The third episode of Bored to Death’s second season gets off to a pretty sober start, as Sexy Urologist of a Certain Age tells George that he’s STD-free (yay!), but, alas, not stage-two-prostate-cancer-free (boo!). The good doctor comforts him with an ethically dubious make-out session, but this much is clear: For all its gags centered around pot vaporizers, and this episode is essentially one long one, the show isn’t afraid to throw a little mortality into the mirth-making. (Maybe Oliver Platt has it in his contract to only appear in premium-cable comedies with cancer-related plotlines?)
And perhaps because of this bleak opening, the rest of the episode is sheer goofiness. After Stella breaks up with Jonathan at a Slipper Room burlesque show, he’s kidnapped by Jim Norton and Herc from The Wire while walking home — they grab him and stuff him into their Zipcar. (“I’ve never been mugged before. This neighborhood has been gentrified for years!”) They dangle him Suge Knight–style over the gonorrhea-infected Gowanus Canal, demanding the hard drive from the Dungeon that he wiped on behalf of the mounted policeman so they can blackmail the client list. Unable to provide this, and under the threat of repeated charley horses — and really, is there a better summation of this show’s simple charm than to leaven a kidnapper-torture scene with playground violence? — Jonathan agrees to call a very stoned and maudlin George and ask for $20,000 in cash.
There’s something very comforting about seeing Sam Malone so sweetly befuddled after all these years. Rather than just deliver the money to the conveniently abandoned concrete factory by the Smith/9th F station, George instead decides to get Ray and load up on military supplies, courtesy of Howard, played with Guns and Ammo meets Dungeons and Dragons glee by the outstanding Patton Oswalt. (“A little less Sundance Channel there, Park Slope,” he sneers to Ray.) With apologies to Sex and the City, has any HBO series ever been more of a boon to New York’s cadre of amiably doughy fortysomething character actors?
Meanwhile, Jonathan, of course, bonds with his captors over Oscar Wilde aphorisms. Norton’s love that dare not speak its name is tranny-chasing, while Herc — okay, fine, Domenick Lombardozzi — has been happily married for seventeen years. Jonathan botches an escape attempt, just in time for George and Ray to botch their scheduled surprise attack, as Ray catches a rubber bullet in the forehead. The whole thing unfolds like the doomed cold-storage heist at the end of Bottle Rocket, as people who have no business doing dangerous things do dangerous things.
George refuses to negotiate with kidnappers or terrorists, so Jonathan calls his parents for the cash. The Zipcar drives to New Jersey, where the boyfriend from One Day at a Time and Agnes DiPesto wait with a bag containing a mere $2,000. The kidnappers cut their losses and pile back into the Zipcar. Norton yells, “Jersey sucks,” and he’s not wrong, as our bumbling heroes head inside for a home-cooked breakfast.
It may have taken a little while for Bored to Death to find its voice, but here we are: The trick is balancing the mundane details of life in brownstone Brooklyn with the suspension of disbelief needed to pull off the often silly stoner-noir conceit (as well as the fact that someone like George would be besties with Jonathan and Ray), and the show just has a confidence it didn’t quite have previously. The show is as quiet and unassuming as its protagonists, and, increasingly, as easy to root for.