I think everyone has had the experience of getting so involved in a TV show that is takes over your life. You know the symptoms – binge watching, missing meals, denying yourself sleep to watch just one more episode, eschewing social events to watch, and so on. And the emotional effect too. Where you dream about the characters, mull over plot points and future storylines in the time you aren’t watching, and that sick trembly feeling when you know it’s coming to an end and you somehow want it to go on forever but know it can’t. And when the ending comes you know it has changed your life in a way you possibly can’t articulate yet, but somewhere inside something has crossed over and life will never quite be the same again.
Strong, heady stuff, and it doesn’t happen too often. For me, with Buffy, Angel, Breaking Bad, The Wire off the top of my head. And now, after a binge of 76 episodes in a fortnight, Bojack Horseman.
Funnily enough, the opening episodes of season one are pretty run-of-the-mill, and a bit of a drag to get through. Our eponymous hero is a washed-up anthropomorphic horse who hires a ghostwriter to pen his memoir, lives with a drop out kid who turned up at his house and never left, has a Persian cat agent/on-off girlfriend, and is friends with a smooth talking labrador named Mr Peanutbutter. All ripe for the sort of anarchic comedy that Family Guy and The Simpsons do so well, and the first half of the season is not much more than a poor derivative of those.
But once the show hits its stride and gains some confidence, it turns into one of the most profound, moving, hard-hitting and emotional things I’ve ever seen. What I love the most about the show is how it is not only unafraid to ask difficult questions, but also digs into the complexity of the answer, and is confident enough to say, I don’t know where I stand on this. Bojack is, in many ways, a difficult character to empathise with. He uses people to get to the top. He suffers from alcoholism and drug addiction. He treats women like dirt. Yet somehow we root for him. That shows the sharpness of the scripts. They ask the most though-provoking of questions – is it possible to be redeemed after doing terrible things? Can people be forgiven for their misdemeanours? Should they be? And at the show’s heart, I think – can someone really ever escape their past?
Bojack had a shitty childhood. Terrible parents, no role models, and was influenced into the siren of alcohol and drugs at a young age. In Free Churro, one of the show’s greatest episodes, Bojack utters a 25 minute monologue at his mother’s funeral which lays bare their relationship and it’s devastating effect on his life. We sympathise, of course. We understand, even. But this is while some pretty awful events are taking place in his personal life that are ugly and squalid. We see the root of his issues through his childhood, but does that excuse his behaviour? Can an apology be enough? These questions come up time and again and really forces you to wrestle with them.
And all of this doesn’t even bring up the biting satire of the vacuousness of celebrity culture and the plethora of in-jokes that litter each episode. Or the razor sharp skewering of Hollywood (should be Hollywoo of course!) hypocrisy. Episode Hank after Dark is one of the best commentaries on the #Metoo scandal anywhere, and in later seasons, as Bojack’s addictions tighten their grip, the thoughtful handling of his spiralling descent, consequent rehab, relapses and attempt to make amends is funny, heartbreaking and utterly real. I guess the word I want is identifiable. All the characters are, in their own way, and it resonates on a higher plane then most other shows out there.
I’ve barely got into the other characters, or the quality of the story arcs, and how the episodes flow into one another perfectly, or the animation, which is superb, or the depths and nuances of the voice work, but you get the idea. It’s a bona fide classic, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A genuine masterpiece.