A Horse of a Different Color: “Bojack Horseman” Series Review

Bojack Horseman (or the Sad-Horse Show, as I call it) is a weird-as-hell adult animated television program about the washed-up star of a popular 90’s sitcom called Horsin’ Around. He’s a humanoid horse, he’s voiced by Will Arnett, he’s mega depressed, and he’s trying desperately to remain relevant. He lives in a colorful depiction of ‘Hollywoo’ surrounded by a cast comprised of fellow animal-human hybrids and regular old humans alike. Another fun fact about the Sad-Horse Show is that it’s my favorite television show of all-time.

 

I have a pretty short attention span when it comes to TV. Which is a bit odd, because the other day, I got home from school and watched four movies in a row. How can I have the attention span to watch eight-ish hours of movies, but not to pop in a few episodes of a series? I think it has something to do with repetition and accomplishment. When I watch a motion picture, it takes around two hours. And in those two hours, I experience the entirety of what the filmmakers wanted to say. I have gotten a grasp of that director’s style, discovered what I like and don’t like in a screenplay, and had a grand ol’ time doing it. TV is different. If movies are a shot glass of entertainment, most TV is like an IV drip. It’s slow, it’s repetitive, and it’s much less exciting to me. I understand that this is a stupid dumb way of looking at things, but this reasoning has kept me from finishing a good many shows. But there are some shows that pick me up, give me a slap, spit in my face, and say “TV’s pretty dope, and you dumb as hell!” Some examples of past assailants are Watchmen, Barry, Gravity Falls, Party Down, Over the Garden Wall, and Breaking Bad. But none of them have given me a beat down like the Sad-Horse has.

One thing that makes Bojack so engaging to me is the abundance of themes. While most shows and movies have one or two themes, Bojack has a billion. Potential, blame, redemption, sexism, representation, addiction, individualism, I could go on forever! And throughout the six seasons, these ideas are intertwined with each other in such a way that it never feels stale and it always has something to say. It always knows when to move on and when to focus in on something. Season Three is focused on the idea of “role models”. Who they should be, what their responsibilities are, and the consequences a bad one can bring. But themes of family, consumerism, art vs business, and more are riddled throughout, making the season not a one-trick-pony. And these themes aren’t just ‘moral of the weeks’ that are solved within the episode. (Like the sitcoms the show often mocks.) There are things in the first season that, in any other adult cartoon show, would be laughed off and forgotten about by the next episode. Not Bojack. That is another one of my favorite things about this show: it NEVER forgets. Things that happen in season one are still crucial in season six. Characters hold grudges, and their actions have real consequences. It is consistently impressive, and it creates a world and a cast of characters that are more fleshed out and complex than any show starring humanoid animals has any right to be.

But saying that that is exclusively due to it’s clever callbacks is doing a great disservice to the fantastic writing this show has. The dialogue is quick, clever, and realistic, and it aids in the creation of distinct and memorable characters that are able to portray very specific emotions and ideas that I’ve never seen executed on this level before. I have never seen depression portrayed so accurately than in the episode “Stupid Piece of Shit”. And I have never related to a character like I did with Diane in the episode “Good Damage”. And no piece of media has made my heart drop as low as it did at the end of the episode “That’s Too Much, Man!”. The show does this time and time again, and it always feels effortless, and it always blows me away.

But this show isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as I’m making it out to be. It’s also a very funny show. The soul-crushing moments and existential themes are juxtaposed with a barrage of animal puns and insane shenanigans. It also features some of the most piercing satire I’ve ever seen. Saying that it ‘pokes fun’ at a lot of things would be a ginormous understatement. It doesn’t poke, it stabs. And it’s ballsy. I mean, the second episode of the show is called “Bojack Hates the Troops”! It tackles the most important issues in Hollywood today, but it does it fairly, and without bias. It doesn’t treat these topics as a box to check off, it presents interesting and unique perspectives that force you to consider both sides. It would be a lot easier to parade one answer as correct, but Bojack Horseman is smart enough to show us the whole picture, all rough edges included, and trust the viewers to decide where they stand. 

If you find yourself persuaded by my illustrious word talk, and you decide to give the show a shot, there is a chance you will be unimpressed by the first few episodes. The first season is weaker than the rest, and it doesn’t really show you it’s cards until it’s eighth episode. These episodes are still entertaining, but they are nothing compared to the episodes after the show gets its footing. You might not guess it from the wacko premise and strange art style, but Bojack Horseman is a beautiful and profound show that, at times, feels like visual poetry. It is haunting, it is funny, and its hope in humanity is all the more inspiring because it remains intact through all the sadness and joy the show portrays.

I think Bojack Horseman is something really special, and I feel confident calling it my favorite TV show.

It’s on Netflix, so give it a shot if it sounds like something you’d dig.

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