'Bored to Death': Lots of Conflict, Not Enough Pay-Off


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George Christopher: "I've been like Blanche DuBois. I've relied on the kindness of strangers."

It's been a long time since we've seen Jonathan paid for solving a case. In season one of Bored to Death, there was a lot of discussion with clients about his fees and expenses; in season two, he smiles, asks questions, and takes cases without any money changing hands.

This can be explained away from a screenwriting perspective—it's simply not interesting to hear Jonathan haggle over money each week. But it's also indicative of an increasingly important aspect of his character, and a unique, defining feature of Bored to Death: Jonathan is nice. Though he often ends up in degrading, unseemly situations, he retains a basic innocence, humanity, and kindness that's consistently surprising, and completely unlike any other TV show's lead character.

It's that kindness that makes him take cases real detectives wouldn't touch, like this week's, in which a lovesick doctor asks him to deliver a letter to his fiancée, Hee. When Jonathan accepts, he's forced to infiltrate a local spa Hee works at called "The Castle," and he decides to bring Ray and George along for the ride as Ray's birthday gift. In between the massages and marijuana, complications inevitably arise, and Jonathan is forced to pose (very unsuccessfully) as a woman, to get into the women's locker room and try to track Hee down.

Jonathan isn't likely to find her there; Hee, appropriately enough, turns out to be a transvestite. But that's the only joke made about it. On another show, a transvestite might be used as a punch line; in Bored to Death, none of the leads even blink (after all, Jonathan posed as a woman less than an hour before).

It's still frustrating that the show sets up so many conflicts without paying them off. Bored to Death had two promising, wasted plot setups this week; first, when the janitor interrupted Jonathan's classroom tryst with his amorous student Nina, and second, when Jonathan was discovered undercover in the women's locker room. Either could have developed into an actual conflict that the characters had to address, but both were immediately resolved, without any consequences to Jonathan whatsoever.

But if the show keeps balancing this many laughs with poignant moments like Dr. O'Connor and his beloved sailing into the sunset to start a new life together, it's tough to complain about it.

Most emasculating moment of the week: Jonathan loses the New Yorker's short story contest to Louis Green, who wrote his version of the same story Jonathan submitted, but cast himself as the hero and Jonathan as a bumbling idiot.

Literary reference of the week: Jonathan's student Nina explains that her intense desire to be spanked by a teacher developed after reading the ultra-controversial French novel Story of O.

Next week on the Bored to Death finale: Ray tries to track down a stalker; Jonathan and Nina take things to the next level; John Hodgman returns as Jonathan's nemesis Louis Green.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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