Who doesn’t love film noir? There’s something inherently classy about a private investigator sipping a drink and smoking a cigar in a dark club only to be later approached by a beautiful, probably foreign, woman in need of his help. Of course, it’s hard nowadays to create a new movie or show in the classic film noir style without it being labeled as “formulaic” or “standard.” And often times these criticisms are accurate. Too many shows have been expected to succeed by simply copying the stylistic elements of the genre’s best without adding their own personal touches. HBO’s “Bored to Death” is a rare exception that balances the ideas of film noir with the touch of modern humor. The result is a fantastic show.

“Bored to Death”

Sundays at 9:30 p.m.
HBO

Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman, “The Darjeeling Limited”) has been stuck on his second novel for a while. To make matters worse, he just got dumped by his girlfriend, smokes too much pot and drinks too much white wine. In a moment of desperation inspired by his affection for crime novels, he posts an ad on Craigslist, selling himself as an unlicensed private investigator and waits for a call. Before he knows it, he’s in the middle of a case, living his deadbeat life by day and moonlighting as a detective by night.

Schwartzman has always been a master of subtle comedy and the style of “Bored to Death” uses his talents perfectly. His first case is simple enough — a girl visitng New York can’t locate the sister she came to meet — but he makes it complicated and melodramatic to serve his detective desires. Ames proclaims, as though he thinks his idea is an astonishing revelation, that they ought to find the missing girl’s boyfriend in order to find her. Elementary, isn’t it?

Ames is, in all actuality, a very depressing man who tells everyone who will listen that his girlfriend dumped him. He looks at even the simplest cases with solemnity. But because Schwartzman plays him in such a wonderfully straight-faced manner, the show is not only awkward but surprisingly humorous.

Generally, TV show soundtracks are nothing notable. They’re usually comprised of either generic and nondescript mood music or Top-40 hits, but the soundtrack for “Bored to Death” is a masterpiece. The songs switch between cool, whimsical jazzy numbers and soothing indie songs by artists such as Kaiser Cartel and Andrew Bird, and these songs suit the show perfectly. The attention given to this usually overlooked element makes “Bored to Death” a treat for the ears as well as the eyes and mind.

If the name Jonathan Ames sounds familiar, that’s because “Bored to Death” is somewhat autobiographical. The creator is real-life Jonathan Ames (also a New York Press columnist and author of several novels including “The Alcoholic”), who once decided to rent an office and put an ad on craigslist offering his services as a detective. After he realized the legal repercussions of his pipe-dream actions, he decided to live through his writing and created “Bored to Death,” naming the main character after himself.

The back story also emphasizes the show’s tendency to pull influences from different genres: “Bored to Death” plays with classic film noir and modern humor, tragedy and comedy, but stays focused mostly on fiction and reality. The show integrates these artistic pulses in a way so that they never contradict one another. The results are constructive, and they create a beautiful story.

It’s clear that “Bored to Death” is smart, funny and intricately detailed in a way that not a whole lot of TV shows can manage these days. Even still, the show’s intellect may be its downfall. People traditionally don’t turn on the television to watch artistic indie shows. It might be difficult for “Bored to Death” to gain notoriety when bad reality TV and cheesy sitcoms are increasingly popular. HBO, who can worry less about viewership figures, is the perfect home for this show, and those who are up for something with a little more meat than whatever’s airing on the typical network primetime lineup will love “Bored to Death.”

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