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New season: HBO's Bored to Death chronicles misadventures of a limp dick

One and a Half Men: Jason, George and Ray of Bored to Death.

Premiering: Sunday, Sept 20th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Zach Galifianakis, Olivia Thirlby
Created by: Jonathan Ames

The title begs for a snappy, disdainful retort, but HBO's Bored to Death probably is preferable to Really Stinko, How Bad Can It Be? or I Hate Good Reviews.

So to be fair -- and to resist being Gene Shalit -- Bored to Death is not a surefire cure for insomnia. Nor is it much of an upper. Created by Jonathan Ames (whose previous works include the graphic novel The Alcoholic), it's the at times amusing tale of two super-nebbishes and an aging, Viagra-dependent Lothario. All together they have less luck with women than a sturdy cucumber.

Jason Schwartzman takes the lead as a supposedly fictional sendup of Jonathan Ames. He's an acknowledged "self-hating Jew" whose live-in girlfriend, Suzanne (Olivia Thirlby), is leaving him in the first scene of Sunday's premiere.

Unable to finish his second novel, Jason spends most of his time smoking pot, drinking white wine and commiserating with best pal Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis from The Hangover), a hapless comic book illustrator kept on a short leash by his needy girlfriend, Leah (Heather Burns).

The third wheel is Jonathan's nominal boss, magazine editor George Christopher (Ted Danson). He can't maintain an erection or keep a woman anymore, at least not under his own power. And Jonathan is his pimp when it comes to pot.

So where's the action? Well, Jonathan has read so many crime novels, lately Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely, that he impulsively fancies himself a private detective. A young woman looking for her missing sister answers his ad in Craig's List, putting him on the scent and prompting a comedy of errors.

There are moments when Bored to Death works. And even if there weren't, you'd be roused from any slumber by possibly the loudest and most realistic cell phone rings in TV history.

It is funny, though, watching Jonathan choke down a shot of whiskey in a seedy bar while pursuing a lead. And in Episode 2, a previously unscaled height of absurdity is conquered when Danson's character, George, suddenly develops a big herpes blister on his lip. He demands that Jonathan punch him in the mouth to camouflage it. But Jonathan worries about contracting herpes on his hand, leading George to outfit him with a pair of yellow rubber cleaning gloves. You don't get that kind of comedy in just any old thing.

In that episode, Jonathan also accompanies Ray after his girlfriend orders him to get a colonic. A seemingly gay doctor promises a safe passage in a segment that's never more than sophomoric.

In the annals of super-pathetic, sub-inept TV characters, Jonathan Ames comes pretty close to topping the field. Add his best friend and his boss and you have perhaps a sum total of one-and-a-half men. Part of the problem with Bored to Death is the urge to slap these guys silly rather than laugh at or with them.

On the other hand, Inspector Clouseau and any of Woody Allen's characters would find this very empowering. Compared to these guys, they're all Superman.

GRADE: B-minus

Also of note this Sunday: Curb Your Enthusiasm returns at 8 p.m. (central) for its seventh season. But the action won't really pick up until Episode 3 (Oct. 4), when the show's Seinfeld reunion storyline begins taking shape. Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards are all in the mix from that episode on. So we'll get back to you with more details when that date draws near.