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As with Vincent Adultman, there are many stackable layers to a show like Netflix’s BoJack Horseman that might not be apparent to certain outside observers on first glance (or, if you tend to be more like Princess Carolyn, a second, third, or tenth glance). And that is okay. I know I didn’t catch everything season two of BoJack had to offer. But the one thing I did notice, time and again, while breezing through the excellent 12-episode second season, was how good this show is. Seriously, for a cartoon about a washed-up socially inept horse dealing with a deep, deep depression, the show is incredibly engaging. And it is the best piece of original programming Netflix has to offer (sorry House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, but BoJack is better than you both).
What makes BoJack such an intriguing and smart series is what might turn people off from its charms if they happen to be expecting a more traditional cartoon format: BoJack Horseman is an inherently dark and sad series. Now, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny, or that the show isn’t able to thrive in its more comedic moments (Todd’s insane hijinks are crucial in preventing the show from dissolving into a dark pit of depression and despair). But where the series really found its sweet spot this season was in its darkness.
It’s almost kitschy at this point to claim a series is a dramedy when it contains a generous portion of drama to go with its comedy, but I think BoJack is one of the few shows on television today that can claim that title without much debate. This isn’t a dramatic cartoon. It isn’t meant to be a straight comedy either (season one is certainly more traditional in its approach to comedy, and I would argue that season should be classified as such without much debate). It expertly straddles the line between focusing on the darker drama of BoJack’s life and Diane’s quest to find herself, and some of the more humorous set pieces of the show’s B-plots. The darkness of the drama never overshadows the comedy lurking throughout the piece. It’s a deceptively difficult thing to manage, and major kudos to Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his writing staff for the job they have done with the series thus far.
The most impressive element of BoJack‘s sophomore season, however, is the humanity that exists throughout the show’s darker moments. Take, for instance, the troubled marriage between Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter. I think we all might have predicted the pair were headed for trouble at the end of season one with their quick wedding. Diane is not a character known for making successful rash decisions, and the choice to get married seemed to stem from a desire of both parties to cement their relationship before it crumbled around them. Watching the pair finally address the growing issues between them in “After the Party” (which used its narrative structure particularly well) felt like watching a real couple discuss the same (a statement that might sound strange, considering one half of the couple is a dog). Mr. Peanutbutter’s speech about waiting alone for her all day was a particularly inspired piece of writing, hitting the humor inherently found in the statement coming from a dog, along with the real fear and sorrow in the confession. Moments of interaction like that ground what could be a fanciful and ridiculous series in reality.
And “After the Party” certainly wasn’t the darkest the series got. No, that honor belongs to the season’s penultimate episode, “Escape from L.A.” I will fully admit to watching the episode expecting BoJack and Charlotte to get together, thereby having BoJack ruin yet another person’s life with his own wants and desires. So, the reveal of just how far BoJack could actually fall at the episode’s end shocked even me. But, it made me love the show even more. BoJack is a complicated character. Don Draper level complicated. This isn’t a show that is willing to give easy answers and solve issues that might arise in a half hour (that show would be Horsing Around). That’s what makes it great. Like with Don Draper, we can watch from the outside as BoJack struggles to find who he is and how to navigate this life he leads and we can watch him fail more than he succeeds. After all, we all fail far more often than we succeed, although we all don’t have the unlimited cash that either Don or BoJack seemed to be blessed with. But the series isn’t afraid to make BoJack unlikeable, and it doesn’t apologize for his obvious flaws. We are shown him as he is, warts and all.
The sophistication present in how BoJack Horseman approaches interpersonal relationships is of course tempered by the extreme and bizarre that often follows around poor lost Todd. And those moments certainly lend themselves to excellent secondary stories, serving to create a uniquely strange world within the already strange reality of the series. It’s an absolute trip to see some of the things Todd gets himself involved in. And meshed with the beautiful darkness of the rest of the show, it created a truly amazing tapestry to watch. I don’t think I’ve ever used such language to describe a cartoon before, but BoJack has certainly earned the distinction. And with the series already renewed for a third season, there’s more dark introspection to come.