BoJack Horseman review – what will we do without him?

From alcoholism to miscarriage, Netflix’s hit animation has tackled the toughest of subjects with a side of animal magic. As it ends, it remains both wise and poignant

If you had to be part horse, which would you prefer: human head and horse’s body, or vice versa? If you had a horse’s body, you could leap over fences naked without flouting social convention, but it would be hard to swipe right on Tinder. Equally, if you had a horse’s head, how would any humans you hoped to seduce understand you? Neighing, in my experience, rarely gets one past first base. Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” The same goes for horses.

This matter has been on my mind for years, ever since I reviewed the premiere of BoJack Horseman (Netflix), the cartoon about a talking horse actor and other anthropomorphised animals coexisting with humans in Hollywood. How could it have anything more to say than one hoof stamp yes, two no? And yet it has amassed awards and outlived Channel 4 Racing, so it clearly has something.

Near the end of the final episode, we got to the nub of what that something is. Asexual human slacker Todd, fittingