In my disjointed, sometimes-behind-the-times way of watching TV (via Netflix and Amazon Prime), I find myself at the moment binge watching two shows at once: Bored to Death, the HBO series (2009-2011) with Jason Schwartzman playing author/amateur detective Jonathan Ames (2009-2011); and the new second season of the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie, with Jane Fonda as uptight Grace opposite Lily Tomlin as hippie mama Frankie, an odd coupla gals who are paired up when their longtime husbands leave them for each other.
In last year’s Grace and Frankie series premiere, the ladies share a peyote ceremony on thebeach that starts to break open Grace’s buttoned-up world (much like the joint Fonda shared with Tomlin and Dolly Parton in 9-5 did). Playing this Grace (unlike the better one in Peace, Love and Misunderstanding), Fonda slips back into her old intolerant ways, but in the second season, she starts to examine them after spending time with phattie-puffing Frankie. As episode five (“The Test”) ended, Grace donates clothes to a thrift store and considers mentoring young businesswomen, like the one who puts on her Chanel jacket.
Grace travels to meet her long-lost love, but is unable to communicate with him (and that’s really sad because he was played by Sam Elliot, who seemed to prefer his rottweiler). Apparently, women are only supposed to be happy when we’re doing something for others. I feared the show would go all moral on us when Grace chastised Frankie for smoking pot while studying for her DMV exam; I won’t ruin it, but suffice to say it has an unexpectedly positive outcome. Looks like Frankie will be hooking up with her "yam man" (Ernie Hudson from "Ghostbusters"); meanwhile she's painting powerful vagina portraits.
In Bored to Death, Schwartzman plays Ames as a whiny, white-wine-sipping Jewish writer in New York who gets lost in a Raymond Carver novel after his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) leaves him (because he drinks and smokes pot too much). Jonathan hangs out with ritzy magazine publisher George (Ted Danson), who is always looking to score weed or women. Zach Galifianakis as Ray is the manchild of the show, a comic book artist whose character “Super Ray” gains his powers when his huge penis touches the third rail of the subway.
Ray does see some success, which won him an elfin kiss from Kate Micucci of Garfunkel and Oates, but generally he struggles with money, and with staying on the good side of his girlfriend Leah (Heather Burns). Jonathan falls for Stella, a pot-loving girl, played by (comedienne Jenny Slate), of whom he says, “She’s sexy, Jewish, and she has a great vaporizer.” The real Jonathan Ames, also an author obsessed with detective novels, has said he prefers pot to alcohol (because it’s more gentle).
The plot in these Bromances generally is: Men party and have adventures, and women stay home, have no fun, and nag at them. Women are mostly thrill killers, as when Mary Kay Place as Kathryn emasculates George by insisting he pee in a cup for a drug test, and then robbing him of his voice (in the form of his thumb-sucking column). It was reminiscent to me of the powerful female critic that Michael Keaton tirades against in Birdman. The exceptions here are Stella and Olympia Dukakis as Belinda, who snorts her prescription drugs with Ray. He draws a Vagina Woman as a ball buster, while Frankie's vagina painting is, shall we say, more realistic.
The guys all have nemeses (George has Oliver Platt, Jonathan has John Hodgman) that they literally fight in a boxing ring in one episode. (Ames, turns out, was once a totally ripped boxer.) They’re also needy with each other. Ray whines about feeling like he’s inside a falconer’s hood because he’s been hurt when Jonathan calls him after being locked into a bondage hood. This leads to the great line, “But I’m in an actual hood.” (You gotta love the inventive plots, and their nods to the form, as when Jonathan ends up hanging, Harold Lloyd-style, from the arms of a clock.) Pretty much every time an emotion or issue comes up, an adventure blots it out. That’s how guys like it, you know. George and Ray have a moment when they draw each other after sharing a doob; that this causes them to miss Jonathan being violently robbed turns the plot right back to the adventure.
Jonathan calls George a father figure, but George isn’t much of a father to his daughter. This situation has lead to the show’s first crisis point, after he enlists Jonathan in taking his daughter out, and she drinks and smokes pot proffered by him and his own alter ego (also named Jonathan Ames). This plot is a little like the fascinating male character study Fight Club featuring my favorite actor Edward Norton, who also played a dual character (one of whom is a pot farmer) in Leaves of Grass. Norton played one of Keaton’s alter egos in Birdman, an actor who couldn’t get it up except when on stage. Instead of doing thoughtful work like that or his Leap of Faith, Norton is now heard voicing a character in Seth Rogen’s new Sausage Party.
Not getting my girl-fun fix from either show, I’ve now started watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the Australian series (also on Netflix). Miss Fisher (Essie Davis) solves murders wearing posh flapper gear complete with cloche hat and heels, all while taking in orphans and a different lover each show, plus romancing dishy Police Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (Nathan Page).
Unlike the helpless female Jonathan rescues in his book “Blonde in the Woods,” Miss Fisher is decidedly brunette. She’s cool when hashish fudge turns up on the show, and wisely admonishes her young ward to stay away from it at a costume party (pictured). She doesn't indulge herself in the episode, but since she's having so much fun anyway, I forgive her.
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