In the first season of Bored to Death, the joke was on Brooklyn: a writer becomes a private detective, but the city has been so sanitized, so gentrified, that the only cases he can get are, say, a mom who wants him to track down her son’s missing skateboard. New York’s noir days are over, the show suggested; the one time Jonathan Ames had a serious case that season, it was in New Jersey.
The second season was less about place and more about character—more about the internal mysteries of the show’s closed-circle of friends (and New York media) than Kings County. The third season, released yesterday on DVD, is a mix of the two: as Jonathan Ames says of himself in episode seven, “I’m half Brooklyn and half mystery.” He’s also summing up the show.
Season Three opens at BookCourt, and within minutes is in the penthouse of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower. Zach Galifianakis cracks a joke about being a Park Slope mom while Jason Schwartzman is hanging off of the bank tower’s iconic clock like Harold Lloyd; the two-part episode climaxes at the Prospect Park carousel. As I wrote in December, “I asked [my father], ‘do people who don’t live in Brooklyn find this show funny?’ He suggested the hyperlocalism was more an extra layer of hilarity for those in the know, but that it was still a funny show on its own.”
That might not have been true: not long after that conversation, Bored to Death was canceled, its third season destined to go down as its last. At least it went out well. The season is, above all, about parenthood: Ames (Jason Schwartzman) tries to find his biological father, a sperm donor; Ray (Zach Galifianakis) becomes a part-time father to his young son, born to Ditmas Park lesbians who stole his sperm; and George (Ted Danson) tries to repair his relationship with his daughter. Parenthood of course is a central joke to the new Brooklyn: watch Galifianakis take the wrong baby home because there are so many strollers and they all look the same, or as he struggles to push a pram through a cafe door.
It can be easy to miss how slapstick the show is: its performers are so graceful and the direction so subtle that you might not notice the many pratfalls. But that first-episode nod to Harold Lloyd wasn’t accidental: Bored to Death‘s humor is as physical as it is verbal. (The verbal comedy is both highbrow—”that’s not the Rashomon I remember”—and low: “The Big Black Cock of Time”?) I’ll miss the show because it was funny, but more so because it was so local. What show now will include a line like this: “Emily was attacked by a homosexual tiger in Brooklyn!”?