I'm going to go through the first episode, "Stockholm Syndrome," and point out things of possible interest, the subtext as it were. I see this as a kind of written 'behind the scenes.'
Sep 21, 2009
I somewhat based the opening of the episode on a break-up I had a few years ago. My girlfriend moved out and we employed the same company that is in the show, Moishe's, and the truck you see is a genuine Moishe's truck, not something the prop department came up with.
I wrote about this break-up in an essay of mine called "Our Selves Between Us." It was originally called "Mixed Tape," because it was all about listening to this mixed tape of heartbreaking songs that my girlfriend put together for me as a sort of goodbye. On the mixed tape is a John Cale song, "Anda Lucia," and there's a lyric, "We sat here with our selves between us," and this to me was the essence of our struggle and perhaps all relationship struggles - our hidden selves that remain alone, unable to reach the other.
When we see "Jonathan" run his hand through the empty closet, bereft of Suzanne's dresses, I was recreating an exact moment from my break-up, which I wrote about in the essay:
When I came back to the apartment, the first thing I saw was her empty closet. It had been filled with her pretty clothes for two years. That empty closet was like a grave. A death. An end. I started crying bad. I took one look at it and ran to the bed and cried facedown in the pillow. I'm halfway through life and have no idea how to live.
There's this scene in Richard Yate's book Revolutionary Road which is the most painful thing I've ever read. This neglectful husband has lost his wife to suicide. He goes into her closet and smells her clothes and for a moment he has her back, he can smell her, she's there, not dead, and he feels all the love he had for her, the love which had been lost, and then this horrible intrusive neighbor is banging on the door, and the husband hides in the closet until the neighbor leaves, but the spell has been broken, he can't get his wife back, he tries, but he can't reconjure her and he's lost her for good now, and this second death is worse than the first.
So when I got off the bed, done crying, I waved my hand in that empty closet to see if it was real. To see if I had really lost something so precious, and my hand sliced through the air and I knew I had lost her and I went back to the bed and cried some more. Just recently I put some of my raggedy clothes in there and they look ugly. They look like me.
At the Cafe with Ray
I apologize that this blog has gotten off to a rather lugubrious start. I'm rather fatigued today, my eyes seem to be swimming in bile, and so my mood is somewhat affected. I hope you don't mind too much.
So, continuing in this somewhat depressing spirit, what I'd like to point out in this scene is the dialogue I wrote for the cartoon that Ray shows Jonathan. Ray's alter-ego, Super Ray, on the therapist's couch, says: "I don't feel like anybody really knows me," and Jonathan's therapist character says, "I understand."
This connects, thematically, with what I wrote above about 'our selves between us,' and this wasn't my conscious intention when I penned the script, but there does seem to be a running theme here - of not being known. I always feel that way, but I think we all must. Someone once said to me, "You're entitled to your secrets, Jonathan," and this is true, but I guess, like most people, I live with the fear that if someone knew me completely they wouldn't love me. But either way you don't feel loved with this kind of crazy mindset, which I will try to recreate here: "If they knew everything about me, they wouldn't love me, but since they don't know everything about me, what they love is a false version of me and so their love is not authentic."
You see the circular madness of such thinking? That's why it's better to follow the Saint Francis dictum: "Better to love than to be loved."
Anyway, let's press on! This creator's blog is reading like a monologue for Bela Lugosi.
Jonathan Going into Super-Hero/Private-Detective Mode and Meeting his Client
One of the things I noticed in rewatching the episode is that Jonathan puts a book in his pocket rather than a gun. I wanted him to take the book because I always carry novels with me on the subway, and, too, Farewell, My Lovely, is more or less his instruction manual for being a private detective; in fact, the depiction of Philip Marlowe on the cover guides him in choosing his costume - his tie and sportcoat, which is like his super-hero cape. Also, the title of the book is a nod to what's just happened - he has said goodbye to his lovely girl.
But it is only in my most recent viewing of the episode that I was struck by the way Jonathan pockets the book and how it looks like the holstering of a pistol. And I have to say that I love this idea of being armed with a book. It really captures one of the premises of the show - the notion that books drove him to pursue this fantasy, in much the same way that tales of chivalry drove Don Quixote to delusionally come to think of himself as a knight.
Along these lines, I should mention that our opening animated sequence is composed of words from my original short story, 'Bored to Death.' So words, books, writing, and the power of books in one's life is a very big part, interestingly enough, of our television show.
At the Gallery
It might not be entirely clear, but Jonathan goes to the art gallery to cover the event for Edition NY, the magazine that he writes for on a freelance basis. The magazine is actually throwing the event, celebrating one of its photographers, Richard Sandler, who in real life is a dear friend of mine and a great photographer and documentary film-maker. I highly recommend his film The Gods of Times Square. He spent nearly a decade in Times Square, before Disney and Giuliani took over, filming all the street-preachers who used to gather there. It's an incredibly beautiful and powerful movie.
At the gallery, Jonathan smokes pot with Ted Danson's character, George Christopher. If anyone has ever used a one-hitter, as the characters do, you can surely attest to the fact that you usually get more than one hit, hence George's line: "These one-hitters should really be called three-hitters."
The Parkside Lounge
One thing I miss in this scene is a line that we cut in editing that would have come right at the very end. Jonathan drinks his whiskey, coughs, and then says, trying to save face and explain his reaction to the booze: "I've been laying off the whiskey. Been on a white wine regimen. Was trying to save a relationship." The bartender, hardboiled, then says, "Good for you." But I also had him say, "Good for you. I haven't had sex with a woman in seven years." But for whatever reason, we didn't have a good take or camera angle for this line, so we didn't use it, though I think it would have beautifully explained the bartender's rather impacted soul and personality.
The Velma Hotel
I based this place on a flop hotel in Manhattan, where I may have taken refuge once or twice over the years to lose myself and, where, to channel Blanche Dubois, "I've always relied on the kindness of strangers."
The Ending of the Episode
One of my notes to Jason Schwartzman was that when he goes into detective mode, he should stand up straight and that his posture should become more erect, which I guess, to me, with all the implications of the word 'erect,' is a more manly stance. I know that I'm always bent over and have the posture of a fish-hook, so I wanted the hero of the show to stand up in a confident way. Thus, when Jonathan sees the Craigslist message, asking for his help, at the very end of the episode, he stops slumping, grows erect, and plunges, as it were, into his next adventure. I thought Jason pulled this off beautifully in this scene and it sets up the show beautifully for the coming episodes, which I hope you will watch and enjoy.
Well, I think that's most of what I have to say for this first blog. As always, I thank you for your interest in 'Bored to Death,' and please click here, if you like, to hear "The Hairy Call."
all the best and none of the worst,
PS Next blog, I hope that my eyes won't be filled with bile and that I'll be a bit more upbeat and all that. In the meantime, I thank you for your patience!
PPS I forgot to mention that restaurant where Jonathan meets his client is called Veselka. It's a Ukranian restaurant, located on Second Avenue and Ninth Street in Manhattan. I've been going there since about 1992, when it was quite a bit smaller, and so it was very strange, yet also incredibly familiar, to be filming in a place which I've gone to more than a hundred times. One night I had a memorable dinner there with several people, including Monica Lewinsky. I recreated this dinner in my graphic novel, The Alcoholic, should you want to check it out.