Anghus Houvouras reviews the first season of BoJack Horseman…
Netflix has created such an interesting paradigm. Binge watching has become everyone’s favorite buzz phrase. Releasing an entire season of a show all at once used to seem daunting (to me anyway). Television had always been a weekly medium. You watch a variety of hours or half-hours, then process the episode over the next week while waiting for the next installment. The concept of instant gratification in entertainment is still relatively new. Like all relics I found myself incredulous to new technologies and was only capable of slowly dipping my toes into the water.
Netflix has released a lot of original shows but it seems that everything that isn’t House of Cards or Orange is the New Black receives little attention in the media. You’ll be hard pressed to find a lot of words dedicated to Lillyhammer, Hemlock Grove, or Bad Samaritans. Netflix’s newest offering is an animated series featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Alison Brie (Community), Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) called BoJack Horseman, and I’ll cut to chase right away.
BoJack Horseman is the best animated series on television.
Sure, it sounds like hyperbole, but it’s true. A lot of the credit goes to the benefits of binge watching. First off, I had no expectations. There wasn’t a lot of hype or a deluge of 30 second spots promoting the show. Everything I knew about the show came from a scrolling graphic on Netflix home screen. Without expectations there is little chance of disappointment. Second, BoJack Horseman is one of the few comedy animated series that has a continuing story line that goes from one episode to the next. Most animated shows these days place their characters through a variety of insane shenanigans before hitting the reset button at the end of every episode. Shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy bend reality, travel through time and space, but by the start of the next episode the status quo has been restored. BoJack Horseman is telling a more complex story, though it still indulges in the traditional comedy bag of tricks. The combination creates a show that is both darkly funny and emotionally poignant.
BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) exists in a surreal reality where people and animals inhabit the same society. BoJack himself is half man/half horse who was once a sitcom star back in the 90’s. The past 20 years haven’t been very kind to BoJack who is very much in denial about his faltering career. He’s a textbook narcicist who spends his free time watching reruns of his old show Horsin’ Around, stuck in an infinite loop of loneliness and pining for a career that no longer exists.
He’s surrounded by a variety of Hollywood stereotypes. There’s the live in roommate/drug addict Todd (Aaron Paul), the career minded Agent/Ex-Girlfriend Princess (Amy Sedaris), and the celebrity nemesis Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins). BoJack gets a second chance at fame when a low rent publishing company hires a ghost writer to finish his biography. Diane (Alison Brie) is your typical elitist hipster who is both fascinated and horrified by BoJack’s antics. Eventually their business arrangement builds to a friendship, and potentially something more.
What surprised me the most about BoJack Horseman was how well-developed the characters were. There is a real attempt being made at developing the cast into something more than a one-note joke. These are three-dimensional characters, even more wholly developed than a great deal of live action shows being made. It feels surprising because so many animated shows inhibit character development in favor of satire or easy jokes. That’s not to say BoJack Horseman isn’t funny. There’s some wonderfully dark and subversive jokes delivered at a rapid fire pace deftly maneuvering between highbrow and lowbrow comedy.
Netflix continues to impress with its original programming. While BoJack Horseman might not be the flashiest or most heralded show, it stands among the most entertaining and most original. The balance between drama and comedy makes it unique in the animated landscape and far more rewarding.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.