I’ve spent the past week binging my favorite Netflix Original, Bojack Horseman. Yes, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black, pale in comparison to the amazingness that is Bojack Horseman (insert something about how they’re totally different genres that shouldn’t really be compared here).
But seriously, Bojack Horseman is one of the best shows on any network. It’s the type of ridiculous premise that shouldn’t work: it’s the Hollywood we know and love but with a lot of talking animals. Our star is a horse named Bojack. Back in the ’90s, he was in a very famous tv show. But now he’s drowning in drugs, alcohol, and self-pity. He has a lovable but dimwitted roommate; there’s a dog named Mr. Peanutbutter who ripped off his entire career and also happens to be in a relationship with Bojack’s ghost writer. His agent is a cat who he also used to date. The more I write the more I think “wow this sounds ridiculous.”
But yet somehow it works. Bojack Horseman walks that perfect line between comedy and drama. It makes poignant observations about society. It still makes me laugh every episode. And a well executed wacky premise gets to me in a way few other things can. There’s something inspiring about knowing that pretty much any idea can still work in the hands of the right writers.
So much of the genius of Bojack comes down to the characters. There’s a lot of variety among them. There are pessimists and optimists. There are egotists and altruists. Some are impulsive, some are hesitant. Some are dreamers, some are realists. They’ve done a great job of coming up with a lot of different personalities (or horseinalities or doginalities or catinalities) so that no matter what challenges come up, everybody’s going to respond to them differently.
Yet at the same time, none of these characters are real enemies of each other. Sure, there’s conflicts between them, sometimes they go several episodes without speaking, but you never get the sense that they really hate each other. There’s no good guys or bad guys. Everyone’s still sympathetic and relatable in their own way. That’s why Bojack does such a good job of reflecting real life despite all the ridiculous hijinks of the show.
And because we have such authentic relationships between characters, we get some surprisingly dramatic and sometimes dark moments than can really give us the feels. But there’s never the sense that the show is trying too hard to make these moments happen. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the writers initially set out to explore themes of depression and self-esteem and how these things can affect people’s personal and professional lives, but these storylines evolve organically from the characters themselves.
Now of course, part of why I’m writing this is because it’s been less than a week since Netflix released the fourth season of Bojack Horseman, and Season 4 is where a lot of decent shows can fall apart. I’m happy to report that this was not the case.
One of the things I noticed was that the show is becoming less and less reliant on Bojack himself. There are entire episodes where the title character has little to no screentime that are still interesting in their own right. Furthermore, the other characters are becoming less and less defined by their relation to Bojack. Todd is no longer his roommate. Princess Caroline is no longer his agent (or manager). Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter struggle with marital problems and a gubernatorial race, their storyline barely overlapping with Bojack.
But because I’ve spent the past few seasons learning to love these other characters as much if not more than I love Bojack, I didn’t even miss him. Instead, I found myself admiring some of the more unconventional episodes of the season and the people who pushed themselves to write them.
So while I’m not sure that Bojack Horseman is on anyone else’s list of shows to study if you want to learn about impeccable character development, it sure as hell on mine. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You might have an existential crisis. But I assure you, it’s all worth it.
TLDR: Watch Bojack Horseman.