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BoJack Horseman

Entry updated 9 March 2020. Tagged: TV.

US animated online tv series (2014-2020). Tornante Company and ShadowMachine for Netflix. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Executive producers include Bob-Waksberg, Noel Bright, Steven A Cohen, Blair Fetter and Jane Wiseman. Directors include JC Gonzales and Amy Winfrey. Writers include Elijah Aron, Bob-Waksberg, Peter Knight, Alison Tafel and Jordan Young. Voice cast includes Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris and Paul F Tomkins. 77 25-minute episodes to date. Colour.

BoJack Horseman (Arnett) was a sitcom star of the 1990s, now in his fifties; his career has long been in decline, though he is still wealthy enough to live in Hollywoo (the "d" was stolen and everyone now calls it "Hollywoo"). BoJack is intelligent, and can be perceptive and capable of kindness, but these qualities are overwhelmed by selfishness, depression and a knack for making the wrong choices, which hurt both himself and those around him. His friends are Princess Carolyn (Sedaris), his agent; Diane Nguyen (Brie), journalist; Todd Chavez (Paul), hanger-on; and Mr Peanutbutter (Tomkins), actor.

However, this is an Alternate World where people live side by side with anthromorphized animals: BoJack is indeed a horseman, Princess Carolyn a catwoman and Mr Peanutbutter a dogman, though Diane and Todd are human. The animal-people design is essentially human, but with the appropriate head and many of the traits of their source animals. Disturbingly – and echoing Neal Barrett Jr's Through Darkest America (1987) – the Season 2 episode "Chickens" reveals that meat comes from "food" animals – which are the same as the "friend" anthropomorphized animals, but have never learnt to speak and are genetically modified and injected with hormones from birth. How this world came about is not explained, though in one scene the geological strata show a dinosaur skeleton on a skateboard, so it is not a recent development.

Though the satirical targets of the show are hardly novel – show business, contemporary culture and politics – the barbs are often sharp and witty. However, the main focus is the depressive character of BoJack. It is easy to argue that the core story could be re-enacted without any genre content, which is used largely to provide humour and give a surreal tone to proceedings: nevertheless, there are sf tropes on display, with one episode spent in the ocean-people society Under the Sea, while in another we find the ant-people have an Underground civilization. Also there are clown dentist Zombies.

Initially the critical reaction was lukewarm, the opening half of the first series being just another competent Satire on Hollywood (see California) and celebrity culture. However, this may have been intentional scene-setting: from the midway point BoJack Horseman changed tack and focused on the consequences of BoJack's actions. A melancholy tone permeated the show, which began to receive considerable critical acclaim. The series ends with BoJack achieving a sombre peace whilst his friends gently cut themselves loose from him. [SP]


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