Fish out of water stories always seem to hold a certain charm. Watching ordinary, relatable characters attempt to swim where they clearly aren't meant to tread, can be quite entertaining, and living vicariously through their efforts can provide a type of romantic wish fulfillment for the audience. In the case of HBO's wonderful comedy, 'Bored to Death,' the seemingly average fish in question is a struggling writer, and the fantastic, incompatible setting that he thrusts himself into, is that of the thrilling and dangerous world of private investigation. With a mixture of intelligent wit, absurd situations, and sweet, well defined characters, the show manages to be compelling, entertaining, and pretty damn hilarious. Both goofy and intellectual, it’s one of those rare sitcoms that can appeal to almost any comic sensibility.
Picking up where season one left off, we continue to follow the adventures of Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), a good natured but listless young writer, who after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, decides to become an amateur detective. Inspired by classic pulp fiction and film noir, the series focuses on Ames as he takes on various cases, usually involving genre staples like unfaithful spouses, kidnappings, and thefts. Sometimes joining Jonathan on his escapades are his best friends, Ray Hueston (Zack Galifianakis), a comic book artist, and George Christopher (Ted Danson), a magazine editor. Throughout the eight episodes that make up the second season, the blundering detective and his friends take on jobs that involve such varied scenarios as recovering a stolen book from some drug dealers, wiping out an S&M Dungeon's hard drive, and tracking down a disgruntled stalker. In addition to the episodic "case of the week" storylines, the show also deals with various subplots that involve the personal lives of its characters. Some major storylines spread across the season involve Jonathan's new job as a writing teacher, George's personal health issues and professional conflicts, and Ray's attempts to win back his ex-girlfriend, Leah (Heather Burns).
Very loosely inspired by the experiences of the show's actual creator, Jonathan Ames, the show's sense of humor is a delightful mixture of intelligent observations, goofy interactions, obscure references, quirky behaviors, and uncomfortable situations. Much of the comedy comes from the juxtaposition of Jonathan's good spirited but often incompetent detective efforts, and the heightened and dangerous situations that he finds himself in. There is a bumbling quality to the character and his companions that is both endearing and frequently hilarious without ever going quite over-the-top. Though he tries to be cool and slick he's really rather awkward and even occasionally neurotic. Little bits of physical comedy are also employed and work well to bolster the humorously clumsy aspects of the group. Many episodes climax with Jonathan forced to escape from several increasingly precarious situations, including fleeing from cops in a full on S&M leather outfit, fleeing from drug dealers covered in cocaine, and fleeing from a transvestite's disgruntled family through a graveyard. Actually, come to think of it, there is an awful lot of fleeing in the show, and always in a ridiculously amusing serpentine pattern. In addition to the wonderful physical bits, many laughs are elicited through clever double entendres and sometimes obscure references to literature and cinema, making this one of the few (or perhaps only) shows on televisions that can alternate between pot jokes and comical mentions of Klaus Kinski.
Schwartzman does a great job in the starring role, and blends just the right amount of comical ineptitude, earnest enthusiasm, and everyman likeability. Danson and Galifianakis are also wonderful in their respective parts. As the aging, eccentric, pothead publisher, George Christopher, Danson turns in an absolutely scene stealing performance, and gets many of the most biting and sharp lines. Galifianakis is actually a bit more restrained here than one might expect, and though he can be just as funny as the rest of the cast, Ray is actually the most sensitive character of the gang, and the comedian does a good job of playing his emotional scenes with humor and heart. More so than the wacky scenarios or silly cases, it's the actual strong but unlikely friendship between these three men that makes 'Bored to Death' work. The three actors have fantastic chemistry (and indeed are all apparently very good friends), and beneath all their various idiosyncrasies it's clear that they really care about each other, which leads to some surprisingly sweet and poignant moments throughout.
More refined and consistently funnier than its solid freshman outing, season two of 'Bored to Death' follows through on the promise hinted at in those first eight episodes, and ends up forming a well defined and very unique comedic voice. By throwing these three odd, lovable, but wholly out of place men into such heightened and dangerous scenarios, writer Jonathan Ames creates a comedy of incongruities that is somehow highbrow and lowbrow at the same time. Fusing slapstick, absurdity, witty one-liners, and real heart, 'Bored to Death' is not only hilarious, but smart, insightful, and an incredible amount of fun, which, for my money, makes it one of the best sitcoms currently on TV. The third season premieres on October 10th, and I for one, can't wait to see what wonderful new cases the writers have in store for Jonathan and company. Wait, did I mention that Kevin Bacon is in this?! Well, he is! He actually plays himself in a wonderful guest role. In fact, that's probably how HBO should advertise this set. 'Bored to Death: The Complete Second Season,' now with 100 percent more Kevin Bacon!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO presents 'Bored to Death: The Complete Second Season' on two BD-50 discs housed in a foldout case that comes packaged in a cardboard slipcase. Episodes 1-4 are included on disc one, and episodes 5-8 are on disc two. After some skippable trailers, the discs transition to a standard menu.
The show is provided with a series of 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot digitally in high definition, 'Bored to Death' looks pretty strong on Blu-ray.
The source is fairly clean though there is some occasional but not excessive noise visible, particularly in nighttime scenes. Clarity can be exceptional, presenting the show's mundane and sometimes exotic New York locations in striking detail. While some shots are certainly less impressive than others, there really are a few absolutely gorgeous scenes, particularly those that feature some cool lighting and set design work, including an atmospheric night club and a colorful Indian restaurant. The show's visual palette is nicely saturated, and many scenes, especially the aforementioned club and restaurant sequences, feature some bold, vibrant hues and nice depth. Black levels are consistently deep and contrast is solid throughout.
Of minor note, however, is what appears to be extremely subtle but still sporadically noticeable purple fringing. At times there is a very faint, purple hue around the outline of characters, clothing, and objects that doesn't seem to be a natural effect of the show's actual lighting design. Whether this apparent purple fringing is a result of the photographic process or the transfer itself, I'm not sure, but I did notice it enough to deem it worthy of a mention. With that said, I tend to be very sensitive to little visual quirks like this, and it's likely that most won't even notice it at all.
Despite a very minor technical hiccup, this is a fairly strong transfer, that while not always impressive, does feature some truly great standout scenes and lovely production design.
The series is presented with English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 2.0, and Castilian DTS 2.0 mixes, with optional English SDH, French, Spanish, Castilian, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subtitles. Though the show features some occasionally lively action and music selections, these tracks are disappointingly subdued.
Dialogue is thankfully very full and clear, with no major signs of crackle or other technical anomalies. Directionality across the front soundstage is solid, and there are indeed some decent effects thrown across the center, left, and right channels. With that said, surround activity is almost wholly absent, with only some very faint echoes of music and ambiance hitting the rears. Dynamic range is a little flat and bass activity is pretty negligible. Despite some frequently exciting sequences, the audio mix never really offers much in the way of auditory immersion or thrills.
Though it certainly sounds decent, the lack of surround activity seems like a missed opportunity and the show could have definitely benefited from a more expansive soundscape. Still, while average, the track gets the job done without any major technical issues.
HBO has included a solid collection of special features, including commentaries, outtakes, and deleted scenes. All of the supplements are presented in 1080p with DTS 2.0 sound and optional English SDH, French, Spanish, Castilian, Finnish, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Portuguese subtitles, unless noted otherwise.
'Bored to Death: The Complete Second Season' is a funny, entertaining, and intelligent comedic spin on film noir and pulp fiction sensibilities, that succeeds thanks to some witty and insightful writing and great chemistry between its three leads. The video quality is great and though pretty average, the audio gets the job done just fine. Supplements are decent, including some entertaining commentaries. This is a good set for a great show that comes highly recommended.