Welcome to Hollywoo. A place where anthropomorphic animals and humans live together, including our eponymous not-quite hero, washed up 90’s sitcom star, BoJack Horseman. It sounds ridiculous, and to a certain extent it is. But where BoJack succeeds is in its dark satire of celebrity culture, and it is this black humour that has seen this Netflix original series go from strength to strength over its three series.
In many ways, it’s just another sitcom about a middle-aged male muddling through life. BoJack is a sort of anti-hero, who drinks, smokes, takes drugs and womanises himself into oblivion. The celebrity theme runs throughout each series, the first dealing with BoJack’s attempt to return to fame by writing his memoir; in the second, we see him land his dream film role; and in the third, he’s up for an Oscar nomination, which is surely the highest aspiration for any celebrity? But with BoJack’s move back up the celebrity ladder, what we actually get is one of the most honest portrayals of depression on television today. It questions, are we born broken? Is there such thing as a good person? Does ‘it’ ever get easier?
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Far, far from it. The gags are plentiful and genuinely funny, mostly playing on the anthropomorphic nature of many of the characters; Mr. Peanutbutter, a golden Labrador, hates the postman. Princess Carolyn, a pink cat, is having a relationship with a mouse. There are a number of celebrity cameos appear, including Ethan Hawke, who, you guessed it, is a hawk. Each episode is littered with pop culture references, with flashback episodes providing particularly pleasing ones. It’s the sort of show that you can watch over and over again, and spot new jokes and easter eggs in the background – take a guess at which character is reading Clawsmopolitan?
The third series was released last year, to outstanding critical acclaim; whilst the first series may have been a slow burner, the same cannot be said for the third. It pushes boundaries and addresses issues that are rarely seen on the screen. ‘Fish Out of Water’ has undoubtedly been amongst the best-received episodes of the series; here we see BoJack travel underwater, unable to communicate with anyone, isolated as a stranger in an even stranger place. The episode is more or less without dialogue, a testament to the strength of the message it leaves: that if we were all just given an instruction booklet for life, things would be a heck of a lot easier. It’s powerful and thought provoking, yes. But somehow you’re also watching a grown land-horse and a baby seahorse adventuring through the ocean together, which feels like a fairly standard cartoon rhetoric.
BoJack truly is as funny as it is heartbreaking, and has been hailed as leading a new trend in comedy: that of the ‘sadcom’. Somehow in being so farfetched it manages to ring closer to home than the vast majority of other televisual portrayals of mental health. Perhaps it’s down to examining it through comedy, either way it’ll leave you in tears, most likely from an abundance of hysterical laughter and a hint of despair for humanity.