I don't know whether it's because I'm either an inveterate man-child or because I just genuinely love animation as a rich and nuanced art form that can tell so many different stories in so many different ways, (thinking about it.....nah the first one obviously) I have been on something of a cartoon binge lately, which finally led to me to watching the entirety of Netflix's new original animated series 'Bojack Horseman' after having had it recommended to me by a friend.
Bojack Horseman is a rather odd premise for a show when you describe it in writing, (but then again, so many good shows do sound odd when you do so) Bojack, (deftly voiced by Will Arnett) is a horse in a universe where humans and anthropomorphic animals live side-by-side. He is a washed up TV star living off of the glories of a successful TV sitcom called 'Horsin' Around' (think Full House meets Mr Ed) that ended 19 years previously. He spends most of his time laying about his Hollywood mansion, slowly getting drunk with the closest thing he has to a best friend, an amiable slacker called Todd (Aaron Paul). Things take a break from the usual alcoholic norm as Bojack is assigned a ghost writer called Diane (Alison Brie) to help write his tell-all-memoirs in order to shoot him back to fame, or at least a close approximation of it.
Now so far, so normal I guess (if you count talking drunken horses as normal), the embittered has-been celebrity has been done before in comedies, such as in the recent 'Episodes' starring a self-parodying Matt Le Blanc, and more notably in the second series of 'Extras' starring Ricky Gervais. However, I don't think they have done this with the same degree of commitment and effective pathos that Horseman offers. Whilst Bojack Horseman is, first and foremost, an animated comedy show (and happily, yes it is very funny) it does offer a beautifully dark and depressing glimpse into the shallow tackiness of the Hollywood establishment.
Bojack's fame is a double-edged sword so to speak, he's flattered and pleased when recognised for his previous TV work, but remains bitter and depressed that he is unable to focus on what he really wants to do, in this case a biopic of a famous racehorse called 'Secretariat.' He enjoys the trappings of fame and wealth, through his vicarious and sometimes vulgar displays of wealth (at one time he buys the restaurant he is arguing with someone in just so he can continue doing so long into the night) but at the same time is repulsed at the vacuous and tedious nature of it all. He's callous and petty, at various times sabotaging the burgeoning musical-writing career of his friend Todd to avoid loneliness, as well as trying to ruin the wedding of his ghost-writer Diane after he falls in love with her. But at the same time he has a deep knowledge that he carries all of this guilt and selfishness within himself, and he knows that it is fundamentally wrong and he should be trying to make amends. Perhaps not a jerk with heart of gold, more a jerk who at least realises he's being a jerk in the first place.
Putting such an emotionally complex characrer into the shiny and superficial world of Hollywood is wonderful, as it allows him to interact with (and bear the blows) of so many different characters and situations, from the blithely unaware and chipper rival Mr Peanut Butter (Paul F Tompkins) who doesn't realise he is a rival or an enemy at all, to the bitter and determined agent/on again off again girlfriend of Bojack, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris). Whilst Bojack's public face to these people is usually one of blunt sarcasm, one feels there is a much deeper relationship with the people he meets below the surface, one of dependency and reliance.
This is one of the few times in recent years where I think the balance between emotion and comedy has been pulled off with a much better degree of panache than usual. Too much pathos and you end up with the mawkish atrocity that is 'Derek', too little and you end up with your audience unsure as to whether to laugh at it or not, (and this is how we end up with terrible portmanteau words like 'dramedy' oh dear god kill me now) But I feel 'Bojack' treads that fine line quite well, veering competently between the sublimely ridiculous in one episode (Bojack enters into a public feud with a Navy Seal, who is actually a seal, after he takes the last box of apple muffins at a grocery store that the seal had apparently 'bagsied') to the more serious (Bojack finds that a best friend he fell out with is dying from cancer and tries to make amends, and even within this they're able to find time for a nice silly subplot involving Todd)
Unfortunately the show's received decidedly average reviews, which I feel is a great shame as this show has a lot of potential, especially given another series has already been green-lit, so I advise to go check this one out for yourself.