Published September 21, 2009
HBO kicked off two premieres last night, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored to Death, unofficially branding its Sunday nights as the antithesis of beer drenched, football watching, Sunday afternoons. In short, Sunday nights on HBO are the night of the nebbish.
The last few seasons of Curb have ended with outrageous grand finales, a not-so-suble acknowledgement that Larry David never seems to know if there will be a next season. The seventh season of Curb began where the sixth left off. David, who plays an exaggerated version of himself, and all his abhorrent idiosyncratic behaviors are back, along with most of his cohorts, including estranged ex-wife, Cheryl (Cheryl Hines).
HBO has complemented the Curb time slot with Bored to Death, starring Jason Schwartzman as failed writer and aspiring hipster private detective, Jonathan Ames (a character based on Brooklyn writer–and show creator–Jonathan Ames). Neither Curb nor Bored are intrinsically Jewish shows but, while Larry David is, much like Jerry Seinfeld was in Seinfeld (the show David co-created) inherently a Jewish character, he rarely has to put on a yarmulke to remind us of that. Bored, on the other hand, presents Ames’s Jewishness with the subtlety of a 1980s Bar Mitzvah gown. Schwartzman’s Ames is neither capable of shadow boxing without causing himself physical pain nor drinking whiskey without coughing into his elbow (the proper way to cough, by the way, probably drilled into his head by his overbearing Jewish mom). These underwhelming Jewish stereotypes seem about as fresh as a Jay Leno joke, something that might have worked once, but has since been played out and isn’t really accurate anymore.
Ames is Woody Allen light–wimpy, witty, and sympathetic. He reacts to the possibility of physical altercation by locking himself in a bathroom. Overly confident Larry David, on the other, hand will do what he wants–like go to your refrigerator and make a sandwich without asking after reprimanding someone earlier for taking a lemonade out of his. Even though David’s character is about 30 years older, his portrayal of the modern day Jew is seemingly more contemporary. David doesn’t need to resort to the old school shtick and the wimpy stereotypes, yet he remains a total nebbish.
With only one episode, it’s hard to to tell whether Bored’s wimpy gags will remain as prevalent in future episodes. Besides, when living in the era of Eli Roth’s badass Bear Jew, the cliche of the schlemiel becomes increasingly dated.