'Bored to Death': Boredom Takes Center Stage

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HBO

George Christopher: "Keep doing what you're doing. It's not boring, and that's all that counts in life."

Despite its title, Bored to Death tends to focus less on boredom and more on death. From a storytelling perspective, that's understandable; most people watch TV to specifically avoid boredom.

However, no matter how understandably neglected in fiction, boredom is a much greater part of day-to-day life than death is. Death comes at the end, but finding meaningful ways to stave off boredom is a daily process that turns into a life's work.

In this week's Bored to Death, Jonathan is forced to consider the kind of life he wants. The episode opens with George Christopher outlining his personal theory of vices—that "if you have a character flaw, you're susceptible to disease in that area." To George, there's a causal effect between what you do and what happens to you—40 years of philandering have given him prostate cancer, and he has no one to blame but himself. Bored to Death invites us to ask a similar question of our protagonist: what has Jonathan's lifelong obsession with detective novels done to his brain? In a rare moment of self-loathing, Jonathan complains that he's a "demented loser." As he takes on this week's case—an attempt to recover a valuable book from drug dealers—it's difficult not to agree with him.

After so many recent setbacks, Jonathan doubts his second life as a detective—which he began out of frustration with his normal life—for the first time. When he runs into his rival, Louis Green (John Hodgman), who's working as an adjunct professor at the prestigious Midwood College, Jonathan's hunger for the same kind of professional success is palpable.

There's one thing, however that Jonathan has over Louis: his life is interesting. When Louis confesses that he's following Jonathan because he wants to write a piece on him for the New Yorker, it's an admission that, no matter what else his flaws, Jonathan isn't boring. And later, when Jonathan rushes into a brawl with Louis' attackers and helps him escape, Louis finds himself a passive supporting player in the most interesting experience he's had in months.

This week's episode ends, as it began, with George and Jonathan talking over drinks, as Jonathan animatedly tells George the story of rescuing Louis from the drug dealers. Nothing has changed, of course—Jonathan is as broke as before. But it's impossible to imagine him wanting to trade places with Louis Green now. Jonathan's life is a mess, but it's an interesting mess, and sometimes that's enough.

Most emasculating moment of the week: In a subplot, Ray runs into ex-girlfriend Leah (Heather Burns) and awkwardly apologizes for walking in on her with a man he remembers as her "lover with the orange pubes."

Literary reference of the week: This week's MacGuffin—a signed, first-edition copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which Jonathan's client (guest star F. Murray Abraham) pawned for drug money.

Next week on Bored to Death: Ray continues his flirtation with guest star Kristen Wiig; Jonathan has an uncomfortable private tutoring session with an infatuated student.

Presented by

Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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