Brooklyn heights: Sky Atlantic's 'Bored to Death' is achingly hip but full of heart

Jonathan Ames has problems. He's been dumped by his girlfriend, who thinks he drinks too much white wine of a slow evening, and who has subsequently moved out of their book-lined Brooklyn apartment leaving him wondering how to pay the rent. As if that weren't bad enough, he's permanently under-employed, almost broke and suffering from a bad on-going case of writer's block.

So what's a man to do? The answer in this case is read Raymond Chandler's noir classic Farewell, My Lovely, smoke some pot, drink some more cheap white wine, and then go on Craigslist and register yourself as a private detective despite the fact that you haven't really got the first clue how to solve any of the cases you subsequently find yourself hired to solve.

Welcome to the world of Bored to Death, HBO's new comedy, which starts on Sky Atlantic next Monday. It's a world in which books, thankfully, still hold the answers to life's most worrying questions, a place where the seemingly ordinary can swiftly spiral into the extremely odd and, most of all, a New York landscape defined not, as is usual, by Manhattan's shimmering lights and celeb-haunted bars, but rather by the Brooklyn brownstones of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens in addition to Brighton Beach and Coney Island's more grimy charms.

It's also strikingly self-referential. Created by Brooklyn author Jonathan Ames and based on a short story he wrote about his fantasy of becoming a private detective, the half-hour comedy would serve as the ultimate in wish-fulfilment were it not for the fact that Ames constantly undercuts his hero's actions, ensuring that this is not the private eye as sardonic Philip Marlowe-esque saviour but an altogether more Quixotic affair.

"There's this great contrast between the character's romance of being a private eye and the reality," says Jason Schwartzman, who plays Jonathan Ames. "My character doesn't really have a clue what he's doing and when he tells his friends he's become a private eye on Craigslist they don't really understand. You know, they all keep saying 'Are you licensed?' There's definitely an element of 'what made you think you could do this, are you crazy?'"

Luckily for Jonathan, not everyone thinks that becoming a private eye is a truly terrible idea. His sometime boss, media magnate George Christopher (played with scene-stealing verve by Ted Danson) is an enthusiastic supporter while his best friend, depressive comic-book artist Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis), finds himself reluctantly dragged along for the ride.

"There's something of a quest about the whole thing," says Danson. "It's about these three guys and their friendship, sure, but it's also about what they're searching for. In Bored to Death there's this idea that by helping people, by solving these crimes, no matter how small, then these characters will all find something better about themselves... of course, they're also having a lot of fun while they're doing it."

That sense of fun is what saves Bored to Death from sinking under the weight of its own self-consciousness. It would be easy to dismiss the show as trying too hard – the hip Brooklyn locations, the shabby chic clothes, the knowingly neurotic dialogue ("In my heart I'm a vegan, but in my mouth I lack discipline," Jonathan remarks at one point), the sharp, stylised credits and most of all the fact that the show is written by a Brooklyn author who just happens to be called Jonathan Ames – were it not for its tone, which is both witty and surprisingly sweet-natured, and the open-hearted way in which it celebrates male friendship.

"I think the reason that people have responded is because they relate to the fact that these guys do really like each other," says Danson. "Everything flows from the fact that the relationships are genuine. As it progresses and you get drawn more into the characters' lives, then you care more about what goes on."

Certainly the central friendships are very different from the usual male bonding we see on screen. This is not a show featuring Entourage-esque backslapping and boasting or a Brit-com in which we are asked to wink approvingly at the laddish hi-jinks on screen. Instead, the friendship between Jonathan, Ray and George is played relatively straight with the laughs arising organically as they all hang out. "It's quite gentle in a way," says Danson. "Yes, you have these occasionally dark scenarios, but it's not a show that asks you to laugh at the characters – and I think that helps it to stand out."

It's also true that where HBO's other comedies, Eastbound & Down, Curb Your Enthusiasm and even Entourage have a mean streak running through them, a sense that the characters are there for the audience to laugh at rather than with, Bored to Death prefers the light-hearted send-up. That difference in tone is very much a part of Ames's quirky but essentially kind-hearted vision. A minor celebrity in Brooklyn – a football shirt with his name on it hangs in Cobble Hill bookstore BookCourt and most people in the area have an

Ames story, or three, to share – he is also the author of three well-reviewed novels, four non-fiction essay collections and a highly praised graphic novel, The Alcoholic.

Crucially all of this work, in whatever genre, has a slightly skewed sweetness at its heart. Ames's characters might scuttle around life's margins, but they do so in a way that you can't help but respond to. "Jonathan has a very offbeat sense of humour and obviously that propels the show," says Schwartzman. "The funny thing is that you start spending time with him and you realise that a lot of this is his life. He's the sort of person to whom odd things just happen, so you find yourself in a bar with him and the next thing you know you're meeting all these crazy people and you start to think, 'oh this is just like an episode of Bored to Death'."

That sense of familiarity is also a product of the show's fourth character: the borough of Brooklyn. Breaking from New York television tradition, which has always suggested that Manhattan's where it's at, Bored to Death chooses instead to eulogise Brooklyn's quirky shops and buggy-laden streets. Jonathan meets clients in Fort Greene Park and Russian restaurant Tatiana's in Brighton Beach, Ray pops in to Bergen Street Comics and hangs around outside the Park Slope Food Coop while George, a Manhattanite to his core, marvels at the offbeat rhythms of life over the bridge. "The setting is very important," says Schwartzman. "It is Brooklyn but it isn't," adds Danson. "It's a fantasy Brooklyn, the way that Jonathan likes to see it."

It's also a strikingly literary show, referencing everyone from Chandler and Nabokov to Oscar Wilde and Zadie Smith. In addition to joking about novelists, Ames's characters are constantly turning to books to solve their personal crises – most memorably when George looks for help from Klaus Kinski's autobiography after being advised to experiment with homosexuality – which serves as a refreshing reminder that not every query in the world can be answered with the click of a button and a quick surf online.

Ultimately, however, what makes Bored to Death work so well is the interplay between the three likeable leads. They seem so relaxed together, so content just to hang out that you can't help but get drawn in to their unrealised dreams and fruitless schemes. For although not a lot happens each week in Jonathan Ames's Brooklyn, time passes with such unforced (and occasionally unfocused) charm that it's impossible to imagine actually being bored.

'Bored to Death' begins on Sky Atlantic HD on Monday 28 March at 10pm

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'

Arts & Entertainment
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit