What do George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Mad Men and the work of Seth Macfarlane have in common? Well, blend all three and you might have a good idea what to expect from Netflix original, BoJack Horseman, the Internet streaming giant’s new animated series.
Morose, narcissistic, and self-destructive, the titular half-man half-horse (yes, you read that right) represents washed up 90’s TV stars who have nowhere to go but up. Hoping that a best-selling memoir will help with his resurgence, BoJack grudgingly accepts the help of equally jaded ghost-writer Diane, and an unlikely friendship develops between the two. As alluded to, there is an obvious point of comparison with shows such as Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show for both Macfarlane’s satirical treatment of celebrity culture and his quirky use of anthropomorphism; let’s face it Brian Griffin is one of his most loved characters. BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg however takes the novelty element of, to put it crudely, ‘talking animals’ and foregrounds it in a way which is genuinely charming and knowing without being smug. Additionally, given the increasingly dark content of BoJack’s spiralling neurosis, the required suspension of disbelief helps balance the tone somewhat. The series’ greatest strength however is its wealth of believable and downright endearing characters.
Aaron Paul, who voices BoJack’s stoner pal Todd, gives us the Jesse Pinkman of an alternate universe where the clever and ambitious Walter White has been replaced by a far lazier, downtrodden but equally unhealthy father figure. Alison Brie’s brooding Diane is a refreshing diversion from her turn as Pete Cambell’s perky Hausfrau in Mad Men with her character hearkening back to 90’s animated feminist icon, Daria Morgendorffer. BoJack’s true equal however comes in the form of Princess Carolyn – voiced with aplomb by Amy Sedaris – the half-woman, half-feline, all-sass PR agent who always lands on her feet despite some catty office politics. As well as a steady stream of interesting independently minded female characters, the anxieties of growing old in the fickle and unforgiving landscape of Hollywood are also handled sensitively. Both BoJack and Princess Carolyn struggle with waning popularity and isolation and even 34 year old Diane worries that her career trajectory is not quite how she pictured it.
As an archaic ex-Literature student I was especially touched by the reference to Penguin Books, with BoJack’s literary agent (who is of course a Penguin, voiced by Patton Oswalt) struggling to keep his head above water as print gives way to the dreaded E-book. Witty yet unpretentious, BoJack Horseman has established itself as a show which wears its politics and its heart firmly on its sleeve, and yes, some of the in-jokes and asides are a little clunky. But with strong characterisation, pitch perfect casting and plenty of room for plot development it is sure to secure itself a loyal fan-base. I for one was elated to hear the news today that a second series has been green lit and wait with bated breath to be reunited with my new best friends.
Bojack Horseman is available NOW exclusively to Stream on Netflix