The recent hoopla surrounding the new season of "Two and a Half Men" is understandable, given the off-camera circuses, even if the show's appeal still eludes us. We're much more excited, though, about the return of another comedy airing Mondays at 9 p.m. that's also about three guys who don't quite add up to three men.
Monday’s season three premiere of HBO's "Bored to Death," it's safe to say, probably won't make much of a dent in the ratings of CBS' "Two and a Half Men." But this quirk-fest, a mix of smart, neurotic neo-screwball comedy and occasional slapstick, offers what may be TV's best comic trio, if not since Moe, Larry and Curly, then since Jerry, George and Kramer.
For the uninitiated, the New York-centric show centers on Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman), a physically unimposing novelist haunted by a lost love and writer's block, who touts his services as a private detective on Craigslist. His best pal, Ray (Zach Galifianakis), is an aggressively schlubby comic book writer who never quite knows where he stands with his on-again off-again live-in girlfriend and her kids. The breakout character is George (Ted Danson), a sixty-something pseudo-suave magazine editor wallowing in memories of his vanished youth, career woes and the realization of his own shallowness.
The unlikely trio bond over uncertainty about their place in the world as men – and a love of good pot.
They’re less bored than restless, losing themselves in Jonathan's cases, which range from retrieving a skateboard from teenage punks to stealing a flash drive from mobsters running a bondage dungeon. They generally resolve the cases, but not much of anything else. Victory for the would-be heroes comes in somehow not getting killed.
In last season’s finale, Jonathan extracted a measure of revenge on his supercilious literary archenemy (John Hodgman), a suddenly successful Ray (clad as his comic book alter ego, Super Ray) survived a stabbing by his rival (show creator Jonathan Ames) and George got through a cancer scare. This season, Jonathan is set to embark on quest to track down his biological father.
The trio’s strange alliance comes at times when guys – at least of the traditionally heroic variety – are the odd men out in TV comedy. The geeks of “The Big Bang Theory” might eventually rule the world, but are essentially harmless. Larry David is cranky, while Louis CK is fatalistic – and both are unable to do much about the pettiness they obsess over. Even rugged, rogue government worker Ron Swanson, the newly iconic and ironic macho man of the current sitcom world, lost his Samson-like mustache in a recent episode of “Parks and Recreation” while dealing with the various emasculating Tammys in his life.
“Bored to Death” is perhaps the most introspective lost-guy comedy of the bunch, but doesn’t take itself too seriously, thanks to gently sardonic writing and a rotating band of supporting oddball characters that include a frustrated poet/chauffeur, a dominatrix-loving cop and Kristen Wiig as a noir-ish boozy floozy.
For all their perceived failures, Jonathan, Ray and George are at their best creating chaos to escape what plagues them – which adds to up to a show that’s usually funny, occasionally oddly poignant and never boring.
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Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.