BoJack Horseman: Season 1 — a review

Everyone should have a guilty pleasure that doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Mine (or, at least, one of them) is BoJack Horseman. I knew the program existed before I started watching it. A cartoon with animal characters in it. Didn’t seem like the kind of stuff I would get into. However, I pride myself (which goeth before the fall) as having an open mind, and I gave it a chance. Honestly, I was hooked from the first episode.

Season 1 premiered way back in 2014 and consists of twelve episodes. The series milieu is a familiar one. It’s Los Angeles, California. But, this is a Los Angeles that includes both human and animal characters, a parallel-universe funhouse-mirror version of Hollywood. I’ll admit that it did take my watching the first few episodes to begin to suspend my disbelief, and it took the series that long to find its true voice. Of course, that true voice is a bit dark and pessimistic, as the above epigram from the supremely positive Mr. Peanutbutter might suggest.

The central character in the series is BoJack Horseman, a fifty-year-old washed-up sitcom star. The lyrics to the song in the closing credits does a succinct job of describing the show: “Back in the ’90s I was in a very famous TV show . . .Don’t act like you don’t know. And I’m trying to hold on to my past. It’s been so long I don’t think I’m gonna last. . .”

BoJack is voiced by Will Arnett, of Arrested Development, and he seems to be having a blast playing the narcissistic, dissolute former star. The famous TV show was called Horsin’ Around, and it was about a horse who had to care for several precocious children. As it is recreated in flashbacks, it seems like a believable ’90s sitcom. BoJack wears a lot of Cosby sweaters in it. The flashbacks showing how BoJack went from being a stand-up comedian to having his own show is evocative of Seinfeld as well.

In the present-day of the series, BoJack is trying to write his memoir. His publisher at Penguin (which is staffed by penguins, of course, with Patton Oswalt providing the voice for Pinky Penguin) hires a ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), a human writer whose boyfriend is BoJack’s former sitcom rival, a dog named Mr. Peanutbutter. Mr. Peanutbutter’s sitcom was a carbon copy of BoJack’s, with a dog as caretaker instead of a horse. The character is voiced by Paul F. Tompkins.

Predictably, BoJack falls in love with Diane, and much of the arc of the first season concerns this infatuation. The memoir is eventually published, with the title One Trick Pony, and it wins a Golden Globe award even though, as BoJack points out during his acceptance speech, it’s neither a TV show nor a movie.

There’s no shortage of guest voice actors on this series. Amy Sedaris provides the voice for Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s former girlfriend and current agent. She’s a pink cat. Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad‘s Jessie Pinkman, is Todd Chavez, BoJack’s permanent Kato-Kaelin-type houseguest; Paul is also an executive producer on the series. Stanley Tucci is Herb Kazzazz. J.K. Simmons is Lenny Turtletaub. Keith Olbermann is TV news anchor/whale Tom Jumbo Grumbo. There’s no shortage of acting talent here.

Actress Margo Martindale, who has appeared in nearly every television series I’ve watched in the past decade or so, makes several appearances as the cartoon version of herself.

This is a show that you need to watch closely, since sight gags and puns provide a lot of the series’ humorous moments, from the ridiculous Vincent Adultman to the elephant urinating in the alligator’s mouth outside of BoJack’s restaurant, Elefante. A few other notable gags: St. Elmer’s Medical Center (with an image of a horse); a headshot of actor John Ham (a pig) on a bulletin board in Princess Carolyn’s office; Mr. Peanutbutter’s drink in a dog bowl; the strip club named “Girls, Girls, Gorillas.” I could go on, and if I watched the episodes again, I’m sure I’d find more. I can only imagine that the writer’s room at BoJack is a raucous one.

This series is still a current one. I have several seasons still to watch, which I will continue to do every time I find myself with an extra 24 minutes to kill. As a guilty pleasure, this is one series that I’ve never put on my watch schedule. I think I’ll continue to watch it this way. It may take me longer to get through them, but that’s okay as well. It’ll give them time to create more seasons.

One final note: I included the Mr. Peanutbutter epigram at the beginning because it struck me that, in spite of the pessimistic slant of the quote, it’s not that far off from my own personal happiness mantra: Happiness is Looking Forward to Something. Maybe that something is “unimportant nonsense,” like this show. Hmm . . . food for thought.

Season 1 Report Card: B-plus

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