“Bojack Horseman” is possibly the greatest adult cartoon show ever made.
Netflix’s animated comedy is one of the funniest shows I have ever seen, with a series of excellent and endlessly quotable jokes in every episode. It is the rare comedic show that has no flops, and each episode has at least one joke that really hits home. But that is not why the show is great.
What makes “Bojack Horseman” the show it is is how empty and depressing it is. The main character, the eponymous Bojack Horseman, serves as probably the most realistic and nuanced depiction of depression in animated history.
It gets dark. It gets depressing. It also gets riotously funny. It’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” combined with “King of the Hill” in all the best ways.
The titular Horseman, voiced by Will Arnett, is a washed up actor who was on a very famous sitcom in the ‘90s called “Horsin’ Around.” Since his success decades ago, he has become bitter, self-loathing, jaded and cruel, having become disillusioned with the glitz and glamor of Hollywood (or “Hollywoo,” as it is called for most of the series). He tries throughout the series to move forward with his life and career, caught in an emotional purgatory between his desire for a better future and his tendency toward stagnancy and living in the past, exhibited by his habit of watching endless reruns of “Horsin’ Around”. Every time he takes a step forward, he sabotages himself and ends up in a deeper hole emotionally than he began. He regularly ruins important relationships in his life even as he struggles to do right by his friends. He is a very contradictory character, often working against his own interests.
His self destructive episodes are the true heart and soul of the show. “Bojack Horseman” isn’t a typical sitcom, where issues are neatly wrapped up within the episode. There is no status quo, no neat happy ending. Bojack and his friends need to deal with the consequences of every one of their actions and mistakes. Series-long relationships get ruined, heartfelt apologies are rejected and objects broken in a drunken party stay broken. As do the people.
Arnett turns in a true master-class performance. Although it may sound cliché, his delivery of every heartbreaking line ranges from harsh to depressing to harrowing to emptying, even as he makes you laugh with excellent timing and a deadpan for the ages. But by far his finest moment is toward the end of the series as released so far. In episode 35, Bojack speaks at an AA meeting, and Arnett, who has made no secret about his struggles with alcoholism, delivers a very raw performance in that scene that can only come from someone who has been to the same places that Bojack had been to.
Language is something that the writers of “Bojack Horseman” take very seriously, and every line is well thought out and effectively implemented for the biggest impact. In the greatest gimmick in the entire show, the “f” word is used only three times, each in moments of extreme emotional distress, when Bojack has irreparably ruined a relationship in his life. The restraint this decision shows helps to make these moments feel harsh, special and more impactful than a similar scene in, say, “South Park,” where the language is a bit less considered.
Each of the dynamic and entertaining cast has their own sad, funny and fully realized arcs and relationships. Some episodes are carried entirely by the strength of the supporting cast. A parade of broken people with good hearts fill out the cast, with Amy Sederis as Princess Caroline, Bojack’s agent and on-again-off-again lover, Aaron Paul as Bojack’s long term houseguest Todd Chavez, and Paul F. Tompkins as Bojack’s longtime frenemy, and the most entertaining character in the show, Mr. Peanutbutter.
Netflix has released three seasons, or 36 episodes, of the series so far, with a fourth season in the works. Each season conclusion ends on a moment of great emotional rawness and profundity, and the latest season was no exception. “Bojack Horseman” defies genre and categorization, plumbing the depths of the human soul while taking adult animation in America to new heights.