At one point in Netflix's BoJack Horseman, a man and a woman sadly ruminate over their relationship, which has fallen apart around them. "What happened?", she asks. "You didn't know me. Then you fell in love with me. And now you know me." he says, as they come to terms with the fact that they just cannot be together anymore.
Only in this case, the woman is an owl who recently woke up from a 30 year coma, and the man is an alcoholic horse who used to star in a cheesy 90s sitcom.
Netflix's BoJack Horseman has spent it's three seasons casually traipsing back and forth across the line that separates the absolutely hilarious and the profoundly sad. The setup sounds like your typical loopy animated show: Will Arnett's BoJack is a former sitcom star trying to recapture his fame. But before you realise it, the show has you deep in a world full of complex characters, massive emotional peaks and valleys, and silly animal puns. The genius of Bojack is that it's silliness doesn't undercut it's depth at all. Instead the two blend together in a completely natural way, one never seeming more than the other.
BoJack is populated with characters that seem more human than those you see on most other TV shows, even though most of them are animals. There's Mr. Peanutbutter - a Labrador Retriever who is a also a former sitcom star, Princess Carolyn - a pink Persian cat who is Bojack's agent and ex, Todd - a (human) slacker dude who once ended up in Bojack's house and then just never left, and Diane - a writer trying to figure out her life while slumming it writing tweets for tween celebs, and also Mr. Peanutbutter's wife. And that's barely scratching the surface of the weird, wonderful population of this place. A fan favourite recurring character is Vincent Adultman, who is very clearly three children standing on top of each other in a trenchcoat pretending to be an adult, though no one really seems to notice. The supporting players in Bojack aren't just bit-players in his life either, voiced by a top-notch cast (Paul F. Tompkins, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris, and many more names you'll recognise), they all have their own paths and perspectives.
At the beginning of Season 3, we meet Bojack at what should be a high point in his life. His dream project, a biopic of race horse Secratariat is gaining major Oscar buzz, but over the course of twelve episodes, it becomes increasingly clear that he has issues that stardom can't fix. Among the heavier themes tackled in the season are depression, death, abortion and addiction. It's a testament to the faith that this show has in it's audience that none of these are dumbed down in the least. In fact, that confidence in the audience is a large part of how creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg puts the show together. Season 1 starts out as a pretty surface level showbiz satire, easing the audience in and introducing the characters, all the while slowly transforming into something much deeper. The next two seasons don't even bother with trying that setup again, instead throwing you straight into the deep end. Sometimes literally.
In 'Fish Out Water', the fourth episode of season 3, BoJack pulls off a wildly ambitious concept. Almost the entire episode takes place underwater without a single line of dialogue. The resulting episode was met with universal acclaim, with TIME magazine calling it the best TV episode of 2016, and that praise is well deserved. The concept doesn't feel gimmicky, rather servicing BoJack's arc in a way that couldn't have been pulled off in any other manner. The story is that BoJack has to attend an underwater film festival, meaning he has to have a helmet around his head at all times. Forced into being sober, and unable to communicate with anyone around him, he runs into an ex-colleague who he burnt bridges with. The episode somehow manages to pull off silent film style slapstick comedy, while also capturing a Lost In Translation-esque feeling of alienation in a strange land.
The posters for Season 3 put BoJack into the category of the all time great anti-heroes of The Sopranos and Mad Men. It's meant to be a tongue in cheek joke, but really, the show isn't too far off the mark in comparing itself to those classics. BoJack Horseman is one of the best shows on television right now. I mean Netflix. Whatever, you get it.
Scribe: Dinkar Dwivedi
Captain's Log: If Dinkar Dwivedi was a cartoon animal, he'd be a cow. Or a turtle of the teenage mutant ninja variety. Talk to him on Twitter @DinksThinks.