Die Laughing: Bored To Death
This article is from 2010.
Niki Boyle speaks to Jonathan Ames, creator of autobiographical HBO comedy series Bored To Death, ahead of the show’s Cinematic TV special screening
Jonathan Ames is a writer of books, graphic novels, movie scripts and TV shows. He’s just finished a HBO comedy series called Bored To Death which follows a fictional writer and magazine journalist who, finding himself dumped by his girlfriend and struggling to finish his second novel, turns to private investigation to pass his time. The character’s name, by the way, is Jonathan Ames.
‘After you get past the name, the similarities drop off,’ says Ames (the real one). ‘I write a lot of fiction and a lot of non-fiction - when I wrote non-fiction, people were like, “You made this up!” And when I wrote non-fiction, people said, “Why don’t you just call it a memoir!” I couldn’t win, so I decided to write a short story in the tone of my essays, and use my real name to confuse the issue.’
Fittingly, Ames chose to write these short stories in a neo-noir style - a genre that makes confusing the reader one of its cornerstones. The short stories were eventually turned into TV episodes for Bored To Death but the noir elements were preserved. They’re also quite strongly flagged up - in the series it’s Raymond Chandler’s crime classic Farewell, My Lovely that provides the fictional Ames with the inspiration for his new career. Film noir references like this pepper the show, from the slinky intro theme (written by Schwartzman and Ames) to the title font. ‘I tried to mix it up,’ says Ames, ‘just do little nods to the noir genre without it being a parody - just hints of it showing the fantasy that this young man, this writer, is living out.’
Played in the series by The Darjeeling Limited’s Jason Schwartzman, the fictional Ames works his cases with the aid of illustrator friend Ray Hueston (The Hangover’s Zach Galifianakis) and demented magazine editor George Christopher (a never-better Ted Danson). ‘Ted exceeded all expectations,’ says Ames. ‘His comic timing is wonderful, he’s a great person to work with; he’s just so immediately funny and … unusual.’ ‘Unusual’ is right - he owns some of the comic highlights of the series, including a devastating missive to a rival magazine editor (‘He has the penis of a hermaphrodite’), and a rhapsody about Penelope Cruz’s nose.
Aside from the inspired casting and sharp script, the series has garnered attention for its stellar line-up of cameos, including Oliver Platt as the aforementioned rival editor, Jim Jarmusch as, um, Jim Jarmusch, and a bevy of female clients including Kristen Wiig, Olivia Thirlby and Parker Posey. All of which gives the series the necessary star-studded credentials to warrant its description in the EIFF programme as ‘Cinematic TV’. HBO, who have achieved great successes in the past by showing television premieres such as True Blood and In Treatment at EIFF, have a strong history producing movie-quality TV shows, and are obviously hoping to add Bored To Death to their list of successes.
‘I’m very excited,’ says Ames, who has not one but two projects screening at EIFF. ‘It was unexpected, but I’m extremely pleased. I’m honoured that two things that I wrote - the movie The Extra Man [starring Paul Dano and Kevin Kline] and Bored to Death - will be showing at the festival.’ With this much quality entertainment on offer, we know we won’t be bored.