Six episodes were provided for review prior to release.
While Netflix continues to try and stock its digital shelves with the best that TV has to offer, the service’s own programming is still mostly playing catch-up. Orange Is the New Black remains the flagship thanks to a lack of comparable shows, but whether it’s a prestige acting showcase, a would-be epic, or a zombified classic, much of the platform’s original content isn’t best in show just yet. The same can be said of BoJack Horseman, an animated comedy that’s not quite as clever as Archer, as imaginative as Rick & Morty, or as well-cast and directed as Bob’s Burgers. But that it was almost as good as those three in each way, and is getting closer still in Season 2, means BoJack Horseman has swiftly become an unlikely champion for the “Only on Netflix” brand.
BoJack Horseman’s unique gait helped to distinguish the show from a strong card of animated competition in 2014, but also bit it in the ass when premiering last August. The first half of Season 1 made available for early review gave little indication of the darker, serialized direction the series would adopt by the end of its first run. For most critics, and viewers not willing to give the show more than six episodes, BoJack Horseman was a mildly entertaining showbiz comedy – just with anthropomorphized animals playing half the parts, for some reason.
You can tell a lot about horses and satires by their teeth. The well-trod territory of Hollywood sendups on TV runs a gamut from the sharply fanged Curb Your Enthusiasm, to the safely capped Entourage. BoJack Horseman’s early ruminations on the subject weren’t particularly incisive; washed-up sitcom star BoJack Horseman, voiced by Will Arnett, floated through his L.A. day-to-day vainly and narcissistically, as Will Arnett characters often are wont to do. The notable voice cast (including Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, and Stanley Tucci) made the show seem in line with something like House of Cards, an excuse for you to watch people you like doing things you’ve seen done better elsewhere.
It was around the midpoint of Season 1 that the seeds creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg had quietly sown in the first half started to grow. Bob-Waksberg smartly structured BoJack with Netflix’s release model in mind, knowing that audiences wouldn’t check out after an occasional downer ending if the next episode was already available. The show took the important details that lingered after one-off plots about junkie child stars and sci-fi rock operas, and snowballed the characters, relationships, and world of BoJack Horseman into a much funnier, riskier study of personal contentment. What the show initially lacked for cultural specificity it gained tenfold in relatable characters probing for a deeper meaning to their shallow existence.
If last year’s trend holds, then we’re in for an amazing back half of Season 2. The first six episodes of the new batch relapse the show into more episodic territory, but the character work from Season 1 gives the sidebar adventures a lot more kick. Put another way: the difference between BoJack Season 1 and Season 2 is that the latter can do a great episode where an important relationship hangs in the balance because BoJack is pretending to be into autoerotic asphyxiation. The results are gross, hilarious, and sweet in a way that’s come to characterize BoJack in full stride.