I have never been one much for animation. Somehow I can’t get past the actual animation. As a person who is not that visual in the first place, I sort of need the realism of actual people to draw me into something I watch (even if I often watch only halfheartedly). I have always been this way, preferring live-action Muppets to cartoons. Animation just does not hold my interest for some reason, even if the story and the content are fantastic. Which means that I don’t get as much out of something great, like the film Persepolis, as I should.
I read many good things – or even not good things, but things that made me curious – about BoJack Horseman – yet another of Netflix’s triumphs – so I decided to give it a try. What struck me as I watched episode after episode is the sense that animation can actually poke fun at and draw out real satire from things, people, situations, trends in ways that “real” shows cannot as easily do.
That said, it always takes me a while to readjust my view to watch animals become anthropomorphized, interacting with and dating humans. Lifting the anchor to reality, the whole thing becomes a lot more palatable: it’s fine that a horse, BoJack Horseman, who starred in a sitcom is now a has-been trying to reignite recognition by publishing an autobiography he can’t get around to writing. It’s fine that his great rival is a dog, Mr Peanut Butter, who starred in a suspiciously similar sitcom. And because a dog is always aiming to please, this rivalry is more grounded in Horseman’s envy and depression. The dog is always exceedingly good-natured, a little bit vacant but very sweet and sincere and always attempting to be friends with Horseman. There’s almost no real rivalry until Horseman starts to have feelings for his ghost writer and Mr Peanut Butter’s girlfriend, Diane, a human.
“Son of a bitch – that literal son of a bitch.” -BoJack on rival Mr Peanut Butter
The mix of human and animal characters becomes, if not invisible, just an extra level of comedy. And can you fault anyone for creating a seal who is a Navy SEAL? No new stories in “Hollywoo”.
Slate offered a solid description of the show’s premise. It argues that the show is more clever than funny, delving into the comedic yet sad territory of has-been celebrity and the pervasive idea of “revival” in the form of tell-all autobios and reality shows.
Vulture’s analysis goes a step further and echoes about what I feel after watching the show: it is “one of the most aggressive portraits of depression I think I’ve ever seen. Look past the anthropomorphic animal characters and the satire of toxic celebrity culture: This show is radically sad. I love it.”