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Bored to Death Recap: Tales of an Upbeat Hamlet

Jessica Miglio/HBO

The legacy of Bored to Death could simply be “John Hodgman shows off his brilliant physical comedy chops,” and as my people say, “Dayenu.” In this episode alone, Hodgman trashes a green room, dangles from a rope over the set of The Dick Cavett Show, finds himself thrown into a prison cell, and combs his mustache. That’s some versatility right there, and it highlights one of the things Bored to Death does best: It’s sporting a killer ensemble, and it’s not squandering a single person.

It’s actually pretty incredible to think about Zach Galifianakis as a regular on a TV show given all his Hangover success — much less a low-budget HBO comedy. Perhaps it’s a chance for him to play against type; though his characters are typically content in a state of arrested development, Ray actively wants to grow up and be the responsible parental figure he never really had. “The Black Clock of Time” is the hiccup that undoes all his early work with Spencer, the son conceived using his sperm to a now-divorced lesbian couple. In the season premiere, he was still getting the hang of Park Slope with a stroller, stumbling into coffee shops and resorting to whiskey-nipple-related parenting techniques. (Thus begins my vow to work in a whiskey-nipple reference into every recap, to the amusement of just me.) Now he’s much more comfortable — though as he shows in the library, he needs a nap every once in a while — and he decides to take the next step and brazenly join a group of women in the park, Spencer in tow, and bond. Sure, these women are part of a breast-feeding support group, but it doesn’t faze Ray; hell, he even has some stories of his own to share.

It can’t end well, and it doesn’t: Another woman joins, pushing the endless line of strollers forward and confusing Ray, who grabs the wrong one by mistake and takes it back to the apartment. I suppose Jonathan Ames looked around his neighborhood and thought, Jeez, these strollers all look the same and no one seems to care, then figured out the most extreme problem that could arise from that. Which, it turns out, is to have Ray bring the mystery baby back to the apartment and let it sleep in the stroller while he gets stoned and does his own finger-painting. It’s applicable to anyone who fights their way between strollers on their way to the bodega every morning — how is it that Bored to Death only gets a quarter of a million viewers each week again? — but Galifianakis sells the elation, then horror, so well that anyone, Park Sloper or not, has gotta feel bad for Ray when he loses his one day a week privileges at the end. I’m sure he feels worse than that woman did when she found Ray’s penis drawings.

Most every character in “The Big Black Cock of Time” (wait, did I just put the word “big” in there?) experiences parental setbacks. In fact, the episode kicks off by having Jonathan learn that the sperm bank in Fair Lawn burned down many years ago, leaving him once again without a trail to follow. George has lunch with his daughter and her boyfriend, and learns that even though he never gave Bernard permission, he proposed anyway, and she said yes. And all Louis Green ever wanted was to make his father proud by appearing on The Dick Cavett Show — the real one, not the one he play-acted out when he was a child. He sort of gets his wish, although he looks like a crazy person hanging from the rafters and babbling incoherently to Dick Cavett in the process.

And it’s because of Louis Green that Jonathan is able to renew his search for his biological father. He’s on Dick Cavett’s show to begin with because he’s promoting his new book as part of a “young authors” segment. Jonathan is nervous because a good appearance on that show will translate into “a shit-load of books” being sold, to use Cavett’s term. Though Jonathan maintains a sort of composure while being shot at while riding a carousel, he’s not the most charismatic person in high-stakes situations (amazing that “threat of death” doesn’t feel as high-stakes as a publicity appearance, but such is Bored to Death). And to make matters worse, Jonathan arrives at the show to find Louis Green waiting in the green room, eager to watch Jonathan crash and burn. The pressure gets to him at first: He comes out wearing sunglasses, and trips on his way to the guest chair. It should be noted that he was following the young boy promoting Splitsies: A Child’s Perspective on Divorce, and even that guy kept it together.

But Jonathan finds his footing figuratively and literally, and soon he abandons talk of the book and turns to his missing father and the destroyed sperm bank (he neglects to mention the “semen screams,” regrettably). Cavett is so taken by Jonathan’s plight — it’s Oprah-caliber stuff, he says — that he bumps Green and decides to keep Jonathan on for an additional segment. Thus we get to see Hodgman’s craziness out in full force, which includes everything written above, plus an attempt to close the curtain that nearly kills Dick Cavett were it not for Jonathan’s sterling reflexes. Then George swoops in and tries to smooth things over with Cavett — a man he had lunch with once, a very long time ago — and Ted Danson gets to stumble through the awkwardness now that George has lost some of his suave. That scene is an awesome cacophony of every Bored to Death actor, a celebration of the uncannily talented ensemble the show has built, and continues to build.