Review for BoJack Horseman - Season One
I don’t have a lot of time for broadcast TV these days. There’s only so much time, and my unwatched DVD and BD pile demands my attention. What that does mean is that unless I get it on disc, I’m mostly out of touch with what’s worth watching on TV these days. I may have mentioned this before, but my touchstones with US cartoons are still The Simpsons and Futurama. I’ve yet to see any of the Seth MacFarlane generation of ‘toons. It was only when Manga Entertainment were distributing for Rooster Teeth, that I got to see something more contemporary with Red vs. Blue and RWBY. And once again, it’s down to Manga Entertainment that I get to see what all the ‘cool kids’ are watching these days, as this winter they are bringing Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Samurai Jack, and this, BoJack Horseman to UK home video.
We’re getting it all in bulk too, 5 seasons of Adventure Time this year, all 5 seasons of Samurai Jack (incidentally, the one show of the four that I’ve heard of), the first two seasons of BoJack Horseman, although at the time of writing, the first two seasons of Steven Universe have been pushed back to the start of 2020. I have to say that I have yet to click with Adventure time, having reviewed the first season of it, and I’ve opted for BoJack Horseman to see if it has more appeal for me. But in a case of bad timing, it turns out that the BoJack Horseman series has been cancelled by Netflix after season 6. Should I get invested in this show?
In 1987, BoJack Horseman was the star of the hit sitcom, Horsin’ Around, a family favourite that ran for 9 years. And since his glory days he’s had nothing but a stay at home life with his freeloading houseguest Todd, occasionally sleeping with his agent Princess Carolyn, and he’s trying to get his autobiography written. That isn’t going so well, to the point that his publisher insists that he gets a ghost writer. Diane Nguyen doesn’t seem to be the usual Hollywoo sycophant...
The first twelve episodes of BoJack Horseman are presented across two Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment.
1. BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story, Chapter One
2. BoJack Hates the Troops
3. Prickly - Muffin
4. Zoës and Zeldas
5. Live Fast, Diane Nguyen
6. Our A-Story is a ‘D’ Story
7. Say Anything
8. The Telescope
9. Horse Majeure
10. One Trick Pony
11. Downer Ending
BoJack Horseman gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and sharp, there is no problem with compression, and no sign of aliasing or banding. The animation is smooth and detail levels are excellent. It’s quite an idiosyncratic cartoon, presenting a world filled with humans and animals in humanoid form, not least the titular BoJack Horseman. The character designs are appealing, memorable and simple as you would expect, but definitely establishing a tone for the show which is fairly unique.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo English with optional subtitles. The sound is fine with no glitches, the dialogue is clear, and the music suits the show well. I have to say that this isn’t a show that desperately needs a surround mix, but it’s nice to have the option, even if it’s just for a little bit of ambience.
The discs present their content with static menus.
Each episode gets an audio commentary from various members of the cast and crew.
Disc 1 has the Episode 101 Animatic, the previs version of the episode which lasts 25:23.
Disc 2 has the Main Title Animatic, which lasts 56 seconds, and the Side-By-Side Animation Walkthrough lasts 3:08 with an optional commentary.
It doesn’t look like a lot written down, but the commentaries really add value to the release.
Why didn’t I know about this? BoJack Horseman is brilliant! There was a comedy series called Episodes a few years back, featuring Matt LeBlanc playing a fictional version of himself, a washed up sitcom actor looking to rejuvenate his career by starring in a US version of a UK show. It was a show that was darkly comic, with pathos and irony. I love that show, and want to own the whole thing on Blu-ray. Alas, only the first season was released that way. Besides, go to a retailer website, and search for ‘Episodes’. That is no way to find what you are looking for. It’s far easier to search for ‘BoJack Horseman’. BoJack Horseman begins from a similar place, with a washed up sitcom actor looking for recognition and fame twenty years after his heyday, and it shares that dark sense of humour and irony, but it develops in a different direction; of course with it being an animation with lots of anthropomorphised animals as characters, there’s a lot of scope for differences. It must be said though, that I love BoJack Horseman for much the same reasons as I loved Episodes.
