Back in the nineties, BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) was the star of a network sitcom called “Horsin’ Around,” a whacky “ Full House ” like series about a bachelor raising orphaned kids. Since then, he’s become a famous has-been, marinating in self-pity.
BoJack lives in his Hollywood home with Todd (played by Aaron Paul), a friend of his. The show co-stars Alison Brie, as Diane Nguyen a Ghost Writer for BoJack’s memoirs; Paul F. Tompkins, as Mr. Peanutbutter, a rival of BoJack who has the same background as him; and Amy Sedaris as his Agent/ex-Girlfriend Princess Carolyn.
From the top, it looks like yet another adult animated alt-comedy meta-sitcom with no real plot. But it starts to develop into something more and turned out to be one of the wisest, most emotionally ambitious and spectacularly goofy series on television.
Infact, it seems poised to claim the title of the smartest comedy on television. That triumph feels all the more significant considering its creatively exhausted premise : following the trials and tribulations of a former star trying to burnish his faded celebrity in Los Angeles.
One of the show’s constant story arc is Bojack dealing with depression. BoJack’s funny and smart, but he’s also unbelievably lonely.. so lonely that he sabotages his sort-of-assistant Todd’s career so he won’t be able to leave his side. And then winds up being abrasive, cruel and damaging to Todd again, sometimes on purpose.. but not always.
Alienation of self is a classic manifestation of depression! And not that clichéd, fake-ass TV depression of just laying on the couch for an afternoon. The real, life-altering, is-this-who-I-am kind. This is so rarely articulated or portrayed on TV in any way; somehow a cartoon horse dude is teaching us about ourselves…
He knows the hourglass is running out even as he denies it with age inappropriate boozing and womanizing. He fills the hole where his heart should be with venal ambition, only to find that he is repeatedly disappointed. Despite his clear privilege, nothing is enough and enough is nothing. If BoJack were in a 12-step program, he would be stuck at Step 1: admitting that his life is unmanageable and that he is powerless to do anything about it.
In a way, the show is sympathetic to BoJack’s depression and the sources of his pain, but it doesn’t glamorize his solipsism as a special sensitivity either.
The show is also unafraid to take on bold digressions into topics like abortion, or the industry’s systemic racism and sexism. When domestic physical and emotional abuse (and a child’s need for escapism) was expressed in this wordless scene. And when every season finale it descends into utter bleakness, as the careful plotting of each character’s neuroses builds into a epic disaster.
The show has always had a built-in risk, as effective as BoJack is as a character, he runs in circles. BoJack’s life is a formula, one that he feels desperate to correct. He’s ashamed of who he is, attempts to become creative or feel love, and then inevitably binges, betrays a loved one, and runs away, realizing that it’s impossible to truly repair the damage. Then back to shame.
In the same way, repetition is the signature of sitcoms, too ; it’s their curse as well as their biggest power…. !!
As depressing and serious as the shows ultimate arc really is, the absurdist icing that comes from immersion in this world where anthropomorphic animals are taken for granted helps make this bitter pill an enjoyable meal.
BoJack’s humor is not for the faint of heart at times. His anger and frustration often comes through as cruelty. There are jokes about the Holocaust, the 9/11 attacks and Afghanistan. In one episode, BoJack tells someone to “get cancer,” and spoiler alert… the guy eventually does !!
It’s one of the most aggressive portraits of depression I think I’ve ever seen. Look past the anthropomorphic animal characters and the satire of toxic celebrity culture : This show is radically sad. And you’ll love it 😛 🙂
And lastly, one of the best opening themes for a show in recent times… !!