Perfection: BoJack Horseman

Like a lifebuoy, it lies there bouncing. In unknown streaming waters. A sense of security and something to cling to if it should start to blow up into a storm. You know how it is, sometimes you want to try something new. Loosen and venture into deep water. Maybe fish something up with Adam Sandler. That may be the last thing you do. Sometimes you get Will Ferrell or Seth Rogen on the hook and then it can end a bit anyway. Not infrequently with tinnitus and benzodiazepines. But then he is always there and catches me, the world’s best horse, BoJack Horseman. Six seasons, 77 episodes and not a single rickety moment. Not a hint of bottom button. Pure perfection.

Ever since the series appeared on Netflix seven years ago, I have been singing its gospel. Wandered country and kingdom around and spread the word. Often in vain, unfortunately. It’s so incredibly easy for the intended recipient to dismiss the animated series about a cartoon horse in Hollywood as a trifle or even give it a stamp of approval, but once you dive into the equally brilliant and tragic story, it is simply impossible to fend off. I know, I’ve been there myself. Wandered around the doubter’s temple. When I first started watching BoJack Horseman, I was in a dark place in life. It was a horrible time when people betrayed, dreams were shattered and a symbolic rain poured down. I scrolled through the digital range and too dejected to be able to concentrate on something “sophisticated”, I suddenly stopped at the icon of a horse. Cuddling and drawing for under half an hour? Sign me up! It was perfect to have rolling in the background, but then of course I had no idea that I had just found a soothing balm of darkness for broken souls. Both brain and heart in 25 minutes. What a fucking jackpot!

BoJack Horseman is one of the saddest things you can see on TV and it is a series so full of tricky background jokes and jokes that it is completely impossible to discover all the gold nuggets at first glance, it must be seen again and again. I have plowed all the episodes seven times now and each time I have discovered something new. Sometimes I have paused and zoomed in to take a closer look at some beautiful detail that lies and floats there in the background, other times I have rewound when I feel that I have missed something. It may seem trivial but in fact be something so uniquely thought out that I feel both dizzy and euphoric at the same time. I’ve probably dissected every single frame by now and I do not even feel unreasonable, baroque or otherwise.

For those who are not yet saved and may hear the name BoJack for the very first time, it takes place in a Hollywood where people and anthropomorphic animals live side by side and at the top, in a modern villa with open floor plan and views of the famous sign lives BoJack Horseman, voiced by a completely brilliant Will Arnett. He is a stallion of 50 bass and formerly acclaimed superstar who once broke through in “Horsin ‘Around”, a classic sitcom of the type bachelor-moves-in-with-split-family-and-becomes-someone-shape -of-surrogate dad but who has since traveled through all the circles of hell. Now he prefers to sit on the couch at home, alcoholic, addicted to pills, burnt out and bitter and watching over and over again his glory days. A sad predicament that remains on the platform and refuses to realize that the last train to Happyville has already left. He really wants to be liked, but most of all he wants to be able to like himself. However, he does not deceive anyone. Over the years he has trampled many on the toes and burned the candle at both ends so many times that he lost count long ago but he still has some friends in his life left or rather, they see him as a friend himself he does not have enough empathy to call someone a friend.

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Todd (Aaron Paul), a total loser without ambitions who forgot to go home after an after-party and who has since called BoJack’s sofa his home. Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), a yellow affectionate labrador who lives with Diane (Alison Brie). Diane who in turn haunts BoJack’s memoirs and is also the subject of his imaginary love. Pretty soon she also realizes that she may have taken water over her head, writing memoirs for a megalomaniacal and narcissistic addict is anything but simple for what is really true and what is really salted in the anecdotes BoJack constantly throws out to present himself in better days? At the same time, Diane is struggling with her own identity crisis that is slowly but surely eating her up from within.

BoJack also has an extremely complicated relationship with his agent, the pink cat Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) who is incredibly tired of immature men and has decided to climb the career ladder instead. Something that already in the first season ends with her dumping BoJack and meeting Vincent Adultman who are actually three kids stacked on top of each other under a trench coat. When Carolyn asks what he works with, the answer is; business, because I’m an adult. Brilliant!

