Ah, the doppelgänger episode. Since man first projected moving images in an episodic format, he also occasionally projected equivalent versions of those same images, only these images had evil-looking mustaches. Episodes with doppelgängers are easy ways for a show to comment on itself: See, our characters aren’t doing it, it’s these other guys who happen to look just like us (with mustaches)! A show like Bored to Death never really had a problem poking fun at itself, calling out the insanity of Jonathan’s schemes or the ridiculousness of Leah’s insistence that her children eat not a single bite of a hormone-filled chicken. So when Bored to Death goes all doppelgänger, the result hits even closer to home in its satire of Jonathan, George, and the bachelor diet consisting of white wine and avocados.
Ray deals with his own issues this week (Park Slope mom duty overload), but both Jonathan and George find themselves entangled with characters who want nothing more than to be exaggerated versions of the originals. Jonathan’s is the most outrageous: His double sports not just a mustache, but a full-on Brett Gelman beard and serves to remind us just why Jonathan is so well suited for the detective business. It starts when Jonathan and Emily, George’s daughter, are killing time in Jonathan’s apartment. George had asked that Jonathan platonically take Emily out — show her the kind of “youthful” good time she’ll be missing when she marries Bernard. (“I’m good at platonic. It’s my default sexual setting, after nervous.”) And because Jonathan really doesn’t have much to offer, they find themselves sitting around, talking about a cool Williamsburg party they could go to. Naturally, talk turns to detective work, and Emily mentions how much she likes Jonathan’s slogan. What slogan? Oh, the one being used by some other guy posing as Jonathan Ames on Craigslist. Suddenly, tracking down this copycat becomes the youthful activity of choice.
The other Jonathan Ames (whatever his real name is — I’m gonna go with Notathan Ames) is much rougher around the edges, like Ray would be, and not just because of the beard. First of all, he wears a windbreaker on a case instead of a suit; Jonathan prefers to class up the proceedings. Despite dressing down, Notathan wants desperately to appear suave, to use his role as a private dick to further his chances with the ladies, as evidenced by the barrage of borderline date-rapey one-liners he slings at Emily. It’s all the bravado with only the illusion of actual detective skills to back it up; at the end of the day, he runs scared from the work, unable to muster the bravery (or stupidity, call it what you will) that Jonathan musters on a daily basis. We see this when Jonathan and Emily find Notathan, and follow him to the case of the day — surveying a group of sex-crazed furries, hoping to snap a photo of the tiger when he takes off his mask. The evening isn’t going the way Jonathan had planned, in that Emily’s not starting to doubt her choice to marry Bernard. But she does decide to get drunk and stoned — she’s in AA — and winds up barging into the orgy. Notathan has no idea what to do next, but Jonathan blindly throws himself into the fold and rescues Emily from those soft, soft clutches.
Notathan’s presence inadvertently brings about what Jonathan had wanted the whole time: to give Emily a little adventure. In the same way, George’s doppelgänger provides George with some perspective, and it’s completely the opposite of what he was expecting. He’d pawned Emily off on Jonathan because Bernard, in an attempt to get closer to his father-in-law-to-be, had arranged a man-date with George to attend the opening of an exclusive new Manhattan bistro. It’s a restaurant promising farm-to-table food just like George’s spot, the interior is awfully familiar-looking, and the sign for the place looks an awful lot like the sign for George’s On Jane. The spot is called Richard & Sons, and the Richard in question is Richard Antrem, George’s arch nemesis and president Bartlet’s attorney. He’s not just trying to copy George’s model, he’s trying to outdo him — promising that every item on the menu was procured from within a 50-mile radius of New York City, as opposed to George’s now-paltry-sounding 100-mile radius. “He’s going to dominate the artisanal scene,” George laments to Bernard as he’s seated near the kitchen being ignored by the servers — including Louis Green, now considered one of the sons. It should be noted that his mustache indicates evil all on its own, no doppelgänger necessary.
George’s feud with Richard serves to highlight that restaurant claims are getting out of control in New York City — who really cares how many more or less miles the food had to travel to get to your plate? Still, George sees himself as the master of these low-stakes situations, and his crisis does not escape Bernard’s keen eye and truckloads of money. Seeing an opportunity to impress his future dad, Bernard claims to have seen a rat run by, and the entire restaurant exits in a frenzy. It’s crazy enough to actually work; George now sees Bernard as an ally and potentially as the investor who will save George’s On Jane from going completely soft (George’s fear in the bedroom, too).
Given how solid the story lines were for Jonathan and George this week, it was hard to get into Ray’s plight back at the brownstone. Separated from Spencer (and eager to draw a comic about it), he’s realizing that his stint as a Park Slope mom isn’t over yet. Ray has grown up over the last few episodes, to the point where Leah is now relying on him to handle things around the house when she needs a well-deserved break. Ray just doesn’t care that much, though, and winds up letting the girls eat that hormone-ridden chicken instead of a Trader Joe’s hormone-free one, which suddenly is the biggest deal in the world. (Speaking of a big deal, bedding Olympia Dukakis has got to rank pretty high up there.)
In the same way, George decides to take a break from Jonathan at the end of the episode — making a mountain out of a (still relatively large) molehill. This show can be needlessly silly sometimes in the best possible way. Why else would they introduce a character that merely aspires to be like Jonathan Ames, of all people? Maybe it’s the lack of a mustache.