Netflix tried to convince me to watch BoJack Horseman for a long time. And I was all “no, Netflix. Not interested.” All I knew about it was that it’s an “adult animated series,” and I’m generally NOT a fan of such things. That and the animation style weirded me out! What evolutionary track landed horses with hands?!
I started to hear some positive things, but what really got my attention was the cast: Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, and Aaron Paul. Not a bad line up. Then there was the piece of information that made me actually watch the damn thing: Paul F. Tompkins is a regular, and he plays a Golden Retriever (they say Labrador Retriever at one point in the series, but the scruffy neck is a Golden thing). This is the single most perfect casting I’ve ever heard of. And I trust him and the projects he’s in, so I was like, “what the hell? I’ll give it a shot.”
I watched the first few episodes and…I was not blown away. The easy jokes and the juvenile humor I was expecting was in full force. I was really considering just letting this one go, but I saw a few articles online talking about how about halfway through the season, the show really found its footing. So I decided to keep watching, and my God. Not only does the show find its footing, it goes into competitive show-jumping and dressage.
First off, Bojack also features the voices of Patton Oswalt, J.K. Simmons, Kristen Schaal, Lisa Kudrow, Ben Schwartz, Keegan-Michael Key, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Yvette Nicole Brown, Stanley Tucci, Aisha Tyler, and a bunch more. There’s even an excellent episode in which Daniel Radcliffe came in to play himself. Oh, and the recurring role of the self-played Margo Martindale…just…you need to watch it.
The thing is this show would, in many ways, make a great live action series. The premise is that a washed up alcoholic actor from a successful, but uninspired 90’s sitcom is commissioned to write an autobiography. And then some shit happens. But they completely take advantage of the fact that they’re using the animated medium and have animals making up the majority of the characters. Of course there’s an endless supply of puns (this mainly come from taking a famous actor and flipping an animal name onto them), but the type of animal a character is often dictates the character’s behavior, like the dog chasing the mailman (by speeding in a car), or the cat having a mouse toy on her desk at work. At first this doesn’t sound like it should be especially funny, but some of the best jokes and moments that made me laugh hardest stemmed from the animal casting.
The overall humor of the show is on point as well. Minutes into the first episode of season 3, one of the characters headed into the kitchen for breakfast and had the line “Is my name Sarah Koenig? Because I’m about to get cereal!” I had to pause the show to collect myself. Lots of podcast jokes, there are lots of podcasters working on this show.
The series still takes some cheap shots, but mostly it’s genuinely funny. Every time the show turns toward any aspect of writing, it speaks to me deeply, but in positive way that says “yeah, that procrastination thing? Everyone who’s ever written anything ever does that.”
But funny business aside, remember what I was saying about how the show could also work with real people? Well, that’s because the characters are well-rounded and feel real. They actually have character arcs and development. You feel for them and root for them to do better. And it’s frustrating when they don’t. That’s what makes it real.
BoJack’s not exactly an antihero, just an incredibly flawed protagonist. And the characters that we follow aren’t necessarily the “good guys.” At one point in the last season, one of the antagonists comments to another how he hopes they don’t fail, and his colleague assures him they can’t because they’re the good guys. And it made me pause. Not so much because the antagonists saw themselves as good guys and honestly thought they were in the right, we see that all the time in TV. It was because, if you were to observe the actions and behavior of the characters from a more objective viewpoint, BoJack and co.? Not so good. Maybe you could go so far as saying they’re bad. But they don’t want to be. They want to be better. That’s the distinction.
It deals with real issues: alcoholism, drug dependency, depression, death, abortion, the media circus, the harmful effects of being a celebrity, abusive parenting, the trauma of romantic relationships, the trauma of sexual relationships, the list goes on and on. Sometimes in those moments it’s not so funny, because the show actually has something to say. And sometimes in those moments it is funny, because if we can’t laugh at these things they’ll swallow us up. I honestly believe that comedy is the best shot we have at saving the world.
Near the end of season 3 a really tragic thing happens (I won’t say what, I don’t want to spoil it), and the finale is a combination of how the characters are all dealing with that thing, while weaving in a pay-off to a running gag that they had been prepping for ALL season. The balance of emotions is breathtaking.
The third season was just released on Netflix last weekend, and a 4th season has already been confirmed. I urge you all to watch it from the beginning, sit for those first few episodes (they’re setting everything up), and let the genius shine through. BoJack Horseman is the smartest dumb show you’ll ever see because, shh, come here. I’ll tell you a secret: it isn’t really dumb at all.
And of course PFT got that Mr. Peanutbutter suit made for real. Majestic bastard: