Despite all the suggestions that we’re in a new golden age of television, there’s still plenty of hand-wringing and pearl clutching over the phenomenon of binge watching. Some argue simply that it undermines the experience. It’s also been suggested that binge watching can kill.
That a lot of us are binging, particularly on streaming content, is clear. The health scare aspect seems to ignore that concerns over how much is too much go back to at least the 1980s. The argument that we’re somehow depriving ourselves by not seeing a series as originally intended (complete with months-long, between-seasons hiatuses) ignores the very basic human tendency to want more of what we like. Binge watching is perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid to an ongoing series.
Which brings us to Netflix’s latest original series, Bojack Horseman. It’s so elegantly conceived and wonderfully written that, were it to not extend beyond the initial 12 episodes, one’s disappointment would be easily overcome. There’s undoubtedly room left to expand, but the first season feels remarkably complete. It would be an ambiguous end to be sure, but only in the best possible cinematic sense; questions remain, but the (anti?) hero has clearly been transformed.
Will Arnett voices the eponymous lead character, the cynical, washed-up, heavy drinking and drug-taking star of saccharine ‘90s sitcom Horsin’ Around, about a horse/man raising three foster children (think Full House). It’s all set in an anthropomorphic universe shared by both human beings and human/animal hybrids, including Bojack’s cat/woman agent (Amy Sedaris) and fully-human Todd (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), a freeloader with an indefinite claim on Bojack’s couch.
Driving the series is Bojack’s developing affection for Angela Nguyen (Alison Brie), a ghost writer hired to draft his memoirs. Angela is in a relationship with dog/man Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). The latter also serves as a doppelganger of sorts for Bojack; he was the star of a later sitcom that lifted the premise of Bojack’s wholesale.
The two are very much opposites at the outset, with Mr. Peanutbutter representing pure optimism, in stark contrast to Bojack’s jaded world-weariness. “He’s too dumb to know he shouldn’t be happy,” our Bojack insists. Mr. Peanutbutter will later opine that he keeps himself occupied with inanities because “the universe is a dark void.” That’s emblematic of the show’s mature and complex approach to character, which sits very nicely next to its many moments of pure, cartoon-like zaniness (like a sloth/person standing immobile on a treadmill in the background of a health club scene).
It’s fitting that Bojack suggests that “Closure is a made-up thing by Steven Spielberg to sell movie tickets.” That line, and an episode wherein he’s embroiled in a petty dispute over dibs on a box of muffins, hints at a welcome sense of outrage at the show’s core. The aforementioned dispute mushrooms into a major PR disaster simply because the other party is a Navy Seal. Literally. It doesn’t go well for Bojack, of course, but he speaks eloquently for those of us whose views on foreign policy are slightly more nuanced than “support the troops” by asking why America tells its children violence isn’t the way, but doesn’t live it.
Bojack Horseman demands binge watching simply because it’s so very, very good.