By Joshua Jones, Contributing Writer
We live in what many would consider a “golden age” of television. Gripping dramas like “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards” capture us with their serialized, grand stories no one could have imagined TV being able to pull off just ten years ago. With the increase of streaming services and cable networks, we are now seeing more experimental, original programming that would never have been produced by the studios of the past. “Bojack Horseman,” a Netflix adult animation series created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, is one such show.
“Bojack Horseman” follows the titular anthropomorphic horse, a depressed, alcoholic has-been actor from a cheesy 90’s sitcom as he struggles to regain relevance. Joining him on his adventures are his housemate Todd, his manager Princess Carolyn, the ghostwriter of his autobiography Diane and her husband Mr. Peanutbutter, Bojack’s former rival. Bojack must face both the ever changing world of celebrity culture and his inner demons: his selfishness, his self-loathing, and his self-destructive behavior.
The series might trick you into letting your guard down. The idea of an animated show for adults about a horse who used to be on a “Full House” type sitcom seems like the kind of show most would dismiss as completely ridiculous. However, the show amounts to so much more than just that. “Bojack Horseman” manages to be a comedically absurdist work, a philosophically absurdist work, a striking satire of American culture and politics, and, most surprisingly of all, an emotionally affecting drama about people dealing with severe issues.
In its fourth season, Bojack’s journey hits some of its darkest and most emotional moments yet. Over the course of the 12 episodes, every main character is given their own character arc: Bojack spends the season coping with the tragic death of one of the few people he cared about, Todd comes to terms with his sexuality, Princess Carolyn struggles with starting a family alongside her career, and Mr. Peanutbutter runs for California governor which causes Diane to re-evaluate their marriage. At the series’ best, it can be a devastating and hilarious.
The season refuses to pull any punches, managing to keep its clever wordplay while still sharply satirizing everything from political candidates who have absolutely zero experience to the movie industry’s cavalier attitude towards violence. One particular episode involves studio executives reacting to mass shootings based on how badly they will affect upcoming projects, a brutal and poignant critique of Hollywood’s priorities.
“Bojack Horseman” is buoyed in part due to its stellar voice cast. Talented actors like Will Arnett, Alison Brie, and Aaron Paul join hilarious comedians like Amy Sedaris and Paul F. Tompkins, along with guest roles voiced by notable actors including J.K. Simmons, Jessica Biel, Zach Braff, and Rami Malek.
It will never cease to amaze me that this series about a cartoon horse achieves a status of being not only one of the darkest comedies ever produced for television, but also one of the most accurate depictions of depression in the medium. It’s the kind of show that never gets as big of an audience as it deserves. In that sense, Bojack, both as a series and a character, is an underdog, one that will leave you hoping he can finally become the prize horse.