I logged onto Netflix a couple of weeks ago and saw their latest featured show: an animated comedy called Bojack Horseman. It’s a strange name, but it got me to click on it. The cast impressed me with the likes of Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Allison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins, and Patton Oswalt.
It was especially enticing to see Arnett playing an asshole. That’s what he does best. His voice and skills don’t translate as well to a straight up nice guy. Sure, there can be a soft gooey shell at the center of this self-centered asshole, but the man was brilliant as GOB Bluth for a reason. Arnett is a strength for Bojack Horseman. The character is self-centered with moments of vulnerability – Arnett’s specialty.
Most of the voice performances work. Patton Oswalt is an old pro at this kind of work at this point. Tompkins brings the idiotic enthusiasm you’d expect from a television star dog. Brie is well cast as the rational center of everything. Kristen Schaal, who is wonderful as the demonic Louise Belcher on Bob’s Burgers, is appropriately cast as Bojack’s former TV daughter turned drug-addict pop star.
The issue with the show is its weirdness. I’m down for weird shows – god knows how much I’ve chuckled at shows like Space Ghost over the years. But I’m not sure the weirdness really does Bojack any favors. The story and characters are pretty good, but the animals jokes and puns don’t always hit. They elicit a lot of reactions like, “ha, yeah, I get it. He’s a seal and he’s in the Navy.” The cross species breeding is kind of disturbing.
But does this show exist without these weird animal human hybrids? We’ve seen the washed up star story before. This is a different way to put a different spin on it. Sometimes it’s beneficial. Bojack’s horse hair looks just like a mullet when he’s walking around like Bob Saget on his early 90s show Horsin’ Around. Mr. Peanut Butter is funnier because he’s a dog and not a straight up human. It’s a mixed bag.
For a show with a running gag about the D from the Hollywood sign being stolen and everyone calling it “Hollywoo”, Bojack has some surprisingly poignant moments. The title character deals with depression and loneliness throughout the first season. The hollow, shallow life of fame is constantly on display.
Bojack Horseman’s oddest trait is in how it combines children’s show gags and adult themes. It’s very silly at times. There’s the aforementioned Navy Seal. Cameron Crowe is a bird, but he isn’t a crow. The head of Penguin Publishing is an actual penguin. Quentin Tarantino is a tarantula man. But then it deals with Bojack going on drug-fueled benders. His relationship with his former TV daughter is…complicated.
The balancing act gets better as the season goes along. The first couple episodes aren’t very good, but it does improve. I’m not sure what Bojack Horseman exactly is, but it’s got some very talented people involved and is worth a look.