The Brilliant Self-Awareness of BoJack

By  · Published on July 27th, 2016

How BoJack Horseman’s season 3 poster foretold a season that is a hit with audiences and critics.

I am very specific about what comedy shows I will watch because I have a very specific sense of humor. I like my comedy shows to be self-aware, like Arrested Development, with scathing and sarcastic jokes, like Archer. Many shows have tried to be a perfect amalgam of those two humors, and many have failed. But, Netflix’s BoJack Horseman has surpassed the odds and become one of my favorite comedy shows. Except, it is not really fully a comedy. And, it is not fully a drama. It defies genre categorization because it and the characters are simultaneously hilarious and devastating, introspective and narcissistic, moralizing and irredeemable. Each season is a gift worth examining and savoring.

Season three of BoJack recently premiered on Netflix and is drawing a great response from critics and audiences alike. But, even before the season premiered, I knew that this one was going to great based on the poster Netflix released for season three. The poster lists BoJack’s name right along with some of television’s most famous Golden Age anti-heroes: Soprano, Draper, and Underwood. The only mega anti-hero missing from this poster is Breaking Bad’s Walter White, who is absent in favor of House of Cards’ Frank Underwood because, you know, Netflix gotta do Netflix.

With this poster, Netflix is finally acknowledging and embracing two things. One, that BoJack, the character, is complicated and difficult, just like the characters listed on the poster. The depths of these character’s dissatisfaction in life are rooted in themselves and the happiness they never achieve. One of the most iconic moments from Mad Men asks, “But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” On The Sopranos, Tony questioned the that if “ we’re the only country where the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in writing… where’s my happiness then?” When Frank proposed to Claire in House of Cards, he said that Claire should reject his proposal if all she wants is happiness. BoJack’s response to Diane telling him that he is in charge of his own happiness was that that is depressing. Yet, he spends the length of the show, so far, chasing after and craving something that will make him happy. Instead of taking steps to make his life better, he drowns his sorrows away in alcohol and bullying and more bad decisions. If that sounds like it could be about, oh I don’t know, The Sopranos or Mad Men or House of Cards, it is because it should. These men, and horse, all share a common struggle in their quest for happiness and completion: their complex struggle with humanity.

And two, that BoJack Horseman is actually one of the best, and certainly the best original, shows offered on the streaming platform. This is a show that consistently gets better with every passing season and this one just edges out a near perfect season two. In this season, BoJack is struggling to figure out what his legacy to the world will be when he is gone. Will winning an Oscar undo all the wrong he has done? Will it lead him to make good choices? Will it replace the sadness in his life with happiness? If that doesn’t, then what will? These are deeply personal questions for show about an anthropomorphic horse to be answering. This season fully explores every possible answer to those questions in wildly creative ways. The catharsis that comes by the end of the season is welcomed by BoJack finally accepting responsibility for his destructive behavior.

This poster is totally self-aware and perfect for this completely unique show. BoJack, as a character, is just as complex and well-written as the best television characters often are. BoJack Horseman as a show is unlike anything else on television right now. It’s a scathing commentary on humanity and Hollywood culture that fully commits to providing its audience with a very good television show. Netflix accepting the absurdity and ambition of this show is a welcomed sight.

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