We’re stumped trying to unravel a murder mystery that clearly not even bumbling self-styled neo-noir private detective Jonathan Ames of “Bored to Death” could solve: Why did HBO just knock off two of the best quirky comedies on television?
Variety reported Tuesday that the network rightly hailed for high-quality programming canceled “Bored to Death" and “Hung,” as well as "How to Make It in America," a promising show that hadn’t yet fully captured our imagination.
"Bored” and "Hung," two very different comedies, have at least one major commonality – even before getting dumped on the same day: They’re both, laughter aside, about guys struggling to find their place in a changing world. Both shows deserve to find a new place of their own, amid a shifting entertainment landscape.
Are you listening, Netflix?
Or FX? Or Comedy Central? Or even HBO, which canceled – and then un-canceled – “The Life & Times of Tim,” an animated comedy about another guy unsure about his role that thankfully returned for a third season last week.
Despite the explosion of web and TV outlets, it’s not easy these days for comedies that straddle cult appeal and the mainstream. “Family Guy” twice survived relatively brief cancelations, though it took "Futurama" five years to make a comeback. "Arrested Development," scrapped by Fox in 2006, is set to return for new episodes, via Netflix, in 2013, before hitting theaters. Comedy Central gave up on “The Sarah Silverman Program,” though she's got a deal with NBC for a pilot for a new show.
Louis C.K.’s irreverent non-sitcom enjoys a home on FX, which also gave us the hilariously bawdy "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia." But even amid his growing popularity, C.K. found himself recently selling his latest standup special on the Internet for $5 after HBO, among other outlets, reportedly didn’t want to deal with him. His potentially game-changing gambit paid off, thanks to fans.
Even if the ratings were down, “Hung” and "Bored" just capped creatively strong third seasons that took them far beyond the novelty of their premises – fulfilling much of the network’s investment into shows whose descriptions aren’t exactly TV Guide friendly.
"Hung" stars recently announced Golden Globe nominee Thomas Jane as Ray Drecker, a down-on-his-luck Detroit teacher and former high school sports hero who exploits the attribute referred to in the show’s title to make a living, via well-heeled lonely ladies.
This season, Ray saw his growing business get challenged by rivals – including a younger, if dim, stud. Ray survived a cop with a violence fetish and showed his sensitive side dealing with a transgender client. His unlikely partner is Jane Adams’ Tanya, an unhinged poet-turned-pimp, who has convinced herself it’s their duty to spread “happiness” through depressed Detroit.
The season – and quite possibly the series – ended with the duo stealing valuable cows from the farm hideaway of an old-school pimp to settle a debt, just as they were quite possibly being framed for murder. The dark comic absurdity helped highlight themes of lost youth – and the struggle to reclaim an American dream that’s as much an illusion as the happiness Ray peddles in his not-so-secret second life.
"Bored" stars Jason Schwartzman as Jonathan, a lovelorn young writer who escapes his woes through his own second life as a Craigslist gumshoe for hire. Jonathan is aided by his best pal, Ray (Zach Galifianakis), an angst-filled, schlubby comic book writer who spent much of the past season indulging his newfound love for much older women (including a widow played by 80-year-old Olympia Dukakis). The biggest revelation here, though, is Ted Danson’s George, a sixty-something former high-flying magazine editor turned restaurateur who shares a love of pot and adventure with his younger buddies.
Sure, Jonathan may get in the middle of an orgy of stuffed-animal fetishists and wreak havoc on Dick Cavett’s set. But the season of silly and slapstick comedy helped fuel a sweet meditation on the meaning of fatherhood, via Jonathan’s search for his biological father, Ray’s growing kinship with his baby son and George’s efforts to repair his relationship with his adult daughter.
The show is very New York-centric – but then again, so was "Seinfeld." The "Bored" male trio of Jonathan, Ray and George are worthy successors to Jerry, George and Kramer, even if they don't pull in the same ratings.
The season opener of “Bored to Death” ended with Jonathan hanging from Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh Savings Bank clock tower, Harold Lloyd-style, waiting for his friends to rescue him.
Here’s hoping that a savior for "Bored" and "Hung" will appear quickly and turn back time.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.