Once upon a time, film more so than the small screen was seen as the medium best suited for creative expression and bold artistic experimentation. But as time went on and Schwarzenegger standards gave way to the “Cinematic Universes” of Marvel and Warner Brothers, that freedom shifted to the land of basic cable and streaming services such as Netflix. This year so far, nothing is as bold or daring as the latest season of the Will Arnett helmed Bojack Horseman, the hip animated series chronicling the life and troubled times of an anthropomorphic Hollywood horse. If you’re not watching it or were put off by the first few episodes of season one that should soon change. As it stands now, Bojack and his peers are worthy of being in the same company that shows like the Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Mad Men have all entered in proceeding years.
In season one and two, our titular hero struggled with a comeback and to relate better to the people in his life. This year, we rejoin Bojack on the cusp of winning an Oscar for his role in the Secretariat biopic and seemingly content with the direction his life is going. But, like the dramatic shift no one expected after the first half of season one, things come crashing down.
Drama with Todd, friction with Princess Caroline and even turbulence with Diane all come forward once again as Bojack’s increasing confidence about being honored for his performance shifts into a general snootiness. Convinced his life will have meaning once he has the tiny golden statue; the “Horse from Horsin Around” behaves badly and doesn’t try to fix himself and his relationships with other people until it is seemingly too late and he has hurt them all badly.
It’s here that the show is truly at its best. Sure, the comedy and sight gags may have their appeal to a swathe of the audience, but the dark depiction of fame and its consequences on how one relates to others and the world at large is what will hook you into the show for a long time.
Having struggled with issues of my own, I have to admit that I feel deeply moved and empathize a lot with the main character when he’s told that he “Keeps up a wall a lot of the time, does great in spite of his asshole parents and is amazing when he opens up.” You don’t expect that kind of depth from a cartoon and when it’s sprung upon the audience, it’s nothing short of incredible, something akin to getting a Lifetime movie getting injected directly into ones bloodstream.
Outside of emotion, Raphael Bob Waksberg and his production team take some interesting directions this season with what can be done in a standard half hour of television. There are a lot of neat things to be sure, but for me, the standout is easily the 4th episode. Here, Bojack goes on a Lost in Translation style trip to a city underneath the ocean waters. It is a testament to the writers that an episode with little dialogue can be seen as one of the best put out this year and overall. Bathed in a faint blue tint, we get to see Mr. Horseman save a child, battle a shark and even attempt to make amends with an old friend, all whilst not uttering a single word to the audience.
Now, on the other side of the coin, not all with this latest installment of the show hits home. Though seen as a comedy drama, a lot of that first part falls flat in comparison to the second half of the category. Sight gags and animal puns are all the rage once again, but some attempts to introduce caricatures of certain well known entertainers fall flat. I don’t know if George Clooney threated to sue the studio, but it’s odd to have a person in the season that looks exactly like him show up in a few episodes and not share his name as well. Seems rather out of place given past seasons have parodied people like Beyoncé and Ryan Seacrest without any resulting hullabaloo and this year managed to make a few digs at Jimmy Fallon and even the Academy as a whole.
Ultimately, Bojack Horseman Season 3 continues hitting the highs that will later come to define the series once it reaches its conclusion but does so at the expense of some of the shows humor. Future seasons and specials would be wise to take a better balance of the humor and drama aspects of the piece. Great episode batch that is in need of a few better hitting jokes.
The Good: The drama and character interactions this year between Bojack and everyone else are excellent and reach the same quality as any well received drama on HBO ever could on a good day, particularly how he spends time with former lover and current agent Princess Caroline.
The Bad: If you’re coming expecting to always enjoy the comedy, you’ll be disappointed. Some jokes land, but not every bit hits home this year, the caricatures of popular actors and some of the award season Oscar bait films they do being the main thing that just didn’t work for me.
The Verdict: With this show, you come for the drama and stay hooked for it as well. Humor may be present, but as time goes on it is becoming increasingly less likely to be the thing that the show will come to be remembered for 10, 20 or even 50 years down the line, if at all even. When writers look back on Bojack in the future, they will cite the show as a deep depiction of depression and the melancholy of middle age not often seen in any other media, be it books, film, video games or even music. And that is something.