Bojack Horseman: dark, funny, and worth your time

Feature Pete Dillon-Trenchard 21 Aug 2014 - 08:31

Pete checks out Netflix animation Bojack Horseman, and finds a bold, hilariously dark comedy featuring a cast at the top of its game...

Over the last few years, Netflix has steadily gone from being a supplier who helps us binge on our favourite TV shows to a legitimate producer in its own right. Not content with merely reviving one of television’s wittiest sitcoms in the form of Arrested Development, they’ve gone on to create award-winning dramas such as House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black.

Bojack Horseman is Netflix’s first foray into animated comedy, and it follows a delusional faded sitcom star (the titular Horseman, who happens to be an anthropomorphised talking horse for reasons that are, happily, left unexplained) whose only companions are his agent and on-again-off-again girlfriend Princess Carolyn (herself a pink cat), his long-term layabout house guest Todd, his ghost-writer Diane, and Mr Peanutbutter, a fellow former sitcom actor who seems at first glance to be far more well-adjusted than Bojack.

The washed-up celebrity angle is perhaps a well-trodden path for comedy in recent years, ever since we first heard the words ‘tiger blood’. Horseman handles it with skill, though, churning out the jokes at an impressive rate and being unafraid to mine some dark places for humour. Make no mistake: despite some character designs that wouldn’t look entirely out of place in an episode of Arthur, Bojack Horseman is very definitely an adult comedy, far more South Park than The Simpsons.

Bojack Horseman has more strings to its bow than celebrity satire; for one thing, the universe in which the show is set, in which animals walk and talk alongside humans as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, is ripe for humour; a regular adult conversation will suddenly be interrupted as the canine Mr Peanutbutter gets excited upon hearing the doorbell, for instance, and in one episode Bojack falls foul of a literal Navy seal. It’s a quirky surrealism that helps offset some of the show’s darker moments; if Bojack were a human, he’d just be deeply unpleasant.

The show's other highlights are the frequent glimpses we get of the sitcom which made Bojack a star in the first place. Show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg was clearly raised on a diet of corny US sitcoms, and all the tropes are present (and sometimes subverted) here, down to its cheesy-but-lunatic premise. I would happily watch an entire episode of Horsin’ Around. But perhaps just the one.

Arguably the biggest thing Bojack Horseman has going for it is its all-star cast. Will Arnett plays the lead role and, while it’s true that a chronically deluded egomaniac isn’t exactly playing out of his comfort zone, he does it with skill, style and just enough charm that you find yourself sympathising with Bojack in spite of his ludicrous behaviour. Arnett is supported by Aaron Paul, who makes for a good comic foil, and Alison Brie, who gets to play far more of a grounded and intelligent character than her Community counterpart.

Bojack Horseman isn’t going to be for everyone. Like most self-styled ‘adult’ animations, it can veer towards the crass at times. And some may feel like the show’s broader jokes have been done before. But those who stay with it past the end of the first episode will find a bold, surreal, hilariously dark comedy featuring a cast at the top of their game.

Bojack Horseman comes to Netflix on Friday the 22nd of August. Watch the trailer, here.

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