Everyone’s favourite fucked-up horseman is back. Angela Barnes explains how watching this bleak existential comedy is a deep dark night of the soul that also exercises the chuckle muscles.
BoJack Horseman is one of the things that Netflix was made for. A brilliant animated series from showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg, designed by phenomenal illustrator (who I am determined to be friends with) Lisa Hanawalt.
At its bottom line, BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) is about a washed up, middle-aged, alcoholic, depressive comedy actor. So far, so American sitcom. It has the tone of Curb Your Enthusiasm with the look of Archer and the sublime ‘say what?’ surreality of Arrested Development.
But BoJack is a horseman, a horse/man. A sort of back-to front centaur: horse’s head on a man’s body. Not that this is relevant at all. His otherness is never mentioned. After all, his agent and ex-girlfriend is a pink cat called Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his publisher is an actual penguin (Patton Oswalt) and his love rival/nemesis is an enthusiastic labrador retriever called Mr Peanutbutter (Paul F Tompkins). (And yes, well noted, the voice cast list is RIDICULOUSLY good).
BoJack was the star of Horsin’ Around, a 90s sitcom about a horse (natch) who takes in three orphaned children, a sitcom in the stylistic vein of My Two Dads, Married With Children, Blossom – you get the idea. Of course, the younger stars of Horsin’ Around have their own issues now, especially the Lindsay Lohan-channelling youngest brat Sarah Lynn.
But what of BoJack? He had his moment in the sun, but now, he just has his Californian mansion, a lot of whisky and a freeloading waster of a housemate called Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) to show for it. And it isn’t enough. Because he craves what everybody who ever tasted the limelight craves: relevance.
“Yeah, it’s a cartoon, yeah it’s a comedy, but it is swimming in pathos and has much to say about the human condition, about the difficulty of ageing in a world that desires only youth, about trying to meet gender expectations, about anxiety, and, most of all, about crushing depression.”
Season one of BoJack hangs on the conceit that a ghostwriter called Diane (think Daria from off of the 90s all grown up, voiced by the excellent Alison Brie), has been brought in to write BoJack’s tell-all autobiography in an attempt to reignite his career in our celebrity-obsessed world.
It’s through this framework we get to see the real BoJack who, like many male protagonists we have grown to love, is distinctly unlikeable. A kind of Larry David/David Brent/Krusty The Klown hybrid. He is arrogant, mean, cruel and a raving misogynist. Yet, somehow – somehow – you are right behind him.
Yeah, it’s a cartoon, yeah it’s a comedy, but it is swimming in pathos and has much to say about the human condition, about the difficulty of ageing in a world that desires only youth, about trying to meet gender expectations, about anxiety, and, most of all, about crushing depression. It explores unrequited love, abusive childhoods, alcoholism… Oh, ignore me wanking on about depth and poeticism, because, the most important thing is, it is really bloody funny.
If you can’t see the hilarity in a business woman having a relationship with someone that she (and everybody except BoJack) believes is an enigmatic gentleman called Vincent Adultman, but who is actually three children standing on each others’ shoulders underneath a trench coat, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.
BoJack falls in love with his biographer Diane – of course – but – also of course – she has a relationship with and eventually marries his biggest rival, Mr Peanutbutter.
In season two, BoJack gets his big shot, the chance to play his hero, racehorse Secretariat in a biopic of the same name. For a while it looks like the comeback deal could be sealed… No spoilers here.
And just when you think it can’t get any more absurd, Lisa Kudrow turns up as a TV executive who has woken up from a 30-year coma. She’s an owl.
I am so excited for season three, I might do a burst. BoJack Horseman is the best animated anthropomorphic dramatic comedy on our screens. Oh God, is it season three time yet? Is it?
It is! Season three is out on Netflix today.
Read our interview with lead illustrator and all-round top bird Lisa Hanawalt here.
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Angela Barnes is an award-winning standup comedian. She is sometimes on TV and the radio and is often in a comedy club near you. @AngelaBarnes