The first few episodes of BoJack Horseman Season 1 started poorly. The title character is a washed-up ex-sitcom star, who starts to work on his memoirs with a spiky writer, all while trying to salvage his career. The jokes were fine but nothing to recommend it in a TV world saturated with comedy, and it felt a little bit obvious and cheap. The arrested development, buffoonish hero whose arrogance is matched only by his stupidity is a comedy staple, as seen in… well, almost every TV comedy of the last 20 years. The faded star premise was an interesting one, but you would be forgiven for giving up after a couple of episodes. Then, something special happened for those who persisted.
Slowly, the show began to peel back the layers of the first base set-up, and gave space to some of the other characters. The jokes started to improve, adding in notes of surrealism and making the most of the fact that half of the characters are humanoid animals. As it got funnier, it also got deeper, revealing the brokenness and emptiness of BoJack’s inner life – and the lives of those around him. Depression, suicide and addiction were woven into the story with surprising amounts of nuance and humour, balancing darkness with comedy in a way that the shock tactics of Family Guy could only dream of. Season 1 ended with BoJack a huge success, yet, as he lands his dream role in the film Secretariat, still feeling unfulfilled.
Season 2, out on Friday, continues where the first left off, and if the first six episodes are anything to go by, the show is continuing to get better and better. BoJack is struggling to act seriously in Secretariat, having only ever known comedy, while Diane is struggling with the normality of life married to Mr. Peanutbutter. Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s cat-agent, is trying to get projects off the ground, while trying to gain some respect. Best of all is Todd, BoJack’s slacker lodger, who takes part in a series of increasingly bizarre adventures that have no particular relevance to the rest of the stories. The show may be named after one character, but this season shows that by now, it is an ensemble comedy, albeit with much of the drama revolving around the equine actor.
Selling the silliness to the audience is one of the finest voice casts ever assembled, not only because they are all talented in their own right, but also because they are all perfectly matched to their roles. For Will Arnett, BoJack is not too much of a stretch from Gob in Arrested Development but it allows him to properly display his talents when given centre stage; he makes a depressed horse sound utterly convincing. Alison Brie voices Diane and most of the children that turn up, as well as Princess Carolyn’s mysterious boyfriend, Vincent. Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul and, for Season 2, Lisa Kudrow round out the cast, but the best of the bunch is Paul F. Tompkins as the relentlessly positive Mr. Peanutbutter. Imagine if your dog had a voice and it would probably sound like Tompkins.
By now, the show has embraced the surrealism that started to emerge in Season 1. As such, there are bizarre riffs on Spike Jonze’s Her, a subplot involving an escaped farm chicken that has the perfect joke pay-off and the excellent running gag involving Vincent Adultman, Princess Carolyn’s boyfriend, continues with gusto. There are non sequiturs peppered throughout, sharp skewering of modern language (weekends are referred to as ‘kends) and, of course, a lot of self-reflexive assessment of Hollywood arrogance. Some of the best jokes are still the ones where the animal characters, although living within the human world, display some of their feral characteristics, such as the subtle sight gag of an owl spinning while ice skating, but the head staying in place. It’s also a source of groan-while-laughing puns (keep an eye out for Maggot Gyllenhaal). The show is relentlessly funny, with big laughs guaranteed every episode, which is more than can be said for many comedies on TV.
Balancing with all of this, however, is the darkness that laces every joke. Even though BoJack has landed his dream role, he is no closer to having his life figured out. The script dances lightly between funerals, parental neglect and depression, without ever losing sight of the fact that its a comedy. The result is a show that is genuinely, surprisingly moving, almost as much as it is funny. The balance is near miraculous, especially when you think that most shows will err one way or the other and yet this gives emotion and comedy equal weight. If the second half of Season 2 is as funny, moving and intelligent as the first, then BoJack Horseman has the potential to be the best animated comedy series since The Simpsons in its prime.
All episodes of BoJack Horseman Season 2 premiere on Netflix UK on Friday 17th July.