VAULT is a weekly review series run by Ansel Wakamatsu (that’s me!). I’ll be checking out music, film and television, whether they be new releases or old favourites.
This is Part 1 of a two-part review about the Netflix original show BoJack Horseman. This review will give the low-down on the show; no spoilers, and perfect for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet! Part 2 will arrive soon (in podcast form!!!), and will cover the new season which aired on July 22nd. Enjoy!
My favourite genre is the “sad straight white dudes who are successful/intelligent but are still crushed by the weight of their self-hatred/ennui/depression/alcoholism” genre. Notable works in this category include Mad Men, Breaking Bad, American Beauty, both Louis C.K. and Bo Burnham's Netflix specials, Adaptation, Birdman, Lost In Translation, and the list goes on. So when I discovered BoJack Horseman, an animated Netflix series about a standoffish, cynical, washed-up 90s sitcom actor who attempts to keep himself afloat in a sea of mid-life malaise, I knew it would be a home-run.
BoJack Horseman is titled off the eponymous protagonist who, as you probably guessed, is a horse. An anthropomorphic horse, voiced by Will Arnett, to be precise. In fact, many of the characters inhabiting this world are humanoid animals. The main ensemble consists of Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris), a purple cat who doubles as BoJack’s agent and ex-girlfriend, and Mr Peanutbutter (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins), a happy-go-lucky golden labrador who charismatically pursues any silly show-biz idea which pops into his mind. BoJack’s also has two human satellites; Diane Nguyen (voiced by Allison Brie) and Todd Chavez (voiced by Aaron Paul). The former is Mr Peanutbutter’s girlfriend and Bojack’s biographer, whilst the latter acts as an aimless, if not charming, slacker who lives at BoJack’s spacious bachelor pad rent-free. They all live cushy lives in the Hollywood Hills, with nothing but inner demons and broken pasts to haunt them in their sleep.
Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg takes advantage of the Netflix format and builds a long form narrative which has now expanded to three seasons. The show takes pot-shots at Hollywood, tabloid media, and celebrity culture, and consistently delivers intelligent, funny, and progressive satire. The comedy is super witty, sometimes obscure, absurd, and pop culture sensitive. Think Rick and Morty, or maybe Community. It is a truly zany show, with enough rapid-fire animal puns and Easter egg gags to give Bob’s Burgers a run for their money. Ancillary characters include FKA Pigs (pig), Quentin Tarantulino (tarantula), Cameron Crowe (crow), and Daniel Radcliffe (a massive asshole, metaphorically speaking). Mr Peanutbutter gets pulled over by policecat MeowMeow Fuzzyface for chasing down a mailman in his luxury car. Princess Carolyn falls in love with a guy who is actually three toddlers stacked on top of each other in a trench coat. But incredibly, the strongest part of this show is not its comedy, but its more dramatic elements.
This show can get ~real sad~. Other adjectives include: striking, moving, profound, downright gut-wrenching. A number of publications have drawn comparisons to Mad Men (including this great Vox article by one of my fav critics, Todd VanDerWerff, and I’ll have to hoist myself up onto that bandwagon. Both shows feature a cynical anti-hero who is a bad man trying to become better. Both shows operate as character studies, examining problems like the elusiveness of happiness and the nature of loneliness. Shitty parents and past regrets haunt both protagonists, often rendering them unable to accept the love which is offered to them. Instead both BoJack and Don draw people into their web, and close friends and family become casualties to self-destructive behaviour. When things get tough, they flee, usually in the form of an impromptu road trip. Also both shows have an incredibly similar opening sequence. It is BoJack Horseman’s ‘seriousness’ which has prompted Netflix to mount a season three marketing campaign, promoting the show as the streaming service’s “critical darling” and utilising quotes such as “emotionally hardcore”, “a nuanced meditation on depression”, and “an empathetic portrait of middle-aged melancholy” on various teasers and trailers. This show ain’t no sitcom where life restarts every 22 minutes. It’s darkness is unrelenting.
Addendum: Something must also be said about the fantastic voice work on the show. Will Arnett and Alison Brie deliver some of the strongest performances of their careers to date, and Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, and Paul F. Tompkins bring three-dimensions to the two-dimensional illustrations exquisitely crafted by art director and production designer Lisa Hanawalt and her team. Furthermore, BoJack Horseman features an impressive guest list; Patton Oswalt, Kristen Schaal, J.K. Simmons (his best voice work role since playing Cave Johnson in Portal 2), Keegan-Michael Key, Stephen Colbert all make cameos - and that’s just season one!
Verdict: BoJack Horseman is haunting, sincere, depressing, hilarious, thought-provoking, weird, sharp, and very worthwhile. Go watch it.
Ansel is a second-year undergrad studying Communication (Media Arts & Production and Creative Writing) and International Studies (Japan). He likes Piña Coladas, getting caught in the rain, the feel of the ocean, the taste of champagne, making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape, so if I’m the love you’ve looked for, lets plan our escape [guitar solo].
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