The fall network TV season is in full swing, but that isn’t stopping Netflix from coming out with its own original, end-of-summer programming. The net-based streaming service has been doing its utmost to challenge HBO lately, with attention-grabbing, Emmy-nabbing shows like “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” Now Netflix looks to be going up against animation powerhouses like FOX’ “Animation Domination” block and Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” block with its first mature-rated cartoon series “BoJack Horseman.”
On the surface “BoJack Horseman” looks like a wacky, raunchy, slightly surreal parody of the entertainment industry. It is, after all, about an anthropomorphic horse who starred in a crappy family sitcom called “Horsin’ Around” back in the ’90s and is now an LA down-and-outer. But the series, unfolding over 12 tightly connected episodes, ends up being a surprisingly dark and emotional ride through the bad side of Hollywood, with talking animals. Think “Californication” crossed with Who Framed Roger Rabbit and you’re halfway there.
BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett from “Arrested Development”) was once a beloved TV actor, but 20 years after those glory days, he’s a washed-up has-been trying to mount a comeback. Unable to secure any acting gigs, BoJack’s agent/sexual partner, a cat named Princess Carolyn (“Strangers With Candy” creator Amy Sedaris), suggests he write his memoirs. Alternately narcissistic and self-destructive, BoJack isn’t up to the task. So Princess Carolyn hires a talented (human) ghost writer named Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie from “Community”). Unfortunately Diane’s boyfriend is BoJack’s best frenemy Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Thompkins of “Mr. Show” fame). Mr. Peanutbutter is a cheerfully stupid dog who starred in a blatant rip-off of BoJack’s sitcom. Despite his lack of intelligence and talent, Mr. Peanutbutter is now far happier and more well-adjusted than BoJack—a fact that angers the horse to no end.
The series, unfolding over 12 tightly connected episodes, ends up being a surprisingly dark and emotional ride through the bad side of Hollywood, with talking animals.
BoJack isn’t what you’d call a very nice guy. He’s a drunk, a substance abuser, a raging egotist and a very bad friend. He’s basically a jerk. But he’s the kind of jerk you want to see redeemed. There are glimmers of humanity deep down inside of him. He has, for example, a roommate/best friend in the form of Todd (Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”), a homeless guy BoJack lets crash on his couch. Diane is quick to suss out that, despite all the abuse he heaps on his houseguest, BoJack is desperately lonely. Hence, Todd is still on the couch after two years.
“BoJack Horseman” is incredibly funny, milking plenty of humor from its acidic image of modern-day Hollywood. It also generates some off-the-wall laughs from its animalistic characterizations: a German shepherd who works as a security guard at the movie studio and barks at all the guests; a hamster running on a wheel at the gym; the yellow tennis ball artwork covering Mr. Peanutbutter’s house. The list of guest stars is insane (Patton Oswalt, Stanley Tucci, Keith Olbermann, Kristen Schaal, J.K. Simmons, Wyatt Cenac, Wendie Malick, Margo Martindale, Olivia Wilde, Ken Jeong, Judy Greer, Anjelica Huston, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Ira Glass, Naomi Watts). But it’s the surprisingly sophisticated, increasingly dark and cynically redemptive story line that makes this such an addictive binge-watch.