TV Series Review
It might seem that the phrases "existential pathos" and "animated talking horse" would be, in most conceivable worlds, mutually exclusive. Like, say, "liver" and "ice cream" or "skateboard" and "goldfish," it doesn't seem like one should have anything to do with the other.
But that was before Netflix's BoJack Horseman rode into town.
A Horse Is a Horse, of Course … of Course?
BoJack is a horse. And a man. He's also the former star of Horsin' Around, a wildly popular (if critically scorned) 1990s sitcom that propelled him to a life of comfort and C-list celebrity. He lacks for little.
And yet, he still feels like there's something missing. That his past success isn't enough to fill the aching void in his life. He wonders what would make his life feel more worthwhile. A return to the top of the celebrity heap? A hit movie? An Oscar? What about a new, wildly sexual relationship with a buzzy reality star? Or is he missing something deeper? Something more intrinsic?
But before he can delve too deeply into such questions, his agent, a cat named Princess Carolyn, gets him a gig on a TV game show. Or he has to bail his shiftless, slacker human roomie, Todd, out of jail. Or deal with friend-rival golden retriever, Mr. Peanutbutter. It's always something.
Yes, BoJack Horseman is a very strange show—one that might explore the insanity of celebrity while a character holds a book titled "A Tale of Two Kitties," or mull middle-age melancholy by a jukebox playing "Macaque the Knife."
The Season Three poster for BoJack Horseman namechecks some of television's most notoriously angsty antiheroes: "Soprano. Draper. Underwood. Horseman." It's a joke, only not really. Which neatly encapsulates the show itself. It's funny, only not really.
Few folks really knew what to make of BoJack Horseman when Netflix unveiled it in 2014. But critics have warmed to the show: It sports a 100% "freshness" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won the Critics' Choice Television Awards for Best Animated Series in 2016.
And the series does have some merit. In fact, in its own strange way, BoJack emphasizes many of the same messages that we're always harping on at Plugged In. Its surreal take on Hollywood and celebrity culture emphasizes just how crazy it all is in real life. And BoJack's selfish, vacuous existence—and his occasional misgivings about it—reminds viewers that it's far better to have a real connection with others than it is to have fame and fortune.
"I'm thinking about my legacy now," BoJack tells an artsy, avant-garde spider who's asked BoJack why he's pursuing an Oscar. "I want to do things that connect with people. Things that matter. Things that last."
"But that's the whole point," the spider says. "Nothing lasts." Lines like that one remind us that it's not just talking horses that can set the wrong priorities, imagining that fleeting fame and fortune might satisfy. We do it, too.
But while Plugged In can mine a few decent messages from BoJack Horseman, that hardly mitigates the show's messes.
Just Say Neigh
Netflix rates BoJack for mature audiences only, and it earns that rating every five minutes or so. In the midst of his perpetual existential crisis, BoJack sleeps around a lot. We hear banter about sex and sometimes see BoJack and his latest conquest in various stages of animated undress. Abortion and forbidden relationships have popped up as plot points, too.
And while violence isn't a regular part of the show, it can rear its horsey head at times. Indeed, sometimes sex and violence mix, such as the time BoJack was accused of murdering a stripper in Season Three. Meanwhile, in Season Four we see BoJack's grandmother allow her daughter to drive—never mind that the older woman is drunk and that she tries violently to grab the wheel.
Then there's the language: Uncensored s-words fly, along with a stable of other profanities. Bojack and others also rely heavily on alcohol, and sometimes on illicit drugs, to get them through the day.
BoJack Horseman makes me a little sad, and not just because of the show's bleak, melancholy tone. This animated dramedy has something to say. But the way it says it leaves a lot to be desired. This is one horse you don't want to look in the mouth: You never know what might be going in it or coming out of it.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Will Arenett as BoJack Horseman; Amy Sedaris as Princess Carolyn; Alison Brie as Diane Nguyen; Aaron Paul as Todd Chavez; Paul F. Tompkins as Mr. Peanutbutter; Angela Bassett as Ana Spanikopita; Andre Braugher as Governor Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz