Being the lazy, easily distracted millennial that I am (just ask TIME), I wandered onto Netflix the other day in my usual procrastinatory way. I was on a mission to hack my way through Season 6 of Dexter, but my benevolent overlords of content streaming had something else in mind. The feature bar exploded into full screen, depicting the hand-drawn image of an anthropomorphized horse swilling a glass of scotch and sporting a tweed jacket. Understandably, my first reaction was an emphatic “What the f*ck?” and the accompanying trailer only served to drive this sentiment home.
So what the f*ck is BoJack Horseman? The pitch sounds relatively straightforward. The faded star of a popular 90’s sitcom grapples with his has-been status in contemporary Hollywood. But in a very Adult Swim move, series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg threw a curveball. What if that TV star was also a horse? In fact, what if our whole world was populated by bipedal animals who talked, dressed and swore just like us? It’s a snide concept that recalls Comedy Central’s recent bellyflop Ugly Americans, but unlike that misfire – which featured the integration of fairy tale creatures into Manhattan – BoJack has a world of talent behind it.
The series – Netflix’s first foray into adult-oriented animated programming – stars Will Arnett (Arrested Development, The Millers) in the title role alongside an ensemble that is no less impressive. The wide cast of people and talking animals includes Amy Sedaris as Princess Caroline, BoJack’s feline sometimes girlfriend and always agent; Paul F. Tompkins as Mr. Peanut Butter, a golden retriever and the star of a rival sitcom; Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Todd Chavez, his best friend; and Alison Brie of Community fame as the ghostwriter Diane Nguyen, who is helping him one his memoirs.
But the main draw of the show is still BoJack himself. According to Arnett, our protagonist is “a very extreme narcissist who is having a tough time re-entering the world.” What television anti-hero isn’t nowadays?
Arnett went on to say that the show spins a spot-on satire of Hollywood superficiality but it’s “not too inside baseball. It’s more like what happens when you live in a world where everyone always says yes to you, and all of a sudden that world ceases to exist,” he says. BoJack also preys upon the celebrity-obsessed population that drives the vicious cycle that allow misanthropes like Horseman to exist.
Paul’s character Todd *ahem* reigns in the darker tendencies of this dynamic. He provides some emotional buoyancy and much needed social perspective for BoJack, but they’re far from an even match.
“On BoJack’s side, it’s more of a frustrating love-hate relationship,” says Paul. “At the beginning, he’s just annoyed by Todd and doesn’t feel like he even wants Todd around. Throughout the season, BoJack realizes that he does, deep down, care for Todd quite a bit.”
But don’t settle in for a feel-good marathon around the family boob tube. Creator Bob-Waksberg – who conceived the story around the drawings of his good friend, graphic artist Lisa Hanawalt, says that he sees BoJack as rough and blackly subversive.
“So many shows these days are about happy-go-lucky, cheerful characters, like SpongeBob SquarePants and Homer Simpson, wandering blissfully through life. I thought it would be a fun change of pace to do a show about a really sad, depressed character,” he says.
The Netflix format also shakes up the formula for Bob-Waksberg’s creation, which adopts a serialized structure often not found in the world of animation. Because all the episodes are released at once, viewers are likely to watch from the beginning unlike casual Fox viewers who are likely to catch a stray episode of Family Guy every now and again. The minds behind BoJack used this to those advantage in the story development process. It’s not full-on True Detective, where jumping in midway through episode 1 will throw off the entire season, but the progression is apparent.
“You don’t have to worry about people coming in on Episode 7 and not know what’s going on,” Bob-Waksberg says. “For me, a big selling point was the idea you start out light and fun and cartoon-y and then you get progressively darker as the season progresses.”
Season 1 of BoJack Horseman gallops onto Netflix today. Don’t forget to clear your schedule for all his equestrian antics.