Considering Netflix is trying to become a pioneer of what on-demand television can become, it’s a little ironic that BoJack Horseman feels so clichéd, at least on paper.
The eponymous equine (Will Arnett), once a sitcom star of the 1990s with a taste in jumpers to rival that of Bill Cosby, has since gone into a Charlie Sheen-esque spiral of booze and debauchery. Even his attempts to re-establish himself by writing a tell-all memoir have fallen at the first hurdle and, eventually, a ghost writer named Diane (Alison Brie) is hired to help him along.
Thankfully, this predictable premise is given a new coat of paint by creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who combines darkly comic writing with a world filled with more anthropomorphic animals than deviantART. The result falls somewhere in between Archer and Adventure Time, and it’s hard to say whether the animal jokes are inspired or tragic; a whale anchors the news over at MSNBSea and there are no points for guessing who works at Penguin Publishing.
Forget Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle; BoJack is a true brony. Will Arnett’s dulcet tones are almost too perfect for the celebrity-turned-train-wreck, and after watching him play an egomaniacal moron in the Bluth family, it’s refreshing to see him inject BoJack with a streak of dark cynicism. There are also, of course, plenty of horse jokes: Secretariat was one of BoJack’s childhood heroes, but unfortunately he could never get a biopic off the ground.
But Arnett’s isn’t the only recognisable voice on show: BoJack Horseman has gathered an astonishingly good cast, including the likes of Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins, Kristen Schaal, Patton Oswalt, and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as BoJack’s unwanted houseguest Todd. Though he’s somewhat underused in the first few episodes, Paul eventually comes into his own as an excellent comic relief; think Gene Belcher, if he were permanently stoned.
The show makes plenty of references to “Horsin’ Around”, the cringe-inducingly bad show that made BoJack’s career, and the formula feels very much like that of an old-fashioned sitcom. The first six episodes feature get-rich-quick schemes, family reunions, and the most inspired take on the “taking two dates to the prom” idea in years. But BoJack also has some more modern material up its sleeve, using its washed-up protagonist to joke about social media, the meaning (or lack thereof) of celebrity in Hollywood today, and the increasingly theatrical nature of American news channels. It’s not satire so much as gentle ribbing, but it’s still fairly funny. And, based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like the overarching nature of some plot details – such as BoJack’s memoirs – will give this colourful menagerie of characters time to grow and develop; something which will be essential, if the series wants to retain its audience.
The jokes may not all be zingers, but thanks to its excellent voice cast and pretty solid writing, BoJack Horseman is an interesting new arrival in the world of adult animation and a welcome addition to Netflix’s growing stable of original content.