By Devon Shuman, Senior Staff Writer
The concept of a show about a horse named Bojack Horseman living among humans and other anthropomorphic animals is surprising. What's even more surprising is how good that show is.
On the surface, "Bojack Horseman" appears to be nothing more than a cartoon, a genre that is plagued by the stigma of being silly and childish. Despite its unique medium, "Bojack" often packs more drama and character development into a single episode than many live action shows manage in entire 22 episode seasons.
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the animated Netflix show follows the story of Bojack Horseman (Will Arnett). Back in the 90's, Bojack starred in a "Full House"-esque family sitcom, "Horsin' Around," but now he's washed up. He's an alcoholic with his fair share of other drug problems and he's wasting away his days up in Hollywood Hills trying to ignore how much he hates himself (see, not your everyday cartoon). In an effort to revitalize his career and his happiness, Bojack decides to write a book about his life. But, what he finds is that his irresponsible lifestyle tends to get in the way of any actual writing.
Accompanying Bojack is Todd (Aaron Paul), the lazy guy with wacky ideas living on Bojack's couch, and Diane Nguyen (Allison Brie), the quiet and progressive-thinking ghost writer hired to help him with his book. There is also Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris), a cat who is his agent and on-and-off girlfriend, and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), an overly friendly dog who starred on a similar sitcom in the 90s but now enjoys a much more lucrative career than Bojack. Additionally, in the second season we are introduced to Wanda Pierce (Lisa Kudrow), an owl who has just woken up from decades in a coma.
Part of what makes "Bojack" so great is the secondary characters. Bojack is often the most sane and relatable of the bunch, but Bob-Waksberg doesn't simply reduce the others to mere side roles. Every minor character on the show enjoys their own story arc and many episodes even step back from Bojack's story to focus on the others.
The true highlight of the show, however, is still Bojack. Despite being a horse, Bojack is an incredibly real character. Dispelling the myth that money buys happiness, Bojack in all his wealth and privilege can't seem to find a way to enjoy life.
"Sometimes I feel like I was born with a leak," he says. "And any goodness I started with just slowly spilled out of me, and now it's all gone. And I'll never get it back in me."
Battling self-pity, addiction and regret, Bojack is ultimately on an existentialist search for meaning.
The show is not completely depressing as the deeper meaning might suggest. In fact, one of its defining qualities is its successful balance of drama and comedy. Every episode is packed to the brim with jokes, both blatant and subtle. Bob-Waksberg mines a lot of clever humor from his anthropomorphic universe, such as Mr. Peanutbutter's dog-like need to make friends with everyone he meets, or the bird in the background in Boston who is wearing a Larry Bird jersey. You will be able to pick up on new jokes every time you re-watch an episode.
Bob-Waksberg also uses his humor as a means of social commentary. Throughout the first two seasons, he has managed to tackle everything from media sensationalism to homophobia to America's obsession with reality television. For a show about a cartoon horse, "Bojack Horseman" has a lot to say about the real world.
The show is not perfect. There are several episodes, especially early on, in which the humor sways more toward silly than witty. It makes up for it, however, with storytelling and character development that is unrivaled in the world of animation, and fairly tough to beat in the world of television in general. Bojack is broken, pathetic at times, but, as viewers, it's hard not to see a piece of ourselves in him. He's on a quest for closure that he ultimately realizes doesn't exist. Despite being filled with all sorts of different animals, "Bojack Horseman" is utterly and beautifully human.
The first two seasons of Bojack Horseman are available to stream on Netflix.