Due to an overloaded slate and a handful of costly under-performers, HBO brought out the machete yesterday and hacked away at its comedy line up. Middling series, Hung, How to Make It in America and Bored to Death all saw their brief lifespans brought to an untimely end. For the former two, most may not be crying foul, but the cancellation of the latter stings in a way only the disappearance of a cult-favorite can. It may not be as beloved as Arrested Development or Party Down, but Bored to Death certainly deserves to be.
Premiering in September of 2009, the series introduced us to the mind of Jonathan Ames -- both in central character and singular voice. His neo-Woody Allen neuroses bled all over the screen as he proved that self referential, novelist-heroes don't solely belong to Stephen King. As far as inciting action goes, Bored to Death's contrivance of a writer-turned-Craigslist-private-eye was unique and nimble enough to deliver a multitude of stories and a variety of characters every week. What I wouldn't have given to be in that pitch meeting.
Real drama is found in characters going up against insurmountable odds. Even though Jonathan Ames put himself in every situation, it was still a delight to watch him wiggle his way out. In the end, he even became a not-half-bad private detective, though he was still maturing as a human being. Same goes for his buddies, who were generously and comically flawed to varying, lovable degrees.
If Allen immortalized Manhattan on film, Ames may have done the same for Brooklyn on television. At least, hipster Brooklyn. The series was so intertwined with the culture and setting of the borough, that it would be near-impossible to envision it taking place elsewhere. On location shooting gave the show a visceral feel few can match and its specificity in neighborhood detail brought many a zany situation back down to Earth. Careful consideration to noir cinematography isn't something we see everyday in this genre, but then again neither is a tribute to Harold Lloyd's infamous hanging from a clock scene in Safety Last.
The real loss with its cancellation though will be the brilliant casting and just-as-worthy performances. Jason Schwartzman was perfectly annoying and endearing as the misguided, on-screen Ames, playing the part just to the point of unlike-ability without going over. (He also wrote and performed the ubercatchy theme song.) Say goodbye to seeing Zach Galifianakis on your screen every week, as his megastardom far exceeds a gig such as this. Even in an off episode, Galifianakis brought a laugh simply by being Zach Galifianakis. And while Ted Danson isn't going far (just switch over to CSI), we haven't seen scenery-chewing of this caliber from him since Cheers. This is all without mentioning that the show was at its best when it put the three of them together in an ill-fated caper.
What cult-comedy favorite would be complete without nerd-friendly guest stars? Need I remind you that Bored to Death employed the likes of John Hodgman, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Wiig, Jenny Slate, Samantha Bee, Kate Micucci, Parker Posey, Casey Wilson and Sarah Silverman? The casting directors may not have had a crystal ball, but they certainly got in on the ground floor of a lot of astronomical talent. Putting them in the show is a feat itself, but it also managed to put them to good use.
History may not be as kind to Bored to Death as it has been to Arrested Development or Party Down, but for it to be forgotten would be a grave injustice. It may not play in the same league in terms of devotion, but its cast, plots and humor lie on par. HBO proved once again it was home for original, creative television, but even they aren't immune to programming conflicts. So, next time you're on the F headed for Coney Island or strolling through Park Slope, pour out some white wine for Bored to Death.
Follow Alex Rabinowitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/alexrab