Because I live in Brooklyn and I like books, it's been hard to escape the name Jonathan Ames, but I haven't, admittedly, read him. His popularity among a certain set of people has triggered the contrarian in me and I gracefully skirt his work in bookstores and magazines alike. You see, Ames is the kind of person who, the Village Voice tells me, does delightfully irreverent New York things like attend charity events of which he can say, "It's to raise money for Chihuahuas." He names his protagonists after himself. If you've caught my drift, this is the kind of writer who I worry is so well-regarded because he represents a certain kind of trendy New York existence in which everyone nurtures a delightful hip Zooey-Deschanel-esque quirk so that they may safely inhabit a world without regard to responsibility or the dreary business of doing things that are true or meaningful. Or, um, wage-earning.
Someday I shall have to test this prejudice of mine out by reading his books, obviously. For now, HBO has obliged me in delivering a version of Jonathan Ames (penned by Jonathan Ames and called, of course, Jonathan Ames) in thirty-minute morsels (called Bored to Death) to confirm my prejudices. While I've only watched the one episode - which aired last night on HBO but which you can get from OnDemand or, I believe, as a free podcast on iTunes - thus far it has done nothing to alleviate my concern.
I can more or less sum up what this series is about in less than fifteen words: Immature Novelist inexplicably masquerades as detective, pines after Responsible Woman. That's it, ladies, the artsy dude you dated in your twenties when you thought it would be nice to be with someone creative and then you realized he sort of thought of you as a second mom who would save him from his inability to wash his own socks Because He Is An Artist And Still A Boy? If you're really dying to relive that portion of your life you may tune in Sunday nights on HBO.
You will be treated to a dysfunctional Ames (Jason Schwartzman, why, why?), who has just been abandoned by his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby, who I want to like but who better watch out for this Deschanel-in-training role). His heavy pot habit is what broke up the relationship, it seems, and his good friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) concurs that Woman Are A Problem since he is not having sex (horrors) with his. We are meant to divine from lingering shots of a cover of a Raymond Chandler novel that Ames thinks he would make a good detective and he puts an ad on craigslist. Cue bumbling that is not so much adorable as it is self-indulgent, and he discovers a woman tied up in a cheap hotel by her menacing-looking boyfriend. Hilarity ensues, unbelievably - because, you, see, we're supposed to think that this show is Too Smart for believability - and the show seems rather unclear on whether this is a consensual situation because we're told the woman broke up with the guy but then she walks off with him and hey aren't crazy women just like that? They say they want to break up with you but then they enjoy being tied to the bed!
You've heard enough, I imagine, to understand that the show is staggering under the weight of the writer's affection for his alter ego and his antics. Because despite the oh-so-Brooklyn tone of the whole thing, the show lacks that final element of irony in which there is some hint that the thing you're watching really means to say something else. Obviously it's a bit early, but one gets no impression that the right things are being ridiculed; at the end of the show Ray's girlfriend forgives him for no reason whatsoever, and Ames concludes his bumbling a success even though it landed him in jail.
The self-regard of this particular variety of artist dude is, I suppose, par for the course. It takes chutzpah to make good art, because there is an act of faith involved in trusting yourself to do something someone will actually want to look at, listen to, watch or read. And in a way I wish more women possessed this kind of chutzpah, because I want to see us getting to do some of these things. I want to see our series on HBO.
But what I want to know - because I suspect this show might be a sleeper hit - is why this kind of self-indulgence is so addictive to the modern dude. (Most of the women I know hate it, but feel free to correct me if my sample is flawed.) How many times am I going to have to hear how great this revelry in childish behaviour and juvenile antics is, just the prerogative of the creative man? How many times are they going to claim this is great imaginative work? Is this really what they think of us, of the world, as a gigantic joke in which the ladies are here to save them from themselves (but not really, because the quirk is cool) and enable their being Children At Heart? If it is, I'm starting a commune on some tropical island. All you who have been wounded by this sort of behavior are welcome to join us.