Saturday, December 24, 2016
BEST TV OF 2016: BOJACK HORSEMAN IS LIKE MAD MEN, BUT BETTER AND WITH HORSES
In years past, I collaborated on a year-end Best Of list with various other luminaries from Chud.com. Now that I'm on my own, the list will be more unfiltered and nonsensical, and also separated into individual entries. Oh, and it's scripted TV only (it's simpler that way). The ordering of said list is largely arbitrary, but if strict quantification of artistic merit makes you feel safe and aroused, consider this #2.
It seems absurd on its face to say that the truest successor to Mad Men is a vulgar cartoon wherein half of the cast consists of anthropomorphic animals and beloved character actress Margo Martindale plays herself as a boozy, psychotic enemy of all mankind. So I’ll go one better: Bojack Horseman is not only better than all the derivations of Mad Men’s study of the eternal angst of financially and sexually overachieving but self-destructive middle-aged white men, it’s better than Mad Men itself.
Two things to put that claim in some context: 1) Mad Men is a quite good but very overrated show, and 2) I don’t give a damn that literally no one will agree with that, because I still get to be right about it. Yes, MM has glamorous production designs, erudite writing, sex appeal and ample wit. But wit is the humor of the terminally self-serious, and Bojack being a wacky animated comedy more readily identifiable as a progeny of The Simpsons' brand of sweeping satirical whimsy gives it sneaky advantages over its live action peers. For starters, it’s rarely even thought of as a peer to cable antihero shows, and the inherent goofiness that comes with the half-hour animated format has been used as cover to push its eponymous equine to even darker depths of addiction and destructiveness than Don Draper ever sunk. I used to fear the penultimate episodes of shows like The Wire or Game Of Thrones for how they always seemed to deliver the cruelest deaths, but I’ve come to dread that second to last episode of Bojack in the same way, to see what new low he could possibly, all-too-believably scrape. Last year’s was stunningly horrible. This year may be worse.
But it’s also screamingly funny. Not for nothing do I invoke The Simpsons; no one has done background, sign, and music gags as well and frequently since that show's heyday. It does inside-baseball skewering of the entertainment industry (another area where the animation serves as a buffer against the inherent insufferableness that comes with that territory) as well as anything since 30 Rock. Also, uniquely for Netflix, it has a strong sense of how to use its episodic format. The silent-film episode “Fish Out Of Water” justly received most of the attention for its form-bending theatrics, but the hilarious-turned-harrowing bender of “That’s Too Much, Man!” was as wild a ride as any hourlong drama took this year, and the ebullient ode to abortion that was “Brrap Brrap, Pew Pew!” outdid anything South Park did this year in terms of spit-your-drink-out funny takes on hot button issues. Bojack Horseman may be one of the worst
horses to ever front a sitcom, but Bojack
Horseman is the funniest sitcom on
Watch It For: All of the brilliance I didn’t even mention. Like Paul F. Tompkins’ demented positivity as celebrity golden retriever Mr. Peanutbutter, or Keith Olbermann’s skewering of his own blowhard image as perpetually-outraged whale of a news anchor.