Comparisons of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman to Mad Men are apt. At its heart, the show is about the illusive nature of happiness, how accruing the money, success, fame, accolades, and sex, the things that you want, that you think you want, or that you think you’re supposed to want, does not guarantee contentment. Also like Mad Men, the show’s central figure is his own worst enemy, a boozy masochist who cannot help but torpedo his own success and personal relationships; he’s a son-of-a-bitch who you can’t help but root for. Unlike, Mad Men, BoJack Horseman is really, truly hilarious.
The first season of BoJack Horseman was concerned with its titular hero (voiced again by Will Arnett) looking to make his comeback, to once again be relevant; season two was about BoJack getting his chance to make said comeback and whether or not he would sabotage that opportunity; now, in the show’s superb third season, BoJack is again on top, or near the top, and must contend with the notion that renewed success is not the answer to his myriad problems. BoJack wants to be loved and liked and, unfortunately, he may not have the personality for either. He continually sets fire to his relationships with those closest to him, even those with his ever-loyal houseguest Todd (Aaron Paul) and his staunchest ally, his agent Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris). At one point in the season BoJack’s new publicist Ana Spanikopita (Angela Bassett) suggests that BoJack “fetishizes his sadness,” and while he may resist the analysis, it is hard to deny; BoJack is a creature of self-pity and self-loathing, and it makes it impossible for others to love him, even while he keeps the audience rooting for him.
As with previous seasons, season three also sees BoJack Horseman’s supporting cast working through a number of personal issues, most of them unrelated to their issues with BoJack. Todd, still trying to find career in which to invest his considerable energy, has reunited with a former flame who must contend with his complicated feelings about sex; Princess Carolyn, like BoJack, is beginning to realize that continued professional success may not be the path to personal happiness; Diane (Alison Brie) is understandably dissatisfied with her job creating tweets and Instagram captions for celebrities, and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) has his previously indefatigable optimism challenged by a family member’s illness while the two of them work through the issues in their marriage raised by Diane’s time hiding at BoJack’s house at the end of last season. Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his writing staff, as they did in season two, wisely afford considerable screen-time to the supporting cast, the show has become remarkably rich and boasts more sophisticated characterization than an animated comedy with a cast of mostly anthropomorphic animals has a right to expect.
Those with an aversion to the dark may, understandably, shy away from BoJack Horseman. It is often dark, very dark, but it is never nihilistic. It is not a spoiler to say that this season ends on a small note of hope, even as BoJack is at his lowest. That may be the thesis statement for BoJack Horseman, that as long as there is life there is hope.
The above description may make it sound as though BoJack Horseman is not incredibly fun, but that would not be an accurate assessment of the program. For all its existential angst, it’s funny as hell. Bob-Waksburg and company are as deft with gallows humor as they are with a so-dumb-it’s-brilliant pun, which is to say they are extremely deft. The outlandishness of the world allows for wall-to-wall visual jokes, and prevents the shifts between hilarity and pathos from being tonally jarring. BoJack Horseman is both sarcastic and sincere and is expert at both. The cast delivers brilliant vocal performances, starting from the top with Arnett, but the MVP’s are Brie and Tompkins who, in addition to their lead characters, lend their voices to a great number of BoJack Horseman’s minor characters.
BoJack Horseman is as close to a perfect show as can be currently found. Its characters are subtly textured and hilarious, its writing is both broadly and incisively funny, and its visually style, while decidedly low-fi, is frequently gorgeous. The show has a lot on its mind, not the least of which is making its audience laugh. It succeeds. Right now, BoJack Horseman is the best show on television, or “television.”
Creator: Raphael Bob-Waksburg
Starring: Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul, Paul F. Tompkins
Animated 30 Minute Comedy