Of course, it’s easy to think that this is just another series about a group of eccentric friends who hang out and come up with two funny things in episode after episode, but BoJack Horseman is so much more than that. It is rather a series about a group of eccentric friends who together pull each other deeper and deeper into depression and finally also loneliness and like many good comedies pumps the heart of BoJack Horseman sadly. Now one should not be discouraged by it and think that everything is total darkness, disaster and gloom. No, after all, there is both light and absurdity here, but when the serious moments come, then it really feels like a kick in the urethra. Basically, BoJack Horseman is a tragedy rather than a comedy, but without the well-balanced, often cynical humor, the tragedy would not have felt as striking. For so it is, for the blackness and the pain to really reach us viewers, both the good and the bad side must suffer. We must feel what they feel, they must see what others do not see and wake up every day to a new day in hell. The backfill and drug abstinence should penetrate every pore in the body and the doubt and anxiety should lie there, heavy as a blanket soaked in formalin.

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Another thing I love is that you never press the “reset” button. It may sound simple but it contributes to a sense of reality in a fictional world. Kenny can die endless times in South Park, Peter Griffin can poke his eyes out and Homer Simpson can blow Springfield up, but in the next episode, everything is as usual again. That’s not the case with BoJack Horseman. Just like in life, sins and deeds are involved, here usually the season ends. When you fire up an ottoman in a drug mug in the middle of the season, the said furniture is still as burnt in the last episode, as a reminder that shit just does not fix itself and when BoJack says something hurtful to Diane, which he does in principle all the while, she’s still just as sad and angry when the next episode begins. In an episode, “Our A-story is a D-story”, the letter “D” disappears from the Hollywood sign under mysterious circumstances and after that everything revolves around Hollywoo.

Of course, using animals instead of humans to tell a serious story is not something new, both Orson Welles and Richard Adams have done it successfully, but this is still a completely new format and execution that we have never seen before. In the wrong hands, it could have been any pie, but Raphael Bob-Waksberg does not fall into that trap. Instead, it turns out to be a genius trait when one has chosen to keep the different animals’ primal behaviors and instincts. For example, it is no wonder that Princess Carolyn has a mouse hanging on a string in the office and goes to the gym to scratch a board. It is equally obvious that Mr. Peanutbutter uses small bones as drinking sticks and has the entire trunk filled with tennis balls, or that he barks as soon as a mail van drives by and the fauna is constantly expanded with new additions. In the second season, we get to meet Wanda (Lisa Kudrow) who is an owl. She flies a little clumsily and likes to be up at night and in one of the series’ best episodes “Escape from LA” the deer Charlotte Moore (Olivia Wilde) runs the souvenir shop “Your Deer Friend.” The best thing she knows is to get itchy behind the ears. If you are unfocused, you miss something. Maybe you do not see that there is a crocodile with Foppa slippers, aka Crocs on its feet or that the film director is called Quentin Tarantula and is a hairy spider or that Cameron Crowe is a crow. There are as many pop culture examples as possible and they are of course best in the original language, even if the Swedish translators have done a decent job.

The voice actors are hand-picked to suit each character and it is noticeable that the ensemble has been chosen with care. Will Arnett is, as I said, completely brilliant and cut and dried for the role of BoJack with his charismatic voice and cynical appearance. Aaron Paul does his naive and sluggish dude Todd with bravura (actually he’s just Jesse Pinkman again but it works) and Paul F. Tompkin’s bright and overambitious tone becomes perfect for giving life to an energetic and noisy social Mr. Peanutbutter. Alison Brie sounds just as wonderfully ambivalent as Diane has to do and Lisa Kudrow’s sarcastic owl is absolutely wonderful. But it does not stop there. New characters and new famous voices are constantly appearing and I have had fun trying to figure out who the voice belongs to. Some are simple, like Ricky Gervais and others are more difficult. Liev Schreiber was a much tougher challenge to name a few.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s unique creation., BoJack Horseman is in my eyes perfection. Straight through, from beginning to end. It also ended at the top, with a sixth season that was something of a horse race where the penultimate episode, “The view from halfway down” is one of the best ever broadcast on any channel or streaming service, all categories included. I’m fully aware that we’m talking cartoon horse here but never has an animated series about animals been so human and disgustingly apt. Because when hopelessness has put its claws in its victim and refuses to let go, when self-hatred and anxiety lie there like a damp fog and refuse to disperse, it is difficult not to feel a stab in the chest. Sure, there are streaks of joy and hope, but they are not very long-lasting. It is also when you reach the bottom, when you sink into the dirty tar puddle that makes up Hollywoo that this series reaches the highest heights. When hope is gone and there is no return, then you write TV history. BoJack’s horribly evil mother formulates the feeling well: “You were born broken, you’re BoJack Horseman. There’s no cure for that.”

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Do not miss previous parts of this article series:
Perfection: Continuum
Perfection: Cowboy Bebop

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