Allan and I first watched "BoJack Horseman" in real time, from 2014 to January 2020. We liked it from the start, but as the show deepened in meaning and intensity, we became increasingly invested, amazed, moved, and sometimes awed.
At times BH became so emotionally intense, we would be left stunned and weeping at the end of an episode, especially (as we started to notice) the penultimate episode of each season. Yet the show is a comedy -- and remains funny throughout.
A few months ago, we re-watched the show straight through, all six seasons. The re-watch confirmed my conclusion that this is simply the best series ever made. In the title of this post, I've edited that statement into "my favourite show". But in my mind, it's simply the best, ever.*
1. It's hilarious. BH uses every kind of humour -- incisive satire, zany sight gags, dark head-shakers, silly shtick, and of course, an endless array of animal puns.
|One of the show's running sight-gags|
On the rewatch, we paused to capture all the incidental background humour, the kind pioneered by Matt Groening in The Simpsons -- names of stores, titles of books, road signs. One read: "Stop pausing and just watch the show!"
2. It's a brilliant send-up of the entertainment industry -- skewering it, but also peeling back the obvious to explore the hunger that drives it.3. It voices so much truth. Characters voice intimate, raw, emotional truths -- truths that grab your heart, truths that you recognize with a gasp, a pang. Every episode seems to contain at least one of these moments -- yet it never feels forced or overdone, because. . .
|Emotional truths: talks on the roof|
4. BH is character-driven. The characters are complex -- even the seemingly simple ones. They journey, they struggle, they grow, or they don't. All hilariously. And painfully. You know them. You care.
5. It's original. BH employs an incredibly inventive, original, and effective use of animation, far beyond what's used in most adult-animation shows. There are some eye-popping, show-stopping episodes, such as the incredible "Fish Out of Water," that have gotten a lot of attention. But there are many bold techniques: an animation-within-animation style used in certain flashback scenes, a night-sky background attached to a specific emotional memory, a character's face covered by crude scribbles. This show could only have been created with animation.
6. It's complex. BH is the best treatment of the nexus of childhood trauma, mental health, self-loathing, and addiction that I've ever seen -- a kaleidoscopic view that forces us to think, re-think, and think again.
|A visual effect signalling... something|
8. BH demands compassion. BoJack is a self-absorbed asshole. He does some terrible things. But the more we understand him, the more we root for him, the more we want others to forgive him, but. . .
9. BH demands accountability. Trauma might turn some people into abusive assholes, but that doesn't excuse their behaviour, because, guess what, everyone has suffered. All the assholes, and all the nice people, too, so. . .
|This might be the best 20 minutes of TV you ever see.|
Each of these 10 preceding reasons are part of why I love this show. But the most astonishing thing about BoJack Horseman is that. . .
11. It does all these things at the same time. I have never laughed so much and wept so much from the same show. And. . .
12. It does everything right. Six seasons, 77 episodes, and barely a misstep or a sour note or a false moment. An absolute triumph.
Thank you Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt! And thank you, Will Arnett. The role of a lifetime.
* This position was previously held by "The Larry Sanders Show". . . and the two have much in common.
Bonus track: two references to abortion as a positive force in a woman's life, the right decision without regret. I will be forever grateful.