The last day of shooting for HBO’s slapstick neo-noir Bored to Death finds the dining room of Gramercy Park’s Players Club repurposed as something called the “Yale Graduate Music Society’s Bulldog Revue.” Onstage, Ted Danson, in Don Quixote garb, stumbles, dazed, through a beyond-earnest rendition of “The Impossible Dream,” then suddenly leaps to the floor, exclaiming, “I have to sally forth! I’m on a quest!” and skips out the door on a hobbyhorse.
The show, which was created by novelist–performance artist Jonathan Ames, is back October 10 for its third season. In it, Jason Schwartzman plays “Jonathan Ames,” a Brooklyn-based novelist who, like Quixote, is inspired by his fictional pursuits (in this case, pulpy crime tales) to become a man of action, as a private detective. Invariably he’s joined in his booze-and-weed-addled exploits by his editor, Danson’s George Christopher (named after George Plimpton and Christopher Hitchens), and comic-book artist Ray Hueston, played by Zach Galifianakis. Standing on set, Schwartzman explains, “My character wants to be heroic, to have purpose, to have meaning, to do something that’s kind of masculine.”
Ames’s heroic and manly purpose isbeing a showrunner despite the fact that he says he hasn’t owned a TV in twenty years. Ames, 47, says that his visual references are drawn from the channel surfing of his youth, which would account for the show’s many nods to Abbott and Costello and why Bored suggests a Bowery Boys for the 92nd Street Y set. Ames’s three stooges are Joseph Campbell–esque refractions of himself. “Jonathan is the idealist, the knight in training,” he says. “George is the fallen dreamer, now a half-satyr, half–wise man, a sort of goofy, loopy wizard. And Ray, the artist, an unconscious godhead with aspects of male and female. He’s not fully aware of his powers, which is why in this unconscious way he draws this superhero alter ego with this enormous cock.”