For one reason or another, and without really meaning to, I’ve found myself for the past few years re-watching Bored to Death almost exactly every six months. Despite its cult fanbase, Jonathan Ames’s take on the adventures of a struggling writer (named, coincidentally, Jonathan Ames) leading a double life as an unlicensed private detective remains criminally underrated. Maybe I revisit the show so often because the slightly heightened version of New York inhabited by Jonathan (Jason Schwartzman), alternative cartoonist Ray (Zach Galifianakis) and socialite magazine editor George (Ted Danson) is a deeply comforting sandbox to play it. Maybe it’s because the chemistry between the three leads is practically unmatched. But with rumors of a film revival still slowly milling around, now is the time to grab some pot or white wine—or both—and dive back into Bored to Death.
Listen, even as we start from the bottom, I should say that I don’t think Bored to Death ever aired a bad episode. But if I had to pick the one that clicks the least, it would be “Escape from the Castle,” a mildly problematic adventure in a Korean health spa. That said, Jonathan’s writing class remains compelling and reliably hilarious throughout.
A supremely goofy caper involving a sex pact between Jonathan and his college flame (Casey Wilson) features a fun sword fight and is a refreshing change of pace as far as mysteries go, but ultimately doesn’t land. Ray’s conclusive break up with his girlfriend Leah, however, does.
A pretty great Kevin Bacon cameo doesn’t end up doing a whole lot for this one, though it does introduce Ajay Naidu as Vikram, who quickly fits in as the unofficial (and easily the most capable) fourth member of the team.
A slightly all over the place episode where Jonathan gets wrapped up in some kind of confusing drama between Russian gangsters is thoroughly saved by George’s misguided but sweet experiment with bisexuality.
Bored to Death dips a little in its second outing, as we already assume Jonathan won’t be winning back his ex Suzanne. But it also features the first of many wonderful hard-boiled guest stars: Kristin Wiig as an alcoholic femme fatale.
Ames gets to thoroughly explore his fascination with sexual fetishes of all stripes as Jonathan attempts to wipe the hard drive of an S&M dungeon for a cop, a plotline that still can’t match the emotional beats from Ray and George.
George’s archrival, GQ editor Richard Antrem (played by Oliver Platt), hires Jonathan to investigate his wife’s infidelity, which, of course, involves George, putting Jonathan in a difficult position. This episode strains itself a little as it begins to wrap up the romance between Jonathan and Stella (Jenny Slate), but otherwise succeeds.
A truly bizarre episode featuring, among other things, a plushy orgy (“It smells like fur and jizz in here”), “We Could Sing a Duet” features a killer supporting turn from Brett Gelman as a hard-talking amateur detective impersonating Jonathan.
A low point for the show, ratings-wise, but still a charming episode, with great turns from Sarah Silverman as the friendship counselor George and Jonathan visit, as well as Mary Steenburgen as George’s seductive singing teacher.
Ray discovers that though his sperm has been sold to lesbian couples all over Brooklyn without his knowledge, he’s been shooting blanks in every instance but one. It’s an episode that nicely sets up one of three prominent father-son plots the show will flesh out.
Ray and George rescue Jonathan in a satisfying team-up that’s also a good example of the show’s efforts to humanize the tertiary characters that populate Jonathan’s cases.
Jonathan thwarts Ray’s stalker (played by Ames himself) at a comic convention where the Super Ray comic is officially a hit. The Zoe Kazan plotline is characteristically strange, but she’s a winning guest star.
Jonathan tries to recover Parker Poesy’s son’s skateboard while George tries to keep up with the youth of today in order to win over a young restaurateur. It all ends in catastrophe, but it’s a critical episode in setting up the nature of George and Jonathan’s relationship.
Ray meets George, George tags along on a case, and the team is finally, officially assembled when Jonathan gets a little too involved when trying to bust a woman blacklisting married men after sleeping with them.
Ames frequently used the show to explore his well-documented obsessions. In this instance: amateur boxing. George and Antrem’s rivalry couldn’t be more petty, but we’re so invested in it anyway, we don’t care.
Yes, the finale infamously ends with Jonathan accidentally starting a relationship with his half-sister and not telling her. But it wraps up every other thread nicely, combining the trio’s individual strengths for a thrilling final adventure.
Jonathan channels The Big Sleep while trying to recover a valuable manuscript for F. Murray Abraham, a caper that his archrival Lewis (played by John Hodgman) foolishly tags along for, becoming reluctant allies for an episode that thrives by increasing Jonathan’s competence.
The pilot episode gets right to the point, with Jonathan immediately setting off the show’s initial City of Glass riff with his Craigslist ad. He is, of course, both terrible at it, and kind of resourceful—a recurring theme for the show.
Bored to Death gains a lot by fast forwarding to Jonathan’s success as a writer, relocating him to a nice apartment in a Chekhov’s gun clock tower. The two-part start to season three doubles down on the action as Jonathan is framed for murder and ropes Ray and George into clearing his name.
George’s cancer scare is resolved in a touching episode that literalizes his father-son relationship with Jonathan. Add in a fantastic Titus Andronicus needle-drop that crosscuts Jonathan’s race to save George with Ray’s hero moment involving a lot of dogs, and you have my attention.
Jonathan gets an opportunity to edit a script for Jim Jarmusch and doesn’t shoot himself in the foot, electing instead to blow his foot off with a rocket launcher. His self-sabotaging nature is exemplified by my favorite exchange of the entire show: “you must really suffer from the terrifying clarity of your vision,” says Jarmusch. “Thank you! I do suffer,” replies Jonathan.
In the show’s finest half hour, Jonathan humiliates Lewis on a new—and regrettably fictional—Dick Cavett show, while Ray accidentally kidnaps a baby. It’s the best distillation of Bored to Death’s highbrow/lowbrow perspective, mixing ironic, referential jokes (“that’s not the Rashomon I remember”) with extremely juvenile ones (“The Black Cock of Time?”). It’s the one I revisit most often, especially when I want to decide how to sit—crotch-open, or crotch-closed.
Graham Techler is a New York-based writer and comedian. You’d be doing him a real solid by following him on Twitter @grahamtechler or on Instagram @obvious_new_yorker. A real solid.