Release Date – 22nd July 2016

BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s best original property, returns for an ambitious third season which reaffirms its place at the forefront of innovative television.

The cartoon stars Will Arnett as the eponymous BoJack, an anthropomorphic horse and star of hit 90s sitcom “Horsin’ Around”. Previous seasons have seen the depressive, destructive anti-hero struggle to navigate the perils of a faded reputation, of life-long regrets both professional and personal. As we enter season three, BoJack has just finished work on a major feature film, and is preparing for an awards season publicity drive. Such is the essential premise. But BoJack carries its premise loosely, treating the characters with utmost sincerity while maintaining a postmodern self-awareness of its own absurdity.

“progressive, poignant, and original…”

The humour is varied and unique; BoJack is a delightful coming-together of creative wordplay, Hollywood satire, and pure absurdism. There are elements of parody, observational humour, and, taking advantage of its own anthropomorphised universe, a constant stream of visual jokes playing off the conflation of animal and human behaviour. Rarely does a joke fail to land, and many of the big laughs arrive completely unexpectedly.

Which is not to suggest that BoJack is a barrel of laughs; its sensibilities lean as much towards pathos as comedy. Indeed, as has been the case with the previous two seasons, the most affecting moments are typically down-beat – depressing, relatable character insight. BoJack is portrayed with the same dramatic flair for self-destruction which so characterised some of the great protagonists of modern television. It is this depth, fairly unprecedented in short-form animation, which lead Netflix’s marketing campaign to put BoJack’s name beside The Sopranos’ Tony Soprano, Mad Men’s Don Draper, and House of Cards’ Frank Underwood, three of the defining anti-heroes of the medium. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But you can see where they’re coming from. This is what they want BoJack Horseman to be. Netflix wants greatness.

Part of the show’s joy comes from the litany of entertaining supporting characters, none more important than Diane Nguyen, writer and one-time love interest of BoJack. Voiced by Alison Brie, Diane may be the most developed, interesting female character seen in popular animation. Add in Amy Sedaris’ character Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s feline ex-lover and current agent, and BoJack Horseman offers serious grounds for being one of the most progressive cartoons around, notwithstanding the conventionally white male lead. An episode dealing with the media’s reaction to a celebrity abortion demonstrates the show’s impressive capacity for serious dialogue, filtered, though it is, through satire and absurdity.

Diane’s Labrador husband, Mister Peanutbutter (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins), is an absolute delight, and Aaron Paul continues to stake his claim for post-Breaking Bad recognition as the voice of Todd, BoJack’s roommate. In addition to the pitch-perfect regular cast, BoJack Horseman employs a number of reputable guest stars, and season three sees prominent new roles go to Abbi Jacobson, of Broad City fame, and Angela Bassett, who plays BoJack’s publicist.

BoJack has always experimented with form, and season three is no exception. The fourth episode sees a weary BoJack attend an underwater film festival and, bar the cold open, is completely without dialogue. The tragi-comic sequence has drawn comparisons to Lost in Translation, but in reality it is something fairly unique. It is a diversionary one-off adventure which also manages to draw on many strands of the character’s increasingly long history. The show is ingenious in its combination of short and long form storytelling; there are setups which don’t pay off until many episodes down the line, but the writers are just as willing to engage with madcap frivolity, indulging its status as a 25-minute cartoon.

In the last few years, as television has sought new creative directions after the success of cynical, artful dramas (think The Sopranos and The Wire through to the closure of Breaking Bad), much of the best content has been found in the medium of short comedies. HBO’s Girls, Amazon’s Transparent, FX’s You’re the Worst and Louie, and web-series High Maintenance are but a few examples of TV’s new penchant for progressive, poignant, and original comedies; programmes whose run-time and comic label bely surprising depth and very real quality. Season three of BoJack Horseman offers emphatic proof that Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s creation belongs at the core of this new movement. It is silly, cynical, and ardently inventive. Time to start counting down the days until season four.

Louis Chilton @LouisChilton


4.5/5

Image: Netflix 2016

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