“This is a situation comedy! No-one watches this show to feel feelings!”
It’s fair to say that Bojack Horseman was one of the more surprising hits among last year’s new programming. A dark animated comedy featuring Will Arnett as an out-of-work sitcom actor who also happens to be an anthropomorphised horse, the show launched on Netflix with relatively little fanfare. But as word of mouth spread, Bojack Horseman found an audience of loyal fans, spawning a Christmas special and now a second series.
One of the biggest surprises of Bojack Horseman’s first season – and something that perhaps wasn’t obvious from the six episodes made available to reviewers at the time – was that beneath the dark, cynical exterior lay a strong, beating heart. Yes, the titular Bojack is at times a rather unlikeable character, but as the series goes on he reveals a vulnerable side that slowly wins over the sympathies of the viewer.
The end of Bojack’s first season saw its eponymous lead’s life turned upside-down as he was confronted by all of his failings in black and white thanks to the release of his ‘autobiography’ (Written, of course, by ghost-writer Diane – played here again by Alison Brie) and then offered the lead role in a new biopic charting the career of his childhood hero.
It would have been easy at this point for series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg to deal with and wrap up these plotlines within the first episode and return to the status quo, but instead both elements loom large throughout the series. It’s a move that profoundly changes, and adds further emotional depth to, the main character, as he starts battling his natural instincts in an effort to become a better Horseman. Rest assured, however, that he doesn’t always succeed.
There seems to be a conscious shift in favour of greater character development this season – the Secretariat plot provides a suitable hook on which to hang the story, but over the course of the first six episodes it’s rarely a major factor. Instead, we spend a lot more time delving not only into Bojack’s relationships with his family and friends, but their relationships with one another. Bojack Horseman features a talented ensemble cast, and their roles are all expanded this time round. We get to explore Diane and Mr Peanutbutter’s (an ebullient Paul F. Tompkins) sometimes-fragile marriage, and even Princess Carolyn’s (Amy Sedaris) relationship with the mysterious Vincent Adultman comes under the spotlight.
Aaron Paul’s Todd returns as the perpetual hanger-on in Bojack’s life, and though he gets some highly amusing B-plots, including opening his own theme park, there’s a feeling that he’s in some ways peripheral to the series at the moment. However, the show seems acutely aware of this, and it’s likely that the latter half of the season will see him trying to deal with the problem.
In its second year, Bojack Horseman continues to attract some fantastic guest stars, with returning actors such as Patton Oswalt, Stephen Colbert and Olivia Wilde joined by the likes of George Takei, Joel McHale and Henry Winkler. But by far the biggest addition is Lisa Kudrow as Bojack’s new love interest, an owl called Wanda. Kudrow is excellent as the (literally) wide-eyed innocent, who adds a much-needed optimism to proceedings and counter-balances the moody Bojack perfectly.
Though this second season is as tightly packed with jokes as the first, fans of the show’s sitcom-within-a-sitcom Horsin’ Around may be in for a disappointment – having spent much of the first season (And almost all of the Christmas special, which was far more Horsin’ than Horseman) using the fake 90s programme to riff on any number of sitcom tropes, the device is given a bit of a rest this time around. However, there’s so much going on in these episodes that there’s no room to mourn.
Season two of Bojack Horseman is unlikely to win over viewers who didn’t enjoy the first batch of episodes; the characters are still flawed, selfish and tinged with darkness. But for those who enjoyed the first season for that very reason, the new run is deeper, richer and – dare we say it – even funnier than before.
BoJack Horseman season two is available now on Netflix.
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