Monday, 11 April 2011

Bored To Death

One of the best shows of recent times is Damages. It is truly compelling storytelling with monstrous characters and a brilliant script. It's full of lying liars lying their heads off. It is brilliant.

It is also possibly the least funny things I've ever watched every episode of. I find straight drama hard work since life is often funny. Anything that has every joke extinguished and every pun snuffed out is automatically less true to life, not more so. But for me, one of the revelations of the series was Ted Danson. Star of ever-popular Cheers, and the perfectly decent but much unloved Becker. But his performance in Damages was way better than anything to date.

And so I was awaiting Bored to Death with some keen anticipation. I taped it off Sky and watched it last night, hoping this would become regular viewing in my house alongside Modern Family, 30 Rock and House, MD.

Let's cut to the chase. I didn't like it at all. Ted Danson wasn't in it much. But that really wasn't the problem. It was quirky and stylish and 'aspirational', kind of. But overall, I was very confusing.

Firstly, our hero is a novelist, which is a bad start for me. I'm just not ever going to feel sympathy for a novelist or a screenwriter, even though I am a screenwriter and a failed novelist. (It also explains why I didn't really go for Episodes). He isn't a very appealing character, or especially compelling, or funny enough to get away with being neither appealing or compelling. Which is a pity. His redeeming quality is that his bearded friend is even worse, from what I could tell.

At the start of the show, our hero-novelist is dumped by his girlfriend who moves out because he won't stop smoking pot. He begs her to stay. But she leaves. (I'm with her) He wants to win her back. And write his second novel. And so he reads a Raymond Chandler novel - for some reason. When he wakes up, he advertises himself as an unlicenced private eye on Craiglist, and within seconds, gets a case.

Aha. We have a case. A quest. Good. Maybe this case will teach him something, I thought, about why he should give up pot and therefore win back his girlfriend. Or spark another novel (if you must). Or at least stop being so self-pitying.

But he solves the case without any great difficulty, jeopardy or comedy. He is also arrested, but there are no consequences to it. Overall, the case is unrelated to his own situation and he learns nothing through it. At the end of the episode, he is still single, still smoking pot and has nothing for his novel and so his 'quest' appears to have benefited nobody, and there are no upsides or side effects.

The writers and producers of this show are clearly experienced and talented. There were plenty of names I recognised on the opening titles. And people with experience can break rules - and maybe all six episodes form a complex and interweaving story with loads of quests and victories and consequences and failures and character-based plotlines. It didn't seem that way from the first episode.

Experienced writers - and lucky inexperienced writers - can break rules in comedy, and often get away with it. Half a dozen cracking jokes, one funny peripheral character, a wig and a breathe of zeitgeist can salvage a show that technically shouldn't work. But it seems that we, in 2011, are unlikely to overturn the guidelines laid down by Aristotle hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Maybe the show is willfully breaking all the rules and revelling in ennui and existentialist despair - hence the title, Bored to Death. In which case, good luck to them. It's never going to chime with me, as I'm not an pessimistic existentialist but a contented Calvinist. I guess that's why I'm so preoccupied with story structure and the hero having a clearly defined destination...

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