Ok, so admittedly, the set-up for Bojack may seem slightly niche. The show follows its namesake, Bojack Horseman, the former star of a popular 90s sitcom called Horsing Around. With his best years clearly behind him, Bojack spends his time desperately seeking public validation and trying fill the gaping void inside his soul.
Throughout his doomed mission to find happiness, Bojack is joined by a long suffering cast of characters who he frequently abuses, neglects and generally mistreats. Theirs his exasperated agent and sometime girlfriend, Princess Carolyn (a pink cat). Hanger on Todd (voiced by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), a 20-something slacker who serves as Bojack’s personal assistant, verbal punch bag and only real friend. He endures a love/hate relationship with his biographer Diane Nguyen (voiced by Alison Brie), a frustrated writer, and her gratingly upbeat husband Mr. Peanut Butter (a Labrador). In the second series he also has a new love interest in the shape of Wanda Pierce, an owl who heads a television network (played by Friends’s Lisa Kudrow).
I didn’t really know what to expect when I watched the debut series last year. But having watched every episode, I have to say that I think Bojack might be one of the best animated shows to come out of America since South Park. Big talk I know.
Bojack is very funny. Will Arnett plays the troubled horse perfectly, bringing a mixture of jaded cynicism, arrogance and painful vulnerability that make Bojack such a great anti-hero. Bojack is clearly an arsehole. He resents others success. He lashes out at the people around him and has a compulsive need for attention that leads him to make terrible decisions. He frequently embarks on misguided attempts to restart his career or impress those around him which inevitably go terribly wrong.
One of the funniest running gags of the first series is Bojack’s agent’s Princess Carolyn’s relationship with a “man” named Vincent Adultman. Vincent is quite obviously three young boys under a trench coat disguised as a grown man but apparently, Bojack is the only person aware of this. This sort of surreal humour runs throughout the show.
But what makes the show stand out is the unexpected bitter-sweet, heartfelt tone it occasionally strikes. When it follows Bojack’s assorted zany adventures and failures the shows is entertaining but the most memorable scenes are the ones not played for laughs.
Underneath the jokes, Bojack is essentially a tragic figure. He longs for happiness but seems doomed to repeat the same self-harming actions. At times in the show his tendency to sabotage himself is painful to watch. As he ruins yet another relationship, it’s genuinely sad. Perhaps the greatest compliment of Bojack as a show is that it makes you feel sorry for a cartoon horse.
Bojack’s life is a mess of regrets and missed opportunities. It never becomes depressing but the show does have a dark side that explores the turmoil of someone simultaneously chasing and running away from happiness. It mixes just the right amount of humour in and manages not to overdo it and go into mawkish sentimentality. This is the real strength of the show and what separates it from the ‘adult’ cartoon genre. It’s an easy watch but also has something deeper to say about human nature.
The acting is great as well. Aaron Paul plays Todd just the right side of lovably dumb without dropping into unintentionally annoying. Will Arnett is perfect as Bojack because he can carry both of the character’s sides so well. When the character takes a more serious turn it doesn’t feel forced. The other characters have their own identities and struggles as well which helps immerse you in their world. Bojack is the main focus, but the others have plenty of their own issues to deal with.
Another show about a miserable celebrity living a life that on the surface seems appealing but in reality is empty isn’t the most original idea. We’re all familiar with the negative side to fame behind the illusion from numerous shows and films. What stops Bojack dipping into cliche is its weirdness. The use of animals as main characters is never explained and helps create its own universe. The show’s just self aware enough and different enough to stay fresh.
Both series are available now on Netflix.
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