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Bored to Death Recap: Spa Day!

Bored to Death specializes in a certain kind of stylized, yeah-we-know-people-don’t-really-talk-like-this dialogue that generally befits its pulpy premise. Mixed with weed and boobies. If you needed an episode that exemplifies this weird alchemy, this one would do fine for the time capsule.

Jonathan is hired by a dermatologist named Dr. O’Connor, a 55-year-old virgin (Greg from Flight of the Conchords, high on the HBO casting stable’s depth chart for bald sad sacks) to deliver a letter to his fiancée, Hee Cho, an employee at a Korean spa in Queens. Her family has forbidden any communication between the two, and he wants to bring her away to Argentina. He also orders a biopsy on Jason Schwartzman’s trademark mole.

During his writing class, Jonathan learns that he’s lost the New Yorker fiction contest to, of all people, Louis Green. Like Jonathan, he’s used the heroin-dealer incident as subject matter, but his protagonist is a deluded, failed writer who thinks he’s a private detective and has a pointy skull. Nina offers after-school comfort by asking him to act out her student/teacher fantasy, interrupted by a confused janitor.

It’s Ray’s birthday, so Jonathan brings him and George to Queens for a spa day so he can deliver the letter to Hee Cho. Poet/livery driver Vikram, who may be turning into a main character, is indeed George’s chauffeur. Jonathan has trouble finding Hee Cho, so he does the logical thing and stuffs his robe and covers his face so he can look for her in the women’s locker room. (The show jumps at the opportunity to show equal-opportunity gratuitous full-frontal nudity; one suspects this is why [the real] Jonathan Ames came up with the spa plotline to begin with. Not complaining, just saying.) That doesn’t work, but a friend of Hee’s promises to take the letter to her, while Ray and George get stoned by the pool.

Hee’s friend reappears later — in drag — and tells Jonathan to help him escape to Dr. O’Connor. He is Hee. She is a he. Hee is a he. Et cetera and so on. What ensues is the ol’ hide-the-person-in-the-laundry-bin chase, which somehow climaxes at a Gothic cemetery and affords Ray the opportunity to say the line, “You know, I never thought I’d be in a graveyard in a spa robe talking to a beautiful transvestite in the moonlight.”

Jonathan, Ray, George, and Vikram see Hee and Dr. O’Connor off — a perfectly absurd, anachronistic scene featuring a steamship, fog, and trench coats. Certainly the dermatologist knows Hee’s secret — “She’s perfect,” he says, cutting Jonathan off before he can say any more. But Jonathan can’t hear the doctor tell him the biopsy results. The concept of Schwartzman having to act without his mole is as intriguing as anything the show has mustered; not sure whether or not that’s a good thing.

But Bored to Death defies deep analysis — the show is precisely what it appears to be and doesn’t aspire to be anything more. It wears its hokeyness like an affected London Fog; the hokeyness is the point. Even as you furrow your brow at a line or noir-lite plot contrivance, you have to respect the sheer audacity of the show’s confidence and determination to stay within itself. If you’re gonna write a laundry-bin chase, know you’re writing a laundry-bin chase. Own it.

Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO