Imagine the typical ’90s family sitcom: a lovable, sweater-wearing single father of three adorable children, who teaches those children important values like family, loyalty and honesty.
Now imagine that, after nine seasons of being the hottest show of the decade, the sitcom is canceled, the child stars become forgotten drug addicts and the amiable father character never gets another big role.
This is the story of BoJack Horseman.
BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is the washed-up, has-been star of the ’90s hit “Horsin’ Around.” He lives in a “Hollywoo” mansion and does nothing but sit around, get drunk and watch episodes of his old show again and again with Todd (Aaron Paul), a slacker who lives on BoJack’s couch.
Oh, and BoJack Horseman is also a literal horse-man.
Netflix’s newest animated original show, “BoJack Horseman,” puts humans and anthropomorphic animals side-by-side — Penguin Books is run by actual penguins, Navy SEALs are actual seals, and there’s BoJack’s feline agent and on-again-off-again girlfriend, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), whose office’s hold music is a song from the Broadway musical “Cats.”
BoJack wants to make a comeback to social relevancy by writing a tell-all memoir. The only problem is, he is awful at writing (and, really, responsibility in general). Frustrated, the penguin publishers hire a ghostwriter, Diane (Alison Brie), to whom he dictates his life.
The jokes of “BoJack Horseman” come at you fast, much like Arnett’s previous comedy “Arrested Development.” Whether it’s spoofing Beyoncé lyrics, making fun of broadcast journalism (MSNBSea, in place of MSNBC, complete with a whale as an anchor) or one of the many, many animal puns, you’ll miss a joke or two or five if you blink. Each time you watch, you’ll catch a gag that slipped past you before. There’s even a Buzzfeed article “136 Hidden Jokes You Probably Missed On ‘BoJack Horseman.’”
But be warned. While astonishingly clever and smart, “BoJack Horseman” is also unabashedly crude. There are jokes about Afghanistan, the World Trade Center attacks and the Holocaust. There’s a pop song called “Prickly Muffin,” and a former child star who is heavily addicted to drugs. One episode is titled “BoJack Hates the Troops.” In another episode, BoJack tells someone “Get cancer, jerkwad,” and — spoiler alert — he eventually does.
Watch at your own risk.
But underneath the banter and cringe-worthy jokes, there is a darkness to BoJack. He is sad, self-loathing and terrified of being alone. Despite the tough, uncaring façade he has built for himself, BoJack isn’t the jerk he first seems to be. He’s relatable.
BoJack is lonely. He falls in love with the girlfriend of his lifelong frenemy, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), an obnoxious golden retriever of below-average intelligence. He is dissatisfied with his life, and wishes he had chosen a different path without “Horsin’ Around.” His parents abused him, and his childhood hero, Secretariat, committed suicide. In a column, Vulture named “BoJack Horseman” the “funniest show about depression ever.”
As the season develops, the laughs don’t stop, but the underlying ideas and concepts become heavier. BoJack, who is notorious for his public social missteps and substance abuse, finds himself asking: “Am I a good person?”
It’s not only BoJack who is facing hardships. His ghostwriter Diane worries she isn’t making a difference with her work. His agent Princess Carolyn realizes the only thing she has in her life is her job. His TV daughter Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) struggles to come to terms that her time in the spotlight has ended as she’s gotten older.
I watched the entire first season of “BoJack Horseman” in one afternoon. Since that day, I’ve sporadically watched episodes two or three more times. On some level, I think we can all relate to the show. Maybe not the whole “I’m not socially relevant anymore so I’m going to turn to hard drugs,” or the “My life is ruined because my hit TV show was canceled,” aspect, but the longing for connections with other people, wanting to be a “good” person and having the fear that your life is passing you by and you’re not doing the things you want.
As Diane says on the season finale, “That’s the problem with life. Either you know what you want, and you don’t get what you want; or you get what you want, and then you don’t know what you want.”
It’s not just another stupid animated comedy.
Read it on the MOVE website here.