Recurring Cast: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins
It’s tough competition out there for a cartoon. The Simpsons have been dominating the family cartoon market for longer than anyone can remember and there are plenty of options for viewers who like their cartoons more adult (Rick and Morty, Family Guy, South Park…). Therefore, when Netflix threw their contender, BoJack Horseman, into the ring, they needed to do some serious legwork to stay afloat.
BoJack Horseman’s answer to the problem of an over-saturated market is to move away from the family angle that most comedies cling to (perhaps this is where the fact that the main character made his living starring in a family sitcom comes from), and focus on the crazy world of Hollywood. We are thrown into a strange hybrid world, where humans and animals are all equals and no one ever views this as peculiar. The show rarely brings up the personified animals and instead focuses on the antics of a washed-up actor, BoJack Horseman, and his vain grasp at celebrity and being worshipped. There are two very important decisions from the creators here that help fuel BoJack’s strongest ace in the hole. Both the Hollywood setting and the use of animal characters work as strong sources of gags, meaning that the show never feels that it needs to work too hard at landing a joke. The benefit of this is that we are able to avoid the usual adult cartoon habit of being overtly offensive. While BoJack Horseman feels like it is a risqué piece of comedy by having its stories revolve around drugs and sex, sometimes dragging controversial issues such as the Troops or cancer into the mix, it is rarely insulting anyone. In today’s world, where Family Guy thrives off of the backlash of some of its tasteless content, it is surprisingly refreshing to have BoJack show rare restraint in this area. A lot of the time, the discussion of topics such as soldiers or cancer is not trying to ridicule the subjects in themselves, but mocking the world’s, the character’s and the media’s opinions of them. If anyone had the right to be offended, it is the media, as the main sources of BoJack’s observational humour. Even when insulting specific individuals, the show tries their best to be inclusive of the gags. Naomi Watts has an episode where the actress is mocked (she is desperately seeking a vapid two-dimensional love interest character, because Hollywood isn’t making enough of those roles), BoJack actually gets Naomi Watts to come in and play the part. It feels like a gentle toying with conventions, rather than being a show out there to cause gasps. On top of that, the show has more than enough material, so it doesn’t feel like an – excuse the pun – one trick pony. The animal jokes are well thought out, small background details that earn small, intelligent chuckles from the audience. Penguin Publishings is owned by a group of neurotic penguins. A cow waitress glares at the customers who order steak. BoJack Horseman is bursting with humour and it means that the show never feels like it is going stale.
The other main difference between BoJack and the majority of animated shows out there is that there is a solid plot connecting the series, rather than the action being strictly episodic. It means that as well as being funny BoJack has a three-dimensional feel to it, like its worth tuning into. Family Guy is a show that can be picked up in any order, when bored on a Friday. As typical with anything Netflix, BoJack is the kind of series that will be binged in a single sitting, when the addiction takes place. This season is mainly introducing BoJack and the players in his world. He is a washed-up TV star, clinging to a fame that isn’t quite there. Will Arnett has found a comfortable job in BoJack Horseman where both his dry comic delivery is used with precision, but he is also allowed to fall back onto some more dramatic acting that some of his other roles haven’t quite been able to offer. This season sees him hire a ghost-writer to help him write an autobiography which will hopefully kickstart his career. However, with hiring this ghost-writer, played with bright energy by Alison Brie, he is forced to examine his own life, something which he may not be comfortable with. While the episodes each have their own theme and mini-arc (BoJack reunites with his child actor co-star, BoJack tries to break up a wedding), in the background, the character of BoJack and certain sub-plots are slowly building momentum, resulting in a final few episodes that are surprisingly dark, gripping and meaty. The ending, where BoJack begins falling down a rabbit hole, is something that will either have you reaching for the safe comfort of a Simpsons episode or falling in love with BoJack for life. But it isn’t even the story that connects the episodes. One of the small, yet amazingly thoughtful, things that this series does is make its small gags matter. A joke in an episode of American Dad would be swept under the carpet by the time the next episode crops up. Here, the gags have a lasting impression on the show. BoJack gets drunk and steals the D from the Hollywood sign. That D remains missing for the entire show. Cameos are brought back up in intelligent and amusing ways. This may be a cartoon, but it is one that screams more intelligence than most of the other instalments in the genre.
Final Verdict: On the surface, BoJack is yet another funny cartoon show. But scratch a bit deeper and you find an intelligent, observational comedy series.