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Bored to Death: A Reconsideration (a.k.a. Sternbergh Was Right)

  • 10/29/09 at 4:45 PM

Sternbergh was right.

Early this fall, I'd watched the first few episodes of Bored to Death in a state of mild twitchiness, griping that I wanted to like it but didn't. In fact, I actively disliked the premiere — and then I managed to be annoyed even by the funny third episode, although in an abstract way I thought it was pretty good. So that was all very confusing.

I described my concerns to my colleague and aesthetic duelling partner Adam Sternbergh, who was unsympathetic. I like Jonathan Ames's novels just fine, I told him, but I didn't quite buy this emo Woody Allen–ized version of him in the body of Jason Schwartzman. The whole conception was so sad-sack, so self-pitying, too boyish-begging-for-pity. Maybe it's Judd Apatow poisoning, but I didn't think I could take a show about an immature man-boy mooning over his lost, more "adult" girlfriend, she of the complaint that he drinks too much.

But then the series started getting to me. First of all, it's been a while since I've seen a TV series that actually feels like contemporary New York, especially Brooklyn, with scenes at the co-op and in Prospect Park and people racing through Grand Army Plaza. It's thrilling! And pretty. Even the set decoration was oddly perfect, like a random Rubik's Cube in some dude's ashtray.

Also, it's so great to finally watch a show about magazines that actually acknowledges what's happening to magazines (I'm talking to you, Ugly Betty). And last night when I was catching up on some old episodes, I giggled throughout that whole Ted Danson plot in which his therapist advises him to try bisexuality in order to try to reach his magazine's lost female demographic, a plot which may have made no sense, but made me laugh like a crazy person, as did the scene where he hit it off with a male hustler, and especially the scene in which he rants about the perfection of Danny Kaye's affair with Laurence Olivier, which was pretty much the funniest thing I've watched all year. ("He could do so many accents. He could be a different woman for Olivier every night.")

The show had crossed what I think of as the Tootsie barrier: if it doesn't bother you that a recently nationally famous TV star is able to anonymously knock over mimes in Central Park, it's because you like the movie (or show, or book) too much to nitpick over the little things.

Now perhaps I'm probably not the best audience for a show with a whiny streak about masculinity issues. I'm still suspicious of the Apatow bent. (During yet another scene of a girlfriend kvetching at a sad sack, my husband glanced up at the screen and said, "Why are all the women such nags?") But although Sternbergh was wrong about Cougar Town, he was right about this. It's hard to describe the show's appeal, but it's funny. It's oddly addictive. Even a little sexy. I'm happy it was picked up for a second season. Season pass.