BoJack lives in a mansion, clearly having earned enough from his career not to worry about money, he has an extravagant lifestyle, and a permanent live-in houseguest named Todd, who like most people in Hollywood has dreams of making it big, in his case with a rock-opera, but has instead honed a career as a deadbeat. At this point in his life, it’s clear that BoJack keeps him around as an audience of sorts. BoJack’s agent is Princess Carolyn, a cat who’s his on-and-off girlfriend, and who obviously keeps him on because of sentiment, despite her abrasive attitude towards him. When the show begins, she’s on his case trying to get him to finish his autobiography. He hasn’t started it, let alone finished it; writing not being one of his strong suits, so Carolyn assigns a ghost writer to do the heavy lifting. BoJack’s against the idea, but then Diane Nguyen shows up at his door, and BoJack’s got enough libido and ego to change his mind.
The thing is that Diane’s approach is a warts and all book, which requires her shadowing BoJack pretty much around the clock. You’d think that would leave lots of opportunity for BoJack to work his charms, but it turns out that Diane is dating Mr Peanutbutter. Peanutbutter is BoJack’s rival. He got famous from a copycat sitcom, and BoJack has taken pains to avoid him ever since, only with Diane around, he can no longer do that. With the main characters assembled, it’s time to let the story unfold.
I did think at first that this was an episodic show, as the second episode seemed to do its own thing, with BoJack causing a PR nightmare after ‘disrespecting’ a military veteran in a supermarket, then proceeding to double down on his faux pas. But once the third episode introduced Sarah Lynn, BoJack’s sitcom co-star, all grown up, even more famous, and with a drug habit, it became clear that this is a show where continuity plays a big part. Things that happen in earlier episodes play through subsequent episodes (Hollywood gets renamed Hollywoo at one point), and you can even notice settings and backgrounds retaining alterations as the show unfolds.
BoJack Horseman is a wry and dark, even cynical look at the phenomenon of fame. BoJack had his fifteen minutes in the nineties; he had eight years in a top sitcom, but since then, the fame has faded. He’s known as the guy out of that show, and he fears that he ever will be. The book is his chance to stay relevant, to keep his name in public consciousness. As Diane starts to interview him, naturally it means looking at his past, from childhood to the present day, and he has to face all the choices that he made, and come to terms with the fact that all of the choices that he still makes, are in pursuit of fame, and most of them are bad choices.
Sarah Lynn was the little kid on the show, and she really found fame as a teen pop idol, but as her teenage years faded, so has her fame, and she’s now more famous for being famous, for who she’s dating, and her drug habit than any musical output. BoJack isn’t responsible for that, but he has to reconcile the woman Sarah is now with the little girl who grew up on his show, and there is poignancy there. He’s more responsible for what happened with the show’s creator, Herb Kazazz, who before that point was a mentor and a friend, and when he learns that Herb is ill, he has to face that past as well. And of course there is that ongoing rivalry with Peanutbutter, which reaches a new level when BoJack develops feelings for Diane.
In the end, Diane’s book does what BoJack was hoping for, but not in the way that he was expecting. He gets his second chance, but as with all that happens to him, there is a melancholy and irony to it that undercuts his triumphs. BoJack Horseman is hilarious. I lost count of how often I would laugh in an episode, and it’s the toe-curlingly cringy hilarity that comes from the desperation of someone trying to be relevant. And then BoJack Horseman turns on a dime to suddenly deliver a delicate moment of poignancy, of emotional truth that can be heart-wrenching. The penultimate episode sees BoJack feeling so betrayed by the honesty in Diane’s book that he tries once again to write his own, this time through a haze of drugs to enhance his thinking. It’s a hilarious sequence that references Peanuts at one bizarre point. It doesn’t work of course, and he has to return to Diane, penitent and apologetic; and once again he’s seeking attention, some confirmation. Only this time it’s less funny as it is a moment that makes you want to weep for the guy.
BoJack Horseman is brilliant, one of the best Western animations I have seen and I highly recommend it. Great characters and smart writing make for a really compelling story. There are some neat cameos as well if you’re up for trivia. This is one show from Manga Entertainment to really keep an eye on. Hopefully they’ll bring the rest of the series over in short order; season 2 will be here soon enough, but I already want to see it all.