fiction. His alter ego attempted to steal from a blackmailer, boxed with writers from GQ, and infiltrated an Asian spa.
The television series “Bored to Death,” now in its third season on HBO, is like “Entourage” if it were set in Brooklyn and about a bunch of pot-smoking writers. It is also something like a “Veronica Mars” that stars Jason Schwartzman instead of Kristen Bell and is co-written by Judd Apatow. Lastly, “Bored to Death” is a mix of its supporting characters’ former projects—it’s two parts Zach Galifianakis’ “The Hangover” and one part Ted Danson’s “Damages.”
But, ultimately, “Bored to Death” is unlike anything else on TV. The show is about the misadventures of struggling cartoonist Ray (Galifianakis), magazine-publishing pothead George (Danson), and Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), who shares a name with the show’s writer and creator. Ames is a diehard New Yorker, who, after graduating from Columbia, became infamous throughout the city as a raconteur. He holds a hyphenate that would put even James Franco to shame as an author-columnist-boxer-actor-runner.
At his core, Ames is an author who decides to become a part-time private investigator to cure his general malaise with life. The story line is partially an autobiographical account by the real Jonathan Ames.
The show has attracted other Columbia University alumni including Nicole Holofcener, the writer-director of independent films such as “Please Give” and “Friends with Money.” She directed the first-season episode, “The Case of the Stolen Sperm” in which Jonathan helps Ray locate missing vials of his semen. This episode perfectly exemplifies the show’s commitment to marrying comedy, absurdity, parody, and mystery. Visually, the screen is often bathed in film noir shadow that superposes modern Brooklyn settings. On top of that, there is a soundtrack reminiscent of old “Spy vs. Spy” cartoons.
Michael Lehmann, another Columbia alumnus, has directed seven episodes of the series, spanning all three seasons. He appears to be particularly in his element when mocking another genre such as the gangster movie or spy thriller. In the episode “The Gowanus Canal has Gonorrhea!” two gangsters try to extract information from Jonathan by dangling him over the Gowanus Canal but end up giving him advice on his failed love life: “Never go to bed angry.”
The show is extremely self-referential and much of its humor is self-deprecating. It works for those who are in on the jokes, many of which are local clichés about Brooklyn food co-ops and sterile suburban New Jersey but which also include more general clichés about the self-indulgent novelist. “Bored to Death” intentionally ponders the question of where the character Jonathan Ames ends and the author Jonathan Ames begins. Either way, both provide laughs.