Gay Talese would want us to be there.
Our favorite moment from season one of “Bored To Death” (generously loaned to us by Mark Hoobler) is a minor one, from the episode “The Case of the Stolen Skateboard.” Jason Schwartzman plays a character named Jonathan Ames, ostensibly based on the show’s creator of the same name. The character Ames is a struggling writer who decides to become an unlicensed private detective. He is the perpetual Jason Schwartzman character — neurotic (or, as the marketing blurb for the show would have it, “noir-otic”), impressionable, and, above all, indefatigable. Jonathan’s friend George Christopher (Ted Danson) is the editor of a fictitious New York magazine called Edition. George, a lover of women and martinis, occupies a place of comfort and privilege in New York’s elite publishing and literary circles, such that he can toss off lines like, “Gay Talese would want me to be there” when speaking of a literary soiree. (Ames, the creator, says the character is an amalgam of George Plimpton and Christopher Hitchens.)
Back to our favorite moment. Jonathan escorts George to a restaurant opening in Brooklyn. George has a crush on the owner because he caught a glimpse of her underarm hair and it escorted him, madeleine-like, back to a memory of being an eleven-year-old, riding the schoolbus and seeing “these beautiful, very slight, blond, yellow hairs, just sort of undulating” in the armpit of a girl named Diane Trudy. (The show indulges these sort of random conversational detours in bizarre directions, not unlike “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but with much looser plotting.) When the restaurant owner approaches George at the opening and throws her arms open wide to hug him, Jonathan casts a not-so-discreet look at her armpits, sees a tuft of hair, then glances up at George admiringly and — here is the moment — arches his eyebrow and hints at an impish grin.
It is an absurd gesture, yet Schwartzman is the perfect actor to pull it off. The eyebrow arch communicates so many things at once: Jonathan’s obvious desire to please and emulate George; his perpetual bafflement at but puppy-dog yearning for the fairer sex; the show’s breezy, ridiculous humor, played mostly-but-not-quite-straight; and Jason Schwartzman’s impressive ability to raise his eyebrow higher and with more comic effect than possibly anyone else on the planet.
It’s that eyebrow arch that made us fall in love with this show. Jonathan’s efforts at solving crimes and mysteries generally run the same course: He takes on a case because he wants to help a damsel in distress; he stumbles his way into the thick of a sticky situation (skateboarding punks who chase him around Brooklyn; a missing woman held hostage in a hotel room; a boxing match against his fiercest literary critic); he emerges unscathed, often in spite of himself, the case more of less solved. Along the way he drinks and smokes pot and tries to get his ex-girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) to move back in with him. He also escorts his friend Ray (Zach Galifiankis) to the doctor’s office for a colonic, or to the addresses of all the lesbian couples who have unknowingly been impregnated with Ray’s sperm. (It was, admittedly, bizarre to see the colonoscopy doctor played by “The Wire”‘s Brother Mouzone.)
You probably won’t fall in love with the show right away. The eyebrow arch was four episodes in, and really it didn’t feel like the show completely found its footing until episode six of an eight episode first season. But it ends on a high note, the boxing episode “Take A Dive,” in which Jonathan, George and Ray must all enter the ring against their archrivals (or, in Ray’s case, a random admirer). Here the show pivots from random comic humor to real substance and establishes these three as multi-dimensional characters, worthy of not just our laughter, but our appreciation as well. We’re antsy to get our hands on season two.