Creator's Blog

Oct 26, 2009

Dear Kindly Person or Persons Curious about 'Bored to Death,'

Last Sunday, plans A, B, C, and D to watch my show at a friend's house fell through. Due to lethargy and depression and procrastination, I waited until about 7 p.m. to start making my calls to see whom I could visit, and one by one, none of my friends could have me over.

You see, I have a television, but it hasn't worked since about last January. Before that I hadn't watched it in years, though I did have it activated during the election. Then once Obama was president, my television sensed that I didn't need it anymore, and so it said goodbye and went into that long, immortal, velvet sleep that awaits us all. It gave up consciousness; it'd had enough.

Regardless, I really need a new television, but as I mentioned last week, I act very entitled and don't like to do banal things, like purchase televisions. My aversion to the banal - my particular brand of ADD, in which I only pay attention to do what I want to pay attention to - while elitist, has me living rather like a pauper.

And I should mention that, of course, like all of us, most of what I pay attention to in life, I'd rather not pay attention to, but you just can't get around things, unless you're a king or a dauphin or a dolphin, something like that. I learned this in the third grade when I was deeply unhappy - I was wearing my corset for my back spasms, my left testicle had elevated, and my teacher was too demanding. Hence, I told my mother that I wanted to drop out, but I wasn't allowed to, and so I realized then that we spend most of our time doing what we don't want to do. But, overall, we in the West are lucky enough to have plenty of freedom, more than we probably can handle, and so I don't mean to complain.

Anyway, I needed to watch my show this past Sunday. Earlier that night, like Hal in 2001 gaining consciousness, I had learned that you can read people's responses to your twits on Twitter. I had been twitting for a few months to help the show, but I thought the Twitter phenomenon was strange. It seemed we were all twitting into a void, and I didn't know why it was so popular. I would write twits and not hear anything, but I thought that's how it worked. But what we love in life is interaction, even if it's the sterile Internet kind, but it's really not sterile, since people seem to communicate on the Internet from the most flirty parts of their brains, and so I didn't understand how Twitter could be popular without interaction...

Anyway, I'm not alerted as to who's following me on Twitter because I deactivated something, but Sunday night someone explained to me how to communicate with people and so I put out a Twitter message, in a moment of desperation, that I needed a place in downtown Brooklyn to watch my show, and I offered to regift a bottle of red wine that someone at HBO had kindly sent to me. I knew it was out of character to offer red wine, but it's all I had.

Well, sure enough people responded to my call and I was taken into a stranger's home for a lovely viewing of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and 'Bored to Death.' I brought along one of the show's Associate Producers, Liz Klenk, as protection or at least one other person who could call 911, though I sensed that the gentleman who was taking us in was not sociopathic since all his twits were about football scores. Sure enough, he was a wonderful and gracious host, as was his roommate.

I would like to go on a tangent, which is something I twitted about, that human consciousness is seeking telepathic oneness. We are trying through technology to be communicating at all times. Communication - shared language of every kind, emotional, spiritual, intellectual - is mankind's greatest hope; if we share language there can be less misunderstanding and friction; we want to be like the whales sending out soundwaves into each other's brains, and so I imagine that some day, we will be hard-wired to get all our email and twits and Facebook messages directly into our brains and it will be called thoughts.

I once tried to read a book called The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind, which, to simplify things, was about the beginning of thought...Oh, god, this tangent is going to be way too long. I will write about it somewhere else some day. But to tie up the tangent - I'm in a documentary about immortality called Life Extended by the wonderful Swedish filmakers Bigert and Bergstrom, and one of the other talking heads in the documentary is the futurist Raymond Kurzweil, and he talks about how someday our brains will be backed up and how increasingly machines are being incorporated into our bodies.

Now man struggles with this, as expressed in so much popular entertainment which illustrates our great phobia of machines - Terminator, Matrix, Transformers, etc - but I think it's our evolutionary process. We are incorporating machines the way we once incorporated the thumb. So my point is that all this twitting, while rudimentary, like some early stone tool, is a step towards shared communal consciousness, like some species out of Star Trek where all thought is shared. Now the proponents of rugged individualism don't like this notion...

