BoJack Horseman Season One Review
More man than a horse
Netflix has yet another original hit on their hands in the form of an animated, adult alternative comedy series. Netflix’s format of collecting customer data and putting that information toward building a series viewers will enjoy hardly seems like a secret formula. While not every Netflix program receives the amount of awards as both seasons of “House of Cards,” a single Netflix series has yet to receive the pink slip. In fact, Netflix stepped in to revive two series cancelled by major networks with “Arrested Development” and “The Killing.” After releasing follow-up seasons to “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Hemlock Grove,” and “Lilyhammer” in the last twelve months, Netflix finally released something new in “BoJack Horseman.”
Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, “Arrested Development”) headlines an all-star voice cast as the titular protagonist, former 1990s sitcom actor and horse, BoJack Horseman. Arnett’s signature voice lends itself perfectly to BoJack’s selfish, destructive personality, reminding viewers of his characters from Mitch Hurwitz’s shows “Arrested Development” and “Running Wilde,” butwith more success and awareness. Despite BoJack’s depressing attempts to hold on to the past and rampant alcoholism, Arnett makes the former star of “Horsin’ Around” a likeable protagonist. It isn’t as difficult as you’d expect it is to root for BoJack because his problems are somewhat relatable despite the fact that he’s a talking horse. A lead serving as the best part of watching a show typically indicates a successful future in the works. Arnett’s voice should sound particularly familiar to the alternative comedy crowd, resting among the ranks of voice acting icon H. Jon Benjamin (“Archer,” “Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil”). Few actors deliver clever writing well, and Arnett does it in both on- and off-screen capacities.
The supporting cast boasts recognizable names as well. Aaron Paul (Need For Speed, “Breaking Bad”) voices Todd, BoJack’s lazy, stoner roommate with a heart of gold who perpetually cheers “Hooray!” Amy Sedaris (“Strangers with Candy,” Jennifer’s Body) provides the voice for BoJack’s agent, reluctant on-and-off girlfriend, and house cat, Princess Caroline. Stand-up comic Paul F. Tompkins serves as the voice of BoJack’s personal and professional rival, Mr. Peanutbutter—a dog who starred on a similarly-themed family sitcom. Alison Brie (“Community,” “Mad Men”) rounds out the principle cast as a human named Diane Nguyen, BoJack’s ghost writer and crush, but also Mr. Peanutbutter’ s girlfriend. Each cast member hits their notes flawlessly, proving each and every actor/ actress was perfectly cast in their respective role.
The guest voices range all over the place. Legendary stand-up comic Patton Oswalt (Young Adult, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) provides many delightful voices throughout the first season for humans and animals alike. Oswalt may as well be one of the regular cast. Actresses Margo Martindale (August Osage County, “Justified”) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible, J. Edgar) voice comedic versions of themselves. Even talking head Keith Olbermann voices a news anchor for MSNBSea. Other famous actors and actresses pop in to lend their talents as well: Stanley Tucci, Anjelica Huston, Kristen Schaal, Wendie Malick, Melissa Leo, John Krasinski, J.K. Simmons, and Ken Jeong. Hipster-folk group GROUPLOVE provides the theme played over the end credits.
Most of the jokes are skewering social commentary and background antics. Most of the lines coming out of Diane may as well have come out of a moment when Liz Lemon stopped to talk directly into the camera on “30 Rock” and BoJack often mumbles a humorous line in the background to himself reminiscent of Sterling Archer on “Archer.” At the core, “BoJack Horseman” will largely impress viewers who favor clever writing and pop culture references, often offering both simultaneously. Social commentary gets explored often in the show, particularly Los Angeles celebrity living. The 1990s were a rough standard for sitcom dads like Tim Allen, Bob Saget, Alan Thicke, Patrick Duffy, etc. and BoJack Horseman is certainly not exempt, holding on to the glory days of his program, “Horsin’ Around.” BoJack hasn’t fallen on difficult financial woes, but he still has trouble finding worthwhile work as an actor because the public won’t forget his old role. The protagonist’s problem lies in the fact that he can’t forget his glory days either and has delusions about their modern-day effect on his life. This plot should serve as depressing territory, but the clever writing and anthropomorphic jokes remind the viewer there’s nothing to take seriously here.
The distinctive humor in the show is the anthropomorphism of just about every critter in the animal kingdom and how the animal nature in some characters comes out after a uniquely human moment. BoJack whinnies, Princess Caroline scratches a post, a walrus gets about in the most disgusting, awkward fashion, a sloth for a lawyer takes forever to question a witness, and there’s even a spider character named Quentin Tarantulino that directs movies. The joking on animals gives the show an element of welcome innocent humor—never entirely reliant on crude humor. Patton Oswalt’s Neal McBeal the Navy seal, for example.
The animation and premise both remind viewers of Comedy Central’s former program “Ugly Americans” which featured a Manhattan where all matter of creatures and nightmares walked the streets and lived among human beings as equals. Animals’ role in society seems to be equal to people. A shared history even gets hinted at when references to past events get a new interpretation, such as Secretariat getting interviewed in a suit on a talk show following a victory. However, viewers should be more familiar with animal idiosyncrasies than, say, idiosyncrasies belonging to a zombie or a demon from “Ugly Americans.” This all said, humans aren’t left out of the humor. “BoJack Horseman” also delights itself in picking apart 90s sitcom scenarios and corrupting them. For example, Todd must pick between which prison gang to join and the sequence plays out as if he’s trying to entertain two separate prom dates.
“BoJack Horseman” plays out as a clever pastiche of pop culture references in familiar territory, but never disappoints. If the new Netflix original series weren’t on Netflix, it isn’t hard to imagine seeing BoJack appear in an Adult Swim lineup, Comedy Central, or on FXX. Animated, adult alternative comedy has taken an exponential leap in recent years and the series looks to gain a similar cult following in the weeks to come. Netflix’s first animated program is a late-night comedy that will hopefully warrant similar-type programs to give the streaming service a comedic lineup of its own.