“Brooklyn is exciting!” magazine editor George Christopher – played by Ted Dansen – playfully tells author Jonathan Ames as they head into a publicity event in Greenpoint during the fourth episode of the new HBO series Bored To Death. “It’s the new Manhattan! I may have to move to Brooklyn.”
“If Brooklyn is the new Manhattan, what’s the new Manhattan?” replies Mr. Ames, played by Jason Schwartzman. Both men are clearly stoned.
“Manhattan is the new Queens,” Mr. Christopher replies without irony.
The show is centered on the life of the author Mr. Ames – almost a Brooklynian Jerry Seinfeld – who struggles to write a second novel in Brooklyn while getting by on reporting for Mr. Christopher’s glossy Manhattan magazine by day, while also taking on cases as a pseudo private detective via Craigslist.
New York has many realities, but it is the juxtaposition of Brooklyn and Manhattan that has now reached television screens across the nation. The discrepancy between the day to day realities of living in Brooklyn and Manhattan portrayed in Bored to Death often seesaws between the ideal and the real and neither borough has a grip on either. The show succeeds most in its depiction of the nebulous path Mr. Ames treads between real life and self-obsession and gratification.
However, a heavy gripe with the show, and other new shows that have been centered in bohemian Brooklyn, is that it portrays a very white, male, gentrified Brooklyn, with black characters dotting the background landscape in Brooklyn, and rarely Manhattan. That portrayal misrepresents the diversity of Brooklyn to the rest of the country who might have just made their introduction to the borough as part of a new urban consciousness.
Despite this, Mr. Ames dutifully represents his own version of a Brooklynite: smart, creative, though professionally lax and seemingly immature and without much income. Mr. Christopher represents Manhattan, the hardworking sell-out, who despite his success in business longs to be uniquely creative like Mr. Ames – to effortlessly intuit Brooklyn’s youthful glow.
Mr. Ames’ more youthful – read immature – companion is Ray Hueston, played by Zach Galifianakis, a man-boy archetype who draws comic books for a living and is consistently admonished by his new age-y Park Slope girlfriend. He represents Mr. Ames’ Brooklyn existence, who is constantly striking a balance between Ray and Mr. Christopher – though viewers increasingly become aware of the similarities, not the differences, between these three men.
In that vein, on the show’s fourth episode – scheduled to debut on October 11 – Mr. Ames confronts menacing teenagers from Park Slope as foes, while trying to balance the aforementioned professional appearance in Greenpoint with Mr. Christopher, who is after a career-driven woman 30 years his junior. Without providing any spoilers, we’ll just say it doesn’t quite work out when the two worlds collide. For Mr. Ames, who travels between his world and Mr. Christopher’s, the implication is: don’t bring your Manhattan ego home to our borough, or we’ll crush it.
Mr. Ames’ ability to move between these worlds arises in his wardrobe as he frequents between the two realities. Cordoroy casual is the staple for trouncing through the streets of Park Slope; yet Brooks Brothers and Burberry enter the picture should he sit down to expensive cocktails at happy hour with Mr. Christopher.
Brooklyn hence, becomes perceived as a younger, less professional sibling to its grown up counterpart; Manhattanites who don’t understand the Brooklyn way of life, shut it out entirely. Others exploit it; Mr. Christopher does all of these things, but also envies it, along with the young women with whom Mr. Ames crosses paths.
“Are you a man or a boy?” an underaged St. Ann’s student asks Mr. Ames ahead of their departure together from a fancy Manhattan party.
“What’s the difference?” Mr. Ames replies.
“With a man you feel like you’re being taken and you like it,” she remarks. “And with a boy you feel like they are stealing something from you and you don’t like it.”
Pretty heavy for a 16 year old, but perhaps on point for St. Ann’s students. In this scene, Manhattan and Brooklyn seem like easy stand-ins for men and boys, representing Mr. Ames’ constant struggle between what is right and what is good, what is success and what is failure. The standards for each borough, and each reality, are incredibly disparate, and the protagonist constantly oscillates between the two.
But more than anything, Mr. Ames seems to struggle with his own ability to mature – to achieve what Manhattan has – and in Bored to Death, Brooklyn does too, and probably for the best.