“I think the show is actually pretty solid for what it is. It’s not Ibsen, sure, but look — for a lot of people, life is just one long kick in the urethra. Sometimes when you get home from a long day of getting kicked in the urethra, you just want to watch a show about good, likable people who love each other, where, no matter what happens, at the end of the 30 minutes everything is going to turn out okay.”
“BoJack Horseman,” the first original animated adult comedy produced for Netflix, is self-aware to a fault. Outside of the spot-on quote above, cribbed directly from the pilot episode when BoJack appears on Charlie Rose to discuss his hit ’80s sitcom “Horsin’ Around,” Aaron Paul told Indiewire his new show was ideal for “a lazy Saturday or lazy Sunday” marathon. It seems like the show was made specifically for that kind of viewing experience: one without absolute engagement, attracting just enough of the viewer’s attention to keep them watching, but not overwhelming them with anything too clever. It’s what those ’80s sitcoms did so well in their heyday before succumbing to single camera skewerings, packed with jokes both above and below the surface.
But “BoJack Horseman” isn’t trying to parody them. Unlike its brilliant official website, the show isn’t an animated commentary on why multi-camera sitcoms have struggled of late, a reflection on the best aspects of those shows or even nostalgia in general. There’s very little depth within the six episodes of Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s new comedy starring a dickish antihero at the center.
BoJack is a washed up sitcom star still living in a world where he’s a somebody despite doing absolutely nothing for the past few decades. He sleeps around a lot, usually with fans of his show, which works out nicely because he gets off primarily to watching himself on TV. To help cope with any feelings of loneliness, BoJack drinks himself into a stupor rather than confront the task at hand: writing his biography, an endeavor he expects will save his career. From time to time he does something nice or says something nice or implies he might do something nice, all to illustrate how he’s not such a bad guy after all. He’s just having a hard time.
So again, we find ourselves watching a central character who’s an alcoholic asshole with a good heart. His journey seems all too obvious as he improves ever so slightly from episode to episode, exposing a drop of intelligence here (BoJack’s confrontation with an army veteran regarding America’s role in global politics is a brief bit of opinionated beauty) and a touch of heart there (he has a “will they/won’t they” romance with his ghost writer). If you feel like you’ve seen this before, you have — but Bob-Waksberg doesn’t seem to care.
“BoJack” is very comfortable in its own, slightly-too-familiar skin, so much so in fact that Netflix’s latest only has one major twist: BoJack is a horse. His agent and ex-girlfriend is a cat. His book agent is a penguin (Penguin Publishing, get it?). His best friend, Todd, who sleeps on his couch and has no real connection to BoJack other than the exploitative nature of their forced friendship, is a human. There are other humans and animals scattered throughout this slightly altered world of ours, and they all interact as if they’re equals, rather than pets or distractions or wild, untamable beasts.
The show’s best moments come from these new, peculiar, unexplained interactions. At one point, a cow waiter serves a steak to a human customer. The man tries to explain himself, but the cow isn’t having it. The moment is purely transitionary, as it introduces a new setting and scene, but there are more like it scattered in similar fashion throughout the show. Keith Olbermann voices a whale news anchor who reports in Beyonce lyrics with his human on-the-street reporter. A U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. is also an actual seal played by Patton Oswalt (who does many different voices on the show). There’s a rival TV star named Mr. Peanut Butter who’s an inexplicably loyal and stupid individual, who just so happens to be a dog. He’s in love with his girlfriend/owner, but all he really wants is attention.
While so untouched they’re almost invisible (the cow waiter scene is the most obvious reference made to the personification), this prosopopoeia (paired with puns and acknowledged alliteration) and the aforementioned voice talent make “BoJack Horseman”… likable. Winning, even. Oswalt, Olbermann, J.K. Simmons, Aisha Tyler and more do a terrific job lending a hand, but it’s Will Arnett’s almost-too-perfect casting in the lead role as well as Aaron Paul’s overly innocent-sounding sidekick that really make you want to hang around for a while in animated LA. Speaking of the coastal traffic jam, the show’s animation is a blend between “Family Guy” and “The Critic,” but it somehow paints another accurately scurrilous portrait of Los Angeles (as well as an Episode 5 rant by BoJack on superficiality of the LA lifestyle).
After cruising through six episodes, “BoJack Horseman” is just good enough, or as good as it wants to be, which can be taken in one of two ways: viewers could be frustrated with a Netflix show well below the streaming service’s already high standards. This is no “House of Cards,” “Derek,” or “Orange is the New Black” (though it’s arguably funnier than the latter), but it’s also not trying to be. “BoJack Horseman” may need some time to find its own rhythms and establish its focus. It was getting into a groove in its final two episodes available for review, and even if that’s as good as it gets, it sure beats being kicked in the urethra.
“BoJack Horseman” premieres its entire first season Friday, August 22, on Netflix.