February 22nd, 2018

Cow of Pain, Polter-Cow of Pain

BoJack Horseman? More Like Animal Far!

Back in the nineties, BoJack Horseman was on a famous TV show. The show? Horsin' Around. The role? Horse. Twenty years later, he's all washed up.

BoJack Horseman is about an anthropomorphic horse who lives in a world filled with similarly anthropomorphic animals, and somehow it's one of the most brilliant television shows airing right now.

On the surface, BoJack Horseman appears to be a simple Hollywood satire centered on a horse version of Rick Sanchez. BoJack is a drunk asshole who verbally abuses his dimwitted roommate, Todd (human). His ever-persistent agent, Princess Carolyn (cat), tries to help his career by hiring a ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (human), to write a book about him. Diane starts dating Bojack's old "pal"/professional rival, the happy-go-lucky Mr. Peanutbutter (dog). None of this sounds particularly compelling on paper, but Raphael Bob-Waksberg takes these characters on rich emotional journeys through the course of the series, with each character trying to discover what they truly want out of life and how they can get it...and how they deal with their constant failure to get it.

Also the show is full of so many animal puns, visual gags, callbacks, and running gags you can't possibly catch them all on a first viewing. This is the wonderful dichotomy of BoJack Horseman and the fact that it balances this tonal mishmash so well is a testament to the skills of everyone involved. Even in a devastating flashback episode, you'll have some cute metahumor about flashback episodes, that's the kind of show this is. I love how unabashedly silly the show can be, and I love the show's obsession with rhyming and alliteration. There is a monologue in season four that strings together twenty-three rhymes in fifty-two words, and Amy Sedaris nails that tongue twister just like she nailed an earlier sentence with seven rhymes in eleven words. There's such a love of wordplay and language on display, not to mention a dedication to running gags I haven't seen since Arrested Development.

BoJack Horseman tackles lots of serious topics and goes to some very dark places, and it's able to deliver gut-punches so effectively because the animated format—and the absurdity inherent in the premise of this world—lulls you into a false sense of security. There's one standout sequence in the penultimate episode of the first season, but after that, the show regularly gets creative with animation styles and narrative formats. The first half of the first season is just okay, but the second half reveals what the show can do, and then it keeps doing that. The storytelling is excellent on both an episode level and a season level, with strong seasonal stories with emotional payoffs, some brutal and some hopeful and some a bit of both. What's truly astounding is that for a show where more than half the main characters are animals, it's deeply human.