From the golden age of Mad Men and Breaking Bad to the lesser, but no less entertaining peak TV era, there have been plenty of outstanding TV shows in recent years. But for me, even with great seasons of shows like Halt and Catch Fire, Preacher, and Broad City, there is one TV show that has consistently surprised and delighted me this year: Bojack Horseman.
An animated show about a talking horse, with feline and canine friends, seems more in line with American Dad or Family Guy than a show that comfortably sits within the pantheon of great TV. But there’s something special about Bojack, a tv show that unashamedly dives into some of the most uncomfortable parts of the human psyche. Depression, self-loathing, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, and broken homes don’t seem like the traditional fare for an animated comedy. Yet these big themes often sit alongside absurdist comedic elements such as ‘clown dentists’ providing some respite and humour in the often depressing story of Bojack’s life.
Bettered with Age
Now in its fourth season, Bojack is a TV show that has bettered with age. Unlike the big-budget gloss of Netflix’s flagship shows like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, Bojack doesn’t feel like data-driven creativity. Instead, it feels fresh. It feels like it has something original to say.
Bojack (voiced by Will Arnett) is an actor living in the Hollywoo Hills. Back in the 90s, he was the star of a famous TV show, but now he vacillates between working on big budget films and drinking full time. He’s a true tortured actor, a lonely horseman in a big expensive home.
His agent is a cat, Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris), and she too struggles with loneliness in the atomised gloss of LA. There’s Diane (Alison Brie), a journalist forced to write tweets for celebrities instead of the weighty content she’s always dreamed of. Then there’s labrador Mr Peanutbutter (Paul F. Thompkins), an excitable actor/wannabe politician who struggles with the complexities of life. Finally, there’s Todd (Aaron Paul), a penniless stoner slob who lives in Bojack’s home, sleeping on the sofa. This cast of misfits sit at the heart of the narrative and their stories are important. They’re not simply a foil for Bojack’s tale.
Real World Struggles
All of these characters have struggles, and all of these characters are detailed and well depicted. This is a show that spends time developing its characters and it leads to some truly moving moments. And by using cartoon imagery and absurdist storytelling choices, Bojack Horseman lets us explore deep and heavy human problems in a colourful and gentle way. There’s something disconcerting about a cartoon, a format that we’ve been taught to read as light and easy to watch, considering real human problems we all encounter.
For Bojack and his friends, the latest season hits hard. Themes of motherhood, loss, depression, and Alzheimers vie for the thematic centre ground. Although there is some respite with absurdist comedic elements, overall watching Bojack is a depressing and existential affair. Nothing gets better in this world and no one is happy. Instead, each character attempts to navigate the emotional pitfalls and trials that they experience as best they can. But that’s not to say there’s no hope. There are moments that remind you that life is a balancing act and although it teeters, there are times where it sits peacefully.
A Bit Like Life
Bojack is a show that alternates between outright slapstick humour and downright depressing melodrama. It’s a bit like life really. For me, Bojack Horseman is the most relatable, the most challenging, and the gentlest show on TV. The beautiful moments are truly beautiful. Just as the depressing ones are overwhelmingly so. But at the end of it all, there is hope.
Who would have thought an animated sitcom would be the most affecting show on television? Especially a show about a talking horse. With season 5 confirmed, it looks like we’re all set for another great lap.