The unceasingly silly “BoJack Horseman” is one of TV’s best shows
This Netflix original is both hilarious and evocative exploration of fame and depression.
Jul. 28, 2016
On July 22, Netflix released the third season of “BoJack Horseman,” an adult cartoon that stars a depressed, alcoholic horse who talks and acts like a human. As ridiculous as it may sound, this animated series is one of the best shows on television.
For those who are unfamiliar, “BoJack Horseman” occurs in a world where anthropomorphic animals — animals that act like humans — coexist with humans as peers. In this universe, some of our own celebrities like Andrew Garfield and Daniel Radcliffe are depicted as humans. But others are reimagined as animals, such as Quentin Tarantulino and Llama Del Rey.
Just as the description suggests, “BoJack Horseman” can be undeniably dumb at times. After all, one episode hinges on Walt Disney’s misspelling of Disneyland and another episode exhibits the business idea of a Halloween store that is open exclusively in January (how fiendishly drove). Even the characters are cartoonishly absurd. One recurring character named Vincent Adultman is, as BoJack describes, “very obviously three kids stacked on top of each other under a trench coat.”
In fact, the show is almost brilliantly stupid. Similar to other adult cartoons like “Family Guy” or “South Park,” this animated sitcom consistently hurls its characters into uniquely ridiculous scenarios. But “BoJack Horseman” is more than a collection of zany misadventures.
Where the humor in other comedies has become fairly predictable, as in the many cutaways of “Family Guy” that end with a foreseeable punchline, this Netflix original subverts viewers’ expectations of jokes. Some are clever but simple wordplays and puns; others are riffs on common sayings like, “Fool me once, shame on you. But teach a man to fool me, and I will be fooled for the rest of my life.”
“BoJack Horseman” is also a comical and insightful satire of Hollywood culture. Often spoofing E! Entertainment, network television game shows and ‘90s sitcoms, this animated series exposes the mindlessness of these and other programs.
However, “BoJack Horseman” is more than a collection of zany misadventures, clever puns and cultural satire. It’s also a brilliant drama, exploring dark themes like fame, loneliness, depression and the impossibility of happiness.
Set in Hollywood (or Hollywoo), the show follows the titular antihero, BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), the washed-up star of a ‘90s sitcom comparable to “Full House.” Roughly 20 years after his show’s cancellation, BoJack aims to get his career back on track, hoping to reclaim the fame and respect that he once garnered.
The rest of the characters and plots stem from this premise, as BoJack and those around him seek success and happiness. Although they could easily become caricatures and stereotypes, the main cast are fully rounded and developed characters, each with their own arc. Ultimately, they explore deeper questions than almost any show on television.
Certainly, this show runs the risk of being a tonal nightmare, as both a flamboyant comedy and a dark drama. But “BoJack Horseman” actually sticks the landing as a dark comedy that understands when it’s OK to laugh and when the show should push emotional buttons. In fact, the contrasting tones strike such a great balance that they actually heighten the impact of the other.
Central to its effectiveness, from uproarious highs to poignant lows, are the team of talents and minds behind “BoJack Horseman.” Between main characters, recurring side characters and those with brief cameos, every voice actor hits every mark required of them, whether it be a well-delivered joke or an evocative sentiment. Likewise, the show’s team of filmmakers — including but not limited to writers, animators and musical composers — render the on-screen presentation as an incredibly human world, despite its premise.
During the show’s eleventh episode, the character Diane says, “BoJack, when people find out that someone like you who seems larger than life is actually just as wounded and vulnerable as they are, it makes them feel less lonely.” Moments later, a joke is dropped as another character shouts about the repo men coming to take his printers.
These two statements exemplify “BoJack Horseman” in a nutshell. One is incredibly dramatic; the next is hilarious.
While many viewers will enjoy the jokes with true laughter, others will be moved by its emotional center and maybe even feel less lonely. And that is what makes the Netflix original “BoJack Horseman” one of the best television shows out there.