The Best Animated Series-es of 2014: Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman - working hard to look stupid.

Bojack Horseman works hard to present itself as stupider than it is. Its sarcastic humor, frequent cutaways, Hollywood mockery, and furry-convention-appropriate anthropomorphic animal characters all combine to give it the feeling of an Adult Swim-reject, a show for late-night stoners to vaguely pay attention to while consuming an x-tra large cheesy bread order. It’s easy to watch the first few episodes and dismiss the show as exactly that1Which largely explains the show’s mixed critical reception..

Bojack as a child

The Netflix release model encourages shows meant to be consumed in a single sitting, which can be both an asset and a hurdle. Bojack Horseman basically requires that you watch at least four or five episodes to penetrate its shallow exterior and reach its cynical, yet surprisingly powerful heart2You could even call it… a Trojan Horse of a show?. It’s actually about the inconclusive existential journey of the titular Horseman, a washed up sitcom actor voiced soulfully by Will Arnett, a story delivered with an outlook and comedic sense worthy of Samuel Beckett. The show comes by its absurdism honestly; for every animal gag like “Cameron Crow-e” (actually a raven), there is a moment of both philosophical exploration and character-driven pathos3Exhibit A: Mr. Peanutbutter, the show’s most optimistic character, sums up his outlook as “The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”4Exhibit B: The show’s recently released “Christmas Episode” turns on a dime from cheesy 80s sitcom tropes into a exploration of the problem of evil, with Santa Claus standing in for an absentee God..

In its penultimate episode, “Downer Ending”, the show reaches its apotheosis. Bojack, unable to cope with the reality of the life he has led, tries to rewrite his own biography (symbolically and literally). In the process, he takes so many drugs that he descends into an unfiltered glimpse of his own psyche, complete with nightmarish visions, fantastically animated deconstruction, and an idyllic vision of an alternate life, followed immediately by the crushing realization of the illusory nature of that vision. The refusal to stop at the expected epiphanic moment is telling. This is a show that, whenever it reaches what seems to be an conclusive emotional point for any of its characters, keeps seeking a deeper truth in their flawed natures. Like The Sopranos, Bojack Horseman stunningly renders the drain that each character is circling5I would draw special attention to Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Bojack’s agent. While she seems to be the most competent and composed member of the cast, the episode devoted to her is unsparingly brutal, and gut-wrenchingly human (if that can be said of the struggles of a pink cartoon cat/human hybrid [and I believe it can])., exploring diverse shades of depression, stagnation, and failure.

All of this may make it sound like a very dour show, and at times it can be. But in among the unflinching bleakness, it’s also terribly funny, from note-perfect 80s parody and pastiche (like the sweater and mullet Bojack wears in his sitcom flashbacks) to pure absurdity (I don’t have space here to explain the comic perfection of Vincent Adultman, but it’s worth it to find out for yourself). Its this successful marriage between comedy and unsparing darkness that makes Bojack Horseman one of my top picks of the year.

Next on the 2014 animated countdown: A comedy about eternal recurrence… in space, baby.

   [ + ]

1. Which largely explains the show’s mixed critical reception.
2. You could even call it… a Trojan Horse of a show?
3. Exhibit A: Mr. Peanutbutter, the show’s most optimistic character, sums up his outlook as “The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”
4. Exhibit B: The show’s recently released “Christmas Episode” turns on a dime from cheesy 80s sitcom tropes into a exploration of the problem of evil, with Santa Claus standing in for an absentee God.
5. I would draw special attention to Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Bojack’s agent. While she seems to be the most competent and composed member of the cast, the episode devoted to her is unsparingly brutal, and gut-wrenchingly human (if that can be said of the struggles of a pink cartoon cat/human hybrid [and I believe it can]).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>