The animation may be a little rudimentary (more on that later), but as soon as that theme, written by The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney (also featuring his uncle Ralph), kicks in with its whirling mix of horns, synths and drums, while the camera moves like a Michael Bay joint soaking in the time-lapse, sun-draped LA hills around the titular character’s modern/dated house, you know there’s something different to this show. Though it may feel at times, especially in the first few episodes, like “Bojack Horseman” is yet another bizarre, random, pop culture obsessed cartoon in the vein of Seth MacFarlane’s increasingly dull work—some early attempts at jokes stretched far beyond their effectiveness—it quickly proves to be an entry point to a surprisingly deft and dark look at depression, loneliness, celebrity culture, narcissism and hacky ’90s sitcoms. It’s utterly bingeable and turns out to be, in its first season, one of the very best original shows from the streaming giant.
Its brilliance is signaled in those opening credits. The cutting, the flow of one visual to the next—note the use of a locked-on-the-actor camera dolly (a Spike Lee standard) as Bojack progressively gets drunker through the title sequence—is done with such care, precision and filmmaking skill that it’s a huge surprise creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg (of the sketch comedy troupe Olde English) has such a small CV. But that should change. Netflix has already renewed ‘Bojack’ for a second season and he should have plenty of success beyond the show. But again, we just can’t stop gushing over those opening credits. They basically sum up in one minute the entirety of the show and its central characters as they hover around Bojack’s inner circle as he floats from one scene to the next, always in the center of the frame. Nothing is disposable here, and those who tend to fast forward through a show’s credits will be hard pressed to skip them.
The same can also be said for the closing credits, used in almost every episode. There are no images to obsess over, but the song by Grouplove is catchy as hell and efficiently sums up Bojack’s season-long arc (and his sad life) as we leave his world at the end of an episode:
There’s a lot more to appreciate about this mostly under-appreciated gem. It deserves a larger audience, and should find one through time. Then again, the market is flooded with great TV shows and only looks to be more crowded with every new debut (or crazy nostalgic reboot), so maybe this will remain strictly cultish. It is, after all, a show about a washed-up anthropomorphized horse who starred in a faded, but once-popular “Full House”-esque sitcom in which he raised three human orphans, called “Horsin’ Around.” But we dare you not to get hooked. Here’s five more reasons you should watch “Bojack Horseman.”
1. It’s Really Funny
We’ve already gone on and on about the show’s dark and thematically rich material, but lest we come off as gluttons for punishment, we must first and foremost convey that “Bojack Horseman” is very, very funny. Rife with puns, meta in-jokes, memorable lines and wordplay, visual gags in the background, clever satire and even a cruel mean-spiritedness at times, it’s loaded with humor that almost always lands, and even gets better with subsequent viewings (this writer has watched the first season three times already, and it gets better the more you watch). There’s definitely a stoner vibe to a lot of the humor, but that’s not a pejorative (though is it ever?) when the results are this laugh-out-loud funny.
2. It’s Deeper & Darker Than Almost All Animated Sitcoms Out There
There are more than just belly laughs in ‘Bojack.’ It’s loaded to the brim with real stakes and pathos. It’s a ballsy move on the part of Bob-Waksberg and his cast and crew, but one that pays off. The show is more substantial than its brethren on Fox, Adult Swim and FX, achieving a different kind of sentimentality, sympathy and empathy than even the greatest animated show of all time, “The Simpsons.” Instead of following a wacky family, ‘Bojack’ is all about one (horse)man and all the cronies, leeches and colleagues around him that make a kind of quasi family. “I think of the show almost as a dramedy, in the way that some live action shows are,” Bob-Waksberg told TV Guide. “The way I pitched the show is it’s going to be this wacky, fun, goofy cartoon show that gets gradually darker the further it goes. I think all the actors really liked that idea — that it wouldn’t just be funny voices, that they get to do some real acting in addition to the silliness.”
3. The Cast Is Ace & The Guests/Cameos Are Even Better
“Bojack Horseman” is loaded with a diverse array of talent, most of whom rarely (if ever) do animation voice work. Will Arnett is the only man to play Bojack, a vitriolic and funny amalgam of his G.O.B. from “Arrested Development” and every other character he tends to play. Even when he’s unnecessarily mean to hanger-on/only-true-friend Todd (Aaron Paul, perfect), it’s still funny as hell (“See, you say something to someone enough times and eventually he internalizes it. The system works.”). The other regular characters are done well by Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins and Patton Oswalt (who voices many characters). Occasional recurring roles from Stanley Tucci as Bojack’s once best friend and collaborator, J.K. Simmons as an aged hotshot movie producing turtle and Keith Olbermann as a cable news host whale are always welcome when they appear. Then there’s the crazy and spot-on cameos and guest spots from Anjelica Huston, Ira Glass, Margo Martindale, Wallace Shawn, Melissa Leo and Naomi Watts, sometimes for less than a minute in total.
4. The Animation Feels Fresh & Awesome In Its Own Crude Way
At a glance, there doesn’t seem to be much artistry or attention paid to the look of the show, especially its animation. Look closer (or just keep watching) and what might seem flat and unimaginative becomes expressive and oddly pretty in a weird way. There’s a watercolor-like effect to some of it, mixed with lo-fi computer animation, that carves out its own unique style. Add to that an impressive array of cinematic techniques that serve to make the story seem bigger than its low budget roots can typically afford. Like the show itself, there’s more to the animation in “Bojack Horseman.”
5. The World Of “Bojack Horseman” Is Weird & Effectively Left-Of-Center
In a way, the show is the red-headed stepchild to something like “Entourage,” luxuriating in celebrity, wealth and Hollywood behind the scenes. The strong undercurrent of sadness and depression, though, proves just how shallow and stake-less that HBO series became. It’s incredibly referential, sometimes subtly so and other times blatant. Another point of reference would be Robert Altman’s “The Player.” In the world of ‘Bojack’, anthropomorphized animals live amongst humans, seemingly making up half population. Within that bizarre conceit lies a reality that’s mostly analogous to ours today, though with minor differences (for instance, Secretariet is a fallen celebrity and Bojack’s hero in the show’s mythos, but the movie hasn’t been made yet and is revealed to be the dream project for the titular character). The animals also retain their animalistic nature, ala “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which makes for even more brilliant punnery and sight gags. By making the world relatable, somewhat familiar and taking seriously the concerns and issues of its characters, it’s much easier to accept the show’s totally bizarre world.
“Bojack Horseman” is now streaming on Netflix.