Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Bored to Death Recap: All Along the Clocktower

Bored to Death is a hard show to think about on an episode-by-episode basis. It tells its stories patiently over the course of an entire season, and if a particular plot one week feels abrupt or out of place, well, that’s just par for the course. It’ll all make sense when we’re done, so sometimes it’s not worth doting over details.

That said, Bored to Death has a killer ensemble, and one of the things that sets the good from the bad — the whiskey from the nipple, as it were — is the number of scenes Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson share, preferably as a threesome. And in the case of “The Blonde in the Woods,” there aren’t that many, and the few we get act more as a plot device to discuss what’s on deck for this week. After celebrating the release of his new book with a good ol’ fashioned iPad-signing (and a spin-around-on-a-wheel-and-have-knives-thrown-at-you … thing), Jonathan, with a new haircut, heads to George’s new all-organic restaurant with his parents, Ray, and Leah. The talk quickly turns to pressing matters: The lesbian couple who conceived using Ray’s sperm has split up, and this means Ray can spend one day a week getting to know his biological son (and see Samantha Bee, to boot). George, high off his New York Magazine profile and probably also pot, is about to see his daughter for the first time in years — and meet her new boyfriend. Jonathan and his parents retire to Jonathan’s new apartment, where Jonathan learns that his dad isn’t his dad after all. Jonathan, it turns out, is the product of his mom’s egg and sperm from a Fair Lawn sperm bank.

It’s quite a thing to drop on Jonathan so early into the third season — in Jonathan’s sweet pad behind the clock in the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, no less. But unlike the first or even second seasons, which often prioritized playing up Brooklyn’s surreal side against tangible character development, it seems Bored to Death is no longer saving its punches for later. (Although after a short debrief with George, Jonathan doesn’t bring up his lineage again for the rest of the episode. But hey, that’s progress!)

The show also takes steps in a deliberate, overtly noir-ish direction, starting with the writing outside Jonathan’s door advertising his detective services. He’s no longer hiding behind Craigslist or even insisting on meeting his clients face-to-face, but instead diving face-first into cases like this week’s — tailing a blonde woman in a yellow hat to a mysterious hotel room. In “The Blonde in the Woods,” that pursuit reaches almost Twin Peaks–level oddness. One second Jonathan’s outside the hotel room calling his client and trying to discuss Curious George; the next he hears a scream and bursts in to find his mark embracing a short guy in an oversize suit. He’s pistol-whipped on the back of the head, and wakes up later on with a gun in his hand, the short guy dead on the bed, and the police knocking at the door. (Was it just me, or were they wearing old-timey uniforms, too?) Jonathan sneaks into the adjoining hotel room — now that Entourage is off the air, HBO has to fill its quota of unnecessary boob shots somehow — and lurks back to his apartment. A few minutes later, he’s hanging from the minute hand of the clock, about to fall to his demise. Yeah, I think we’re done with all that talk about writer’s block and Park Slope food collectives.

In fact, Bored to Death is skewering Brooklyn life much more directly than it has in the past. While Jonathan lives the fantasy life, Ray is coming to terms with his real one — spending time with his son while not wearing his Super Ray cape. And in the case of the overeager Ray, that means spending five minutes figuring out the logistics of entering a Park Slope coffee shop with a stroller, or frantically prancing around his apartment trying to soothe the crying child (or, later, fumbling to find lube). Given the popularity of The Hangover and Galifianakis’s meta-awkward comedy, I barely remembered that the actor could play neurotic and self-aware. Then Ray unbuttoned his shirt and rubbed whiskey all over his nipple, and I was back in the usual Galifianakis state of mind.

Meanwhile, George is just being George. He’s no longer at the magazine, but he’s still found a way to exert cultural influence on the city of New York and gallivant around, hopped up on oysters, looking for poon. He’s opened George On Jane, an “elitist artisanal restaurant” where no one’s allowed to use cell phones, only an old-timey rotary phone brought right to your table. It’s so old that it’s new, which is exactly the kind of vibe that appeals to George. (The article title reads “60 is the new 45,” after all.) The problem is that while George is perfectly content using that aesthetic to appeal to women, he has a hard time understanding why his daughter would be attracted to that same youthful exuberance in an older man. And not just any guy, but someone who’s far more grounded than George — he knows what he wants (George’s daughter), and he knows how to get it (asking for permission to marry her, and occasionally act like a dog to her delight). George, meanwhile, smokes so much pot his brain’s like the film Memento, and he feels threatened by someone else exerting a strong paternal influence on his daughter’s life.

There’s much more story to tell; all three characters are coming face-to-face with fatherhood, whether it’s George’s belated acceptance of the role, Ray’s newfound joy in it, or Jonathan’s pursuit of his MENCHA-member real dad. Though the characters spend their time apart, they’re very much in sync, and I’m pumped for when they find their way back onscreen with one another. Maybe a trip to Fair Lawn is in order, and not just to visit one of the city’s many malls.

Photo: Jessica Miglio/HBO