Anyway, I had better discuss the episode. Wait, one more thought. While I'm all for all this stuff - Twitter, Facebook, email, whathaveyou - I will say that so much communicating is going on that I can't really process it all. I have six-hundred unanswered Facebook messages, a hundred or more unanswered twit responses, and now nearly 1,000 unanswered emails. For about 15 years, I used to carry around a debt that was always between fifteen and thirty thousand dollars, depending on the lunar cycle, and it weighed on me like a psychic and fiduciary carbuncle; now I carry all these unanswered messages in my head, feeling guilt about them, like a bed that never gets made or a piano lesson that's never practiced for... Okay, will definitely shut up now and discuss "The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer" in the next 59 minutes, since I'm meeting the writers of 'Bored to Death' at 11 a.m. and it's now 10:01 a.m. I will also be five to ten minutes late meeting the writers, since I'm pathologically five to ten minutes late for everything.

The Diner

This case of Jonathan's was one of the first I conceived for him. Initially, 'Bored to Death' was going to be a novel in three parts. The first part was to be the original short story; part two would be incarceration as a result of part one and I could act out, through my writing, my fascination with imprisonment; and in part three, Jonathan would get out of prison and become a full-time detective. (For great prison novels, I recommend the work of Eddie Bunker, whom I met once in Mexico, which is another long story.)

So the case of the blackmailer was a case that I was going to give Jonathan in the novel after I read about a husband-wife blackmail team in the New York Post, who were perpetrating the same kind of blackmail that we see in the episode. By the way, isn't blackmail an interesting word? I don't have time to research the etymology and the birth of that word, but since most blackmail begins with a dark and ominous letter, some journalist for a London newspaper in 1850 or so must have invented the word for a scandal that was going on, or it probably goes back to the Sixteenth Century, since it seems like Shakespeare would have used that word...Anyway, for people who are nuts about etymology I highly recommend Simon Winchester's book about the Oxford English dictionary - The Professor and the Madman.

Anyway, I never wrote the novel, but I did create the TV show, and so I still had the case in mind. When I was looking for writers, I mentioned to Martin Gero, whom I eventually hired to be a writer on the show, that one of the cases I would give Jonathan was this blackmail case where Jonathan would sleep with the blackmailer, and he suggested that this would be a good opportunity to get all three guys involved in a case and I thought that was a smart suggestion, and hence Martin came on the staff. Thank you, Martin!

One of the scenes that was most beautifully actualized for me during the whole season is the opening shot of Jonathan emerging from the Subaru at the diner in New Jersey. Adam Bernstein, our director that episode, seemed to go right in my brain and perfectly paint what I wanted, which was a slow-motion, super-cool shot of Jonathan emerging out of the car like a hero, and Adam pulled it off perfectly. Thank you, Adam! He took the description in the script and really made it come to life. And thank you, Jason Schwartzman for looking so amazing and cool in that moment! I want to be a hero in the worst way, and so that shot was total wish-fulfillment for me...

Once we're in the diner, Geoffrey Cantor is brilliant as Mr. Eaton, the beleagured father of two. A month or so after we shot this episode, a strapping, attractive, and rather hip looking fellow came up to me at the wrap party for 'Bored to Death' and was very familiar with me. The gentleman seemed to know me quite well, but I didn't know him or remember where I had a met him and I confessed this. Well, it turned out it was Geoffrey Cantor - the guy had completely transformed. He wasn't the humbled and humiliated Mr. Eaton at all. He was a ladies man who looked to fare very well at the libidinous wrap party. I complimented him on his abilities as an actor to completely, like an Alec Guinness, transform himself. Thank you, Geoffrey Cantor!

George's Office

Okay, only twenty-nine minutes left. Will rattle off various behind-the-lines allusions from this scene. Initially, I wanted George to be talking about Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, a twelve-volume interconnected series of novels, which is kind of the English equivalent of Proust's A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, as a means for George to explain his ennui with his long career in the New York literary world, but it was too wordy a thing to pull off in television and so I cut it down to, "...Some die and some press on. I fall into the press on category."

He also mentions Gay Talese, whom I know and admire, and early on I asked the wardrobe people to use Gay Talese as one of the inspirations for George's style of dress. Paul Auster is also brought up since I'm a gigantic fan of his novels and essays. Auster, of course, wrote a series of detective novels, The New York Trilogy, which I love and thought it would be cool for fans of his to have his name dropped in my detective show.

George brings up his desire to get into the fray of Jonathan's detective adventure, to cover it as a journalist, citing Gay Talese, and I'm alluding to the kind of participatory journalism that Talese, Hunter Thompson, George Plimpton, Terry Southern and Norman Mailer all made popular in the late fifties and sixties.

The Rest of the Episode

I have sixteen minutes left. I know I always mention the time in these blog-letters, but I think I thrive on it, the looming deadline like the guillotine, though there's so much more I could say. It seems like each scene and line of the show has a trapdoor leading to association after association. I know some people don't like the show and think it's boring (though those people probably aren't reading the blog), but a lot of thought and feeling goes into everything, as with all artistic endeavor, and so even if something doesn't work, it doesn't mean the artist didn't try...Anyway, I feel like I give short shrift to the episodes because I take so long to warm up and expend too much time on my nutty tangents. Later, though this may be an empty promise to myself, I'll go through these blog-letters and add some footnotes, discussing things I would have liked to touch upon, and maybe print up the whole thing to go with the DVD of the first season, if we have a DVD, which I imagine we will.

So now, with thirteen minutes left, I will simply rattle off some of the trapdoor associations:

1. Patton Oswalt came up with a different improv every take for his monologue about the night-vision goggles; the scripted line was, "Let me tell you something, young man..." But instead of young man he rattled off one-liner after one-liner and my favorite was, "Let me tell you something, Sunday Styles..." and so that's what I put in the show in the editing room.

2. The rapport between Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis is brilliant in this episode.

3. I wanted George to have a weapon and I figured Leah's girls would leave a toy in the car and so I emailed the writing staff a question as I was working on the script: "What kind of toy would a little girl have?" And Samantha McIntyre emailed me back within five seconds (see my earlier notions of shared, instantaneous consciousness): "A unicorn!" So I made the toy a unicorn and named it Janet since someone very dear to me has a dog named Janet and I love dogs and I love Janet.

4. The beautiful blackmailer is played so well by Trieste Dunn. Twice I've cast Trieste. She played my love interest in my first TV show, 'What's Not to Love?' In that program, of which only one episode was shot, I played myself (and not too well), but Trieste is always great.

5. Ted Danson really couldn't get in the door during the fleeing moment, and so he gamely dove in the window and Zach Galifianakis, who claimed to have studied stunt-driving at Juilliard, sped off down the dark street. I went running from the monitor, deeply afraid that Ted might have fallen out of the car, but he didn't.

6. I have George express fears about his parenting, since I'm a parent and I'm plagued by guilt, as most parents are.

7. Anthony Desando is great as the brother, and Jason's abilities as a physical comedian are wonderful in the tasing scene. Also, the hotel room designed by Rick Butler, our production designer, is really great.

Well, like James Bond, defusing a bomb just in time, I've finished this blog-letter at exactly 10:59. I will now email it off to HBO and go meet the writers and be my standard five-to-ten minutes late. As always, I thank you for your interest in the show.

All the best,
Jonathan Ames

PS To hear the hairy call, click here.

PPS I have Ray wearing a Navy SEAL diver's watch because that's what I wear and I do take lots of baths with it.

PPPS I have George say that he's on 'marijuana minutes', because I noticed back in college that time seemed to elongate on cannabis and I used to wear a diver's watch back then and I would try to time things while under the influence of cannabis as a means to keep track of reality.

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