Reviews: Bojack Horseman

You are everything that\'s wrong with you

Okay, lets get the one thing about this show that I really don't like off my chest. The animation sucks, but it doesn't suck so bad that it's obviously meant to be part of the joke. This isn't Stylistic Suck like South Park, it's just the sort of Flash-style animation that we've come to associate with cheap, zero-effort shows. The only exception to this are the Mushroom Samba sequences, which is where the animation usually jumps up a few notches.

That's pretty much the only negative thing I can say about the show. It's brilliant, and it deserves far better animation than it's currently getting.

On the surface it seems like another dumb "adult" cartoon in the same mould as Family Guy featuring a main character that looks rather like that tired old rubber horse mask internet meme moaning about his First World Problems and being generally shitty to his friends. It takes a few episodes to realise that this show is very very different from those for one very important reason: All those terrible actions that characters like Peter Griffon indulge in? Here, they have very real consequences. It might take several episodes or even seasons for those consequences to become apparent, but they will come out in the end. Forget Status Quo Is God here, there is nothing that stays the same for long here. Because of this we can see that many of the characters are the architects of their own misery, because the shitty things they do always come back to haunt them sooner or later.

Another thing that sets this show aside from the ones it superficially resembles is that its characters are layered and complex, not just archetypes. The horse guy feels far more real and deep than many flesh-and-blood characters.

There are a few episodes that miss the mark, most notable amongst them is the literal Fish Out Of Water, but even though I don't like it I can at least say it failed because the crew working on the show were brave enough to attempt something very different. I can at least appreciate the effort of a brave failure.

This is a must-watch if you have Netflix. The first episodes are pretty funny if a little generic, but its when the consequences start to kick in that you will really start to understand what this show is really about.

One of the best TV shows out there, animated or otherwise.

Bojack Horseman is a strange show. It is strange because on paper, this show should not be anywhere near as good as it is. A show about a self-absorbed horse-man actor in a world inhabited by animal people, that's both an absurdist wacky comedy and an extremely dark and unflinchingly honest character drama? Such a premise would be a hard sell in most circles, and honestly feels like it should fall flat on its face.

But...that is exactly what Bojack Horseman is, and it goes beyond executing that premise merely competently, it excels at it in a way that seems so effortless in practice, but upon reflection, feels more like the writers just cast some sort of black magic to make the impossible possible. This is a show that will create extremely silly scenarios involving clown dentists and spaghetti strainers in one moment, and in the same episode surprise its audience and deliver powerful, sobering emotional truths about life, love, and the human condition and go to places most works will not dare tread. This is not a show that feels comfortable delivering unearned platitudes and pretending everything will always be ok in the end. In fact, it calls into the question the idea that there ever really is such a thing as a "happy ending", or that there's one singular thing that will make everyone's lives feel complete.

Perhaps the most notable achievement of the show, besides its seemingly impossible balance of comedy and drama, is its main character, the eponymous Bojack Horseman. It is no exaggeration to say that he might be the most complex and compelling protagonist of any western cartoon to date; he is a character that can instill many kinds of conflicting emotions, from sympathy, understanding, and even admiration, to pity, frustration, disgust or even hatred. In fact, so powerful a character he is that the audience may relate to him, not in SPITE of his terribleness, but BECAUSE the terribleness inside of him speaks to the ugliness inside us all. If Bojack Horseman can ultimately overcome his flaws and become the person he wants to be, there is hope for us all.

He is essentially the Tony Soprano of his medium, the kind of well-drawn, complex anti-hero that adult animation has been desperately seeking for years.

The show is not perfect; its animation can sometimes be creative and well-utilized, but is undeniably crude and simplistic. Some of the show's political episodes provide insightful and truthful commentary, but others feel confused as to what message they are trying to send. A few plotlines (currently) are left hanging, and the show's comedy isn't always laugh out loud funny.

But honestly, it almost doesn't matter. This cartoon is not merely GOOD, it's easily up there with the likes of the best live-action TV dramas in its well-realized characters, compelling storylines, and willingness to explore the human condition. Highly recommended.

Surprisingly, it may be the best cartoon out right now

You probably didn't think much of this show when you saw ads for it on Netflix and Youtube. Maybe you watched a couple of episodes and wrote it off as just another adult animated sitcom. You could be forgiven for this. You would also be wrong.

What first seems like a stale bunch of cutaway gags and too on-the-nose topical satire gradually morphs into what turns out to be not just a hilarious comedy (which draws off of both LA celebrity culture and animal-related gags), but a powerful character-driven drama exploring its surprisingly complex protagonist. It's difficult to say what it is that makes him so compelling in the short time space without giving spoilers; his desperation to be loved, combined with his inability to let others in; his self-pitying wallowing as he watches old episodes of his tv show; his attempts to try to make things work out like they would in a tv show; and his inability to admit the truth to himself.

After two seasons I can safely say that it's not just an excellent cartoon, but one of the best cartoons (or even shows in general) that I've ever seen. The writing is excellent, balancing humor and drama without being to the detriment of either while exploring well-rounded and compelling characters, and the voice work deserves special mention. Will Arnett's performance as Bojack should have gotten him at least an Emmy nomination. The rest of the voice cast is also excellent, with a special mention to be made for Aaron Paul, who voices Todd, Bojack's slacker.. well, "roommate" isn't quite the word, and Amy Sedaris, who voices Bojack's agent, Princess Carolyn.

In a medium that's saturated with shows that seem to be knock-offs of either South Park, Family Guy, or Ren & Stimpy, Bojack Horseman stands out as something fairly unique in its category: a character-driven piece that is one hell of a depressing comedy.

So give the show a shot. It might not seem like much at first, but around halfway through the first season it really starts to hit its stride. Episode 11 of season 1, "Downer Ending," isn't just a great episode in the series; it's one of the best episodes I've seen of anything in a long time.
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