Based on its premise alone, HBO's 'Bored to Death' seems insufferable. It's the tale of a struggling novelist named Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) who lives in the hipster haven of Brooklyn and, following a devastating break-up (his ex-girlfriend is the outrageously adorable Olivia Thirlby, so it's pretty understandable), decides to become an unlicensed private detective. He's an idiot, of course, so a bumbling nincompoop and his advertised skills (on Craigslist, naturally) bring about a bizarre array of cases that most serious detectives wouldn't be caught, well, dead investigating.
Further complicating matters is that the show was created by a real life novelist named Jonathan Ames, who wrote or co-wrote each episode and whose short story is the basis for the series. (He even shows up briefly in the show's second season.) Based on the fact that Ames created the series, I was a little worried. He's an occasionally charming author (seek out his Vertigo graphic novel 'The Alcoholic') but kind of a dull novelist, and I was concerned that the show would devolve into whiny navel-gazing.
Mercifully, neither the precious premise nor the creative force behind the series can sink 'Bored to Death.' In fact, after plowing through the first season, I was fully in love.
Part of the reason the series works is that, especially towards the back half (when Ames took on writing partners), Schwartzman's Ames (since the distinction must be made) started bringing his sidekicks along on his assignments. Ted Danson, as an aging swinger who edits a New York Magazine-type weekly called Edition, and Zach Galifianakis, as a struggling comic book illustrator and fellow Brooklynite, play his sidekicks/best friends. The mixture of comic styles, especially in the hyped-up, energized scenarios that they find themselves in is really, really great.
The other thing that makes the show so refreshing is how completely lacking in cynicism it is, which isn't something you would normally expect given the amount of talent and neurosis behind the scenes (and in front of the cameras). But it's true. Ames the character (again: distinction) throws himself into each adventure without a care in the world, totally committing to each experience in a wide-eyed and wondrous way. The characters all genuinely care about each other, and by the season's end there is, dare I say it, a sentimental and emotional tenor achieved.
In the world of HBO comedy wackiness, it's not as out-there as, say, 'Eastbound and Down,' but it does fit comfortably (and snuggly) next to 'Flight of the Conchords.' While it lacks that show's gentle surrealism, it more than makes up for it in wonderful physical comedy and great banter between the three leads. Like Jonathan Ames' bumbling detective, 'Bored to Death' might not close every case in the best possible way, but it does try really, really, really hard - and as far as I'm concerned, oftentimes that's enough.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The first season of 'Bored to Death' is housed on two 50GB Blu-ray discs, which are Region Free. When you pop in the first disc, it automatically plays, with a clever little ad for HBO shows on Blu-ray. It's housed in a cardboard box that probably won't weather the tests of time very well.
One of 'Bored to Death's' chief influences is film noir, and the discs' MPEG-4 AVC-encoded 1080p transfer (aspect ratio: 1.78:1) does that influence justice.
There's a shocking amount of visual sophistication and variety to the series, with many sequences drenched in moonlight or velvety shadow, alongside sequences of Manhattan offices or sunny Brooklyn street corners. The fact that everything looks so great here, with great, deep blacks (with the occasional noise), realistic skin tones, great texture (Schwartzman has some outfits with some pretty outrageous patterns) and a consistently striking level of dimensionality that rivals most high-definition film transfers (what how that Russian nightclub pops!)
There are a couple of glitchy technical issues, I noticed some ringing in some sequences and the aforementioned noise, but these are minor and easily overlooked.
Besides that, there's not a whole lot to say about 'Bored to Death.' Even if you originally watched the film on HD HBO, this is an incredibly impressive high-definition transfer, for any kind of format, not to mention a television series. To borrow the name of another cable channel, bravo HBO!
While not exactly amazing (the word "workmanlike" springs to mind), the discs' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track does its job. But as far as sound mixes go, this is more of an amateur detective as opposed to a fully licensed private eye.
The emphasis in 'Bored to Death' is the quick-fire, often clumsy dialogue. To this end, the mix performs admirably – everything sounds crisp and clear, with most everything up front and center.
That's not to say that there's not some surround activity, because there is. But the keyword is "some" and not "overwhelming" or even "a lot." Scenes with crowds (much of the series takes place in cafes or restaurants) have a nice amount of dimensional heft; ditto the boxing match that closes out the season. More bombastic sound effects sound okay, if not entirely fluid, but at least there was an attempt.
But in between these sequences, things seem, if not outright flat, then largely without color or oomph. Considering that there's already been a second season that has been shot and aired (with a third on the way later this year), there might be time for HBO home video to open things up a little more on future releases. As it is, things are just okay.
There are two other audio tracks on the discs – French DTS 5.1 and Spanish DTS 2.0 tracks, as well as subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
All of the extras presented here are also account for on the DVD version of 'Bored to Death.' There is nary an exclusive of a BD-Live widget. Oh well. The special features are pretty dynamite, no matter what format they're on.
'Bored to Death' is a scruffy, cynicism-free romp from beginning to end. If you don't have a ball, then you might want to check your pulse and make sure you're still human. Jason Schwartzman is lovable as the failed novelist and unlicensed private investigator who just wants to help people and it's easily one of the most entertaining comedies on the fabled HBO network. This two-disc Blu-ray set, with an admirable video transfer, so-so audio, and a collection of take-them-or-leave them extras, won't exactly blow your socks off, but it's still recommended.