The Bristling Brilliance Of Netflix's "BoJack Horseman": The Pitch Perfect Use Of Wit in Meta Social Commentary
Think of all the unlikely premises and permutations of stories that have been shot down by major TV executives or, at the worst, were cancelled well before they were really given the chance to ferment and blossom. Shows like "Pushing Daisies", Joss Whedon's now cult-followed TV show "Firefly", the too brief but brilliant "Terminator" franchise tie-in "Sarah Connor Chronicles" were cut off at the umbilical for issues that amounted to ratings and not for the quality of programming. Similarly, what about "Southland", "Dead Like Me", or the Gabriel Byrne starrer "In Treatment", for instance? Many entertainment sins have been committed when these programs were axed and, sadly, paved the way for shows that wound up overstaying their welcome. Need I remind everyone the bludgeoning that was forced upon us in these programs later seasons - "Dexter", "Heroes", "True Blood" and, currently, "American Horror Story" and the truly well-worn and interminably resuscitated UK sensation "Doctor Who". In what amounts to some of the most witty, hypercritical and immensely articulate shows to come around in quite some time - "BoJack Horseman", the story of an anthropomorphic, washed up, former sitcom star horse whose quest for questionable redemption after a series of major career-deadening pratfalls leaves him faded and out-of-date with modern entertainment is the show the entertainment world needs right now. It is astonishingly urgent, impeccably timed, and takes not only comedy but social commentary to new and previously unexplored heights.
At first, the mere ideology of this show raises more than a few eyebrows particularly because there's been a rabid uptick in shows (typically sci-fi) that get their mileage out of "alternate/parallel universe" central plot devices. The list is innumerable, but among the leaders of the landscape include CW's "The Flash", "Lost" "Fringe", the BBC's clone drama "Orphan Black" and movies that have included 2012's "Looper" and Tom Cruise's "Edge of Tomorrow". In fact, the size and scope to which these properties are released and, to such a peak of viewer interest is utterly baffling. "BoJack" doesn't aim to revisit these themes but rather constructively and abrasively rip them apart like well-marinated shish kabobs ripe for the indulgence of everyone, everywhere. This show, although not based in our world, with human and personified animals interacting in the everyday as if commonplace, skewers these mediums and approaches and, through the use of wit, snark, of-the-moment pop-cultural send-ups and a truly fledgling and faultless voice cast that makes these strands work, is THE show we need in the here and now. Our obsession with celebrity, our in-denial dependence on social media, our idolization of false gods, and our many times questionable morals to fit the price of fame are all examined in cohesive and tight 20 minute episodes that are gut-bustlingly hilarious yet appropriately weighty. This is what I call an "experimental sitcom" and, thanks to the sub-culture of binge-watching hubs/proprietors like "Hulu" and "Netflix", the latter of which produced this show, is given the treatment is most justly deserves. One could argue that BoJack wouldn't be successful on any other platform including HBO and, definitely not network TV where censorship and cookie-cutter molds reign supreme and decide a show's fate.
So, just how inventively zany is BoJack and why is it such a necessary watch? It not only riffs pop-culture in an often scathing but nevertheless gut-bustingly funny way, the humor often comes across in the performances and the embodiment of these various atypical characters as if they existed among us in our reality. It targets expertly a segment of pop-culture that doesn't get the best treatment - Hollywood. In the shows reality, the D from the Hollywood Sign is stolen in order for one character to profess his undying love for another. This major plot point and character development is peppered into the other episodes following it and it acts as the show's excuse for more barbing and commentary to follow. The show never sermonizes and really never revisits the same point twice. Ongoing gags are fused through each episode and arcs are revisited in highly imaginative ways. But, its all in the service of endearing (and more importantly, not mean-spirited) humor. This definitely isn't no Family Guy. This show substitutes crass and puerile with catchy zingers and witty self-loathing that in the context of the show's complex lead anti-hero BoJack amount to an ongoing and deep character study. The amount of quotable lines become ever so infinite that I find myself jotting some down to laugh at later.
Should your adolescent kids tune in to BoJack? I wouldn't exactly vet that idea. The scatological humor and balls-to-the-wall audacity of the jokes is something that would make the majority of kids unsettled. Most young sprites look for a protagonist to root for and cheer on. Our main man is no such role model because he frequently acts selfishly and it takes a lot for him to reach his epiphany moments. These moments usually come about at the insistence and behest of his supporting cast - a well-meaning talent agent and ex girlfriend Princes Carolyn, BoJack's ghostwriter shadow (wonderfully performed by Community's Alison Brie), the live-wire and oblivious antics of Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) as well as a bevy of A-list guest stars who do some of their greatest work. In no small credit to the writing staff, as an animated comedy, this show is without equal. Due to it being produced by Netflix, it can get away with significantly more than most other network shows who aim to trod the same ground.
More than anything, this show is an endless resource to brush up and get educated on your pop culture. Each EP is jam-packed with a who's who of references, in-jokes, inspirations, mad-cap physical comedy that channels the likes of Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. It may not be the most smoothly animated show but on the part of its creators works to the shows great advantage. Look out for the Season 3 premiere early next year. This series is binge worthy to the max.