Netflix’ original output has just been getting better and better of late.
The internet has been obsessed with the John Carpenter-and-Stephen-King-esque homage to all things 80’s Stranger Things since it’s release two weeks ago, and yes, it’s fantastic, but I wanted to talk about something which has a deeper meaning and is a truly important cultural text: a show about a talking horse.
Bojack Horseman may seem like an unlikely political hero, but season 3 of the show has upped the ante in terms of originality and social commentary, while still maintaining it’s hefty emotional clout.
Bojack remains a horse haunted by his demons, tackling his own mental illness and childhood trauma while struggling to maintain fully functioning adult relationships. His character is so well-drawn it is sometimes easy to forget you’re watching an animated equine, as he gets drawn into darker territory and more self-destructive behaviour as he tries to avoid intimacy and, in turn, rejection.
The whole cast of characters are beautifully drawn, from Alison Brie’s depressed activist and social media manager Diane, to Aaron Paul’s potentially asexual slacker Todd, the Hollywoo universe is full of a rich vein of drama to mine.
It is often said that you can get away with far more in animation than you can with live action, and season 3 of Bojack Horseman pushes this to the limit. Covering topics from murder, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, feminism and abortion, Bob Waksberg and team are unflinchingly reflecting modern society in a technicolour world.
Resolutely story-driven, the comedy is almost an after-thought, but it is also supremely dark in it’s humour. In possibly the most controversy-baiting episode, ‘Brrap Brrap Pew Pew’, we follow Diane and her husband, loveable canine Mr Peanut Butter, as they decide to have an abortion. After accidentally tweeting out from one of her social media clients accounts that she’s having an abortion, said star Sextina Aquafina decides to embrace her new-found status as an empowered pro-life icon and releases a hugely ill-advised music video about murdering embryos with guns.
“Is Twitter an appropriate forum to be discussing a sensitive issue like abortion? Wouldn’t a better forum be…nowhere?” TV News-whale Tom
Setting aside any concept of political correctness, the episode encourages open, honest discussion in a time when some topics are seen as off the table, even for hard-hitting drama.
“Has the concept of women having choices gone too far? We’ve assembled this diverse panel of white men in bow ties to discuss the issue”- TV news-whale Tom, hitting the nail on the head.
The rest of the episode packs in ideas about celebrity culture, a woman’s right to choose, freedom of speech and some fairly emotionally devastating moments into 25 minutes of beautifully written and acted TV (and also shoe horns in some digs at Jurj Clooners).
Episode 4, ‘Fish out of water’ is almost entirely silent, following Bojack as he visits the Pacific Ocean. In the finest tradition of silent acting, the episode is by turns slapstick and heart-breaking, as Bojack finds himself responsible for the welfare of an orphaned seahorse. You wouldn’t get that on The Big Bang Theory.
Overall the season is hugely melancholy, as we watch Bojack spiral downwards into depression and self-destructive behaviour, with the kind of story arc that Breaking Bad would have been proud of. Even when one of Bojack’s oldest friends dies from a drug overdose the show manages to find the humour in the darkness.
Will Arnett is incredible as Bojack, bringing the warmth and charisma needed to balance out a character who could have been inherently unlikeable. Instead we find ourselves rooting for Bojack and hoping he can let his guard down enough to stop his pattern of self-destruction.
The joy of streaming services producing comedy is that they don’t have to cater to the mainstream, and they can make genuinely daring and ground-breaking shows, unfettered by worries of alienating advertisers. Bojack Horseman continues to be a shining example of this, a show that is daring, brave, funny and leaves you wondering why more of what we see on screens large and small isn’t as honest as this.