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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bojack Horseman Review: Dark Horse Comic.

I gotta say, I did not expect to write a review about this. I only liked the show, usually I need a stronger reaction than that to get me tuh' writtin'. But the critical reaction being as tepid as it is, I feel the need to wade in amongst the "mehs" and shine a light on what this show does well. Which is plenty.

Will Arnett plays an anthropomorphic horse who's trajectory in the entertainment business went from struggling comedian, to long running sitcom lead in "Horsin' Around," to a solitary has-been who's self aware enough to want to change, but too much of a coward to do anything about it. Yeah, this show gets existential. Darkly so.

You can blink and miss 4 second gags about Bojack waving his hand over a stove top muttering "nothing on the outside, nothing on the inside" that are just fast enough to be funny, yet manage to add just a touch more character depth. Like the director just dropped an ice cube down your back. It's surprising in the moment, and it's funny in retrospect. But if he just held the ice to the back of your neck, it'd be painful. In some respects this method works a hell of a lot better than most straight dramas I've seen. Bojack does this again and again. It lured me into thinking it was another Mission Hill (the most thunderously boring animated series yet unleashed upon the world) but would routinely sneak in either clever anthropomorphized animal gags (maggot morticians, paparazzi birds, penguin publishers, middle aged women as lap dogs, a wolf in a bar wearing a t-shirt that just says SHEEP while hitting on one, I could go on... it's marvelous.)  or decent story beats and dialogue.

This is a show meant to be paused and savored.
The voice cast is talented enough that footage of the taping session would almost be enough for me. Seriously, where has Amy Sedaris been? If nothing else, her character guaranteed a Colbert cameo. But as Bojack's agent Princess Caroline (did you guess she's a cat?) she gets more depth in one season than Lois Griffin has had in 5. In fact, her boyfriend near the end of the season is my favorite running gag in a long time. Aaron Paul is, unfortunately, playing a slightly more well adjusted Jessie. But he plays it so well I didn't mind. And while most of the time the show struggles to find something for him to do, they usually pull it off. Just wait until "Boreanaz house" before passing judgment.

What else? Stanley Tucci is great as Bo's old showrunner/back stabbed best friend. Paul F. Tompkins tears it up as golden retriever, Mr. Peanut butter. He's dim, over eager, stupendously vain, yet you can't stop loving him. There is simply no better analogy for a dumb, pretty boy, actor than a golden retriever.  Which  brings us to Alison Brie's, Diane. As well as a great low key performance from her. There's not a lot to say about her barring spoilers, except she's Bo's ghostwriter as well as the near central source of conflict for the season. For those of you that think she could never really swim in the deep waters of mad men, I say that you should watch what she does here. A charming, three dimensional, love interest that could carry the show on her own.

Intellectually I can accept this show will be rule 34'd... but emotionally I cannot.

I don't think I'm overselling how damn good the acting is, but there are serious issues that hold it back. Small, but consistent things. It's true there's a lot in common with this and Californication, and in terms of basic structure I don't think it branched out enough. It's also true it never got a real "belly laugh" from me either. Just bemused snickering, not that it's a bad thing, I just wish it went for bigger laughs a few times.

But unlike Californication, where there must have been a clause in Duchovny's contract that forced his character to always be at least slightly badass, Bojack is allowed to be pathetic. It's depths of pathetication is the single most interesting thing the show does. The monologue at the end of episode 11 cut through me like butter. A passionate demand that the person on stage "like" him. Not "marry" him, not "love" him, just think highly enough about his capacity for humanity to simply enjoy being around him. It's a spectacular monologue. One that exempts this show from a low score entirely on it's own. It was more moving that anything Zach Braff has ever managed to cobble together... but that's not selling my point much, is it?  

Let me leave you with this. There's a lot in this show that have been done before as well as a few things in there that have been done to death. But what it does well (the acting, the story, the relatable existentialism) is so well done, by the end of the season I could barley notice the warts anymore. Remember how irritating it was on Family Guy when Brian would just unleash a diatribe or whiny monologue out of nowhere? Bojack Horseman is structured to earn those moments. It even writes them more coherently. Simply put, clinical depression has never been more entertaining. 

...That's praise.

Also I love the opener just... so much:

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