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From the DVD Shelf: Bored to Death Season 3!

Last year my wife and I discovered the brilliant HBO series Bored to Death… just as the news broke that it had been cancelled.  Aaargh!  We tore through seasons one and two on DVD (click here for my review of season one, and here for my review of season two), and then had to wait impatiently for season three to be released on disc.  I am pleased to report that season three is just as terrifically entertaining as seasons one and two!

The lamentably now-cancelled Bored to Death was an HBO series starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson as three Brooklyn-dwelling friends.  Jason Schwartzman is Jonathan Ames (named after the show’s creator and show-runner), a lonely not-that-successful writer who finds that he has tremendous passion (and a surprising amount of success) as a private eye.  Zach Galifianakis is his friend Ray, a socially awkward (even more than Jonathan) comic book artist.  Ted Danson is Jonathan’s other close friend and father figure, the wealthy, pot-smoking, good-times-loving George Christopher.  All three actors are phenomenal in their roles, but it has always been the incredible joie de vivre that Ted Danson brings to his performance as George Christopher that I have loved the most.  It seems sacrilegious to say this, but despite Mr. Danson’s so famously playing Sam Malone for a decade on Cheers, I think George Christopher might be his very best role.  That Bored to Death, starring these three comedic masterminds (all of whom are pretty big stars in their own right), did not attract a wider audience is something of an enigma to me.

The chemistry between these three men has always been the strength of Bored to Death, and one of my favorite things about season three of the series is that the writers no longer had to concoct convoluted reasons for Ray and George Christopher to get involved in Jonathan’s cases.  No, at this point in the series, both Ray and George Christopher know all about Jonathan’s private eye work, and they both get the same thrill out of being involved in his on-the-edge-of-dangerous cases as Jonathan does.  So the three main characters are all able to be involved together in Jonathan’s cases this season, which leads to a whole lot of fun with the characters.  Bored to Death is at its best when the three leads are together in scenes, bouncing off of one another, and season three has plenty of opportunities for that.

There are some great new story-lines in this final season.  George Christopher decides to open a restaurant (shades of Ted Danson’s involvement in opening a restaurant with Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm’s season three!) and quickly is involved in a new rivalry with his nemesis, Richard Antrem (played with marvelous gusto by Oliver Platt) who has opened a competing restaurant.  (The method with which George Christopher destroys Richard’s opening night is fantastic, a laugh-out-loud moment.)  Ray begins an affair with a MUCH-older woman (what he calls “Elder Love”) which, no surprise, leads to his on-again off-again long-time girlfriend Leah (played to long-suffering perfection by Heather Burns) to once again dump him.  And Jonathan learns that he was adopted and begins a search for his adopted father.

Season three sees the return of several great Bored to Death supporting players.  In addition to Oliver Platt as George Christopher’s nemesis Antrem, we get the return of Jonathan’s arch-enemy Louis Green, played to great, smarmy effect by John Hodgman.  Mr. Hodgman features in several episodes in season three (to my great delight), a highlight being his catastrophic showdown with Jonathan on The Dick Cavett Show.  (I love Dick Cavett’s appearance on the show, by the way, and DVD viewers absolutely need to check out Mr. Cavett performing his famous rope trick on one of the deleted scenes.)  I was also delighted to see Patton Oswalt’s return as Jonathan’s somewhat creepy supplier of espionage-gear.  Season three had a number of great new guest-stars.  I particularly enjoyed seeing Rene Auberjonois (who played Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as the father of one of Jonathan’s old flames.  And Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson’s real-life wife, is extremely endearing as the goofy singing teacher with whom George Christopher becomes smitten.

In the final two-parter, “Forget the Herring” and “Nothing I Can’t Solve by Running Away,” Jonathan finally falls in love with a beautiful woman, Rose (played by the beguiling Isla Fisher), who seems to love him back — only for Jonathan to discover a terrible secret that might drive the two apart.  Meanwhile, Jonathan’s search for his biological father culminates in his discovery of a gruff, sperm-bank-owner con-man, played by the great Stacy Keach, who without meaning to gets Jonathan in under his head with a group of crooks.  George Christopher and Ray’s attempt to rescue Jonathan — backed up by a group of devoted Super-Ray fans (including Zach Lewis, who played the hapless Gabe on The Office) — provides a wonderful climax to the episode, and to the series.

Though I don’t believe that the makers of Bored to Death knew that the season three finale would be their final episode when they made it, as with their previous two season finales, the finale is structured to provide a nice sense of closure to all of the stories of the season. And while the final moments of the finale certainly hint at great stories yet-to-be-told (the way Jonathan’s relationship with Rose is left at the end of the episode leaves me begging to see more about what would happen to these two young lovebirds), the finale also provides a lovely ending to the main stories of the three main characters, and a suitably satisfying conclusion to the series.

I am saddened that there will not be a season 4 of Bored to Death.  (Here is a great article on how the show’s creator and show-runner, Jonathan Ames, invited fans to join him in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, for a beer after news of the cancellation broke.)  I love the idea of the show being resurrected as a movie, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  For now, I content myself with three wonderful, short (only 8-episodes each) seasons of this fantastic, under-loved show.  I highly recommend your checking it out on DVD.  This was a gem, and one that will be sorely missed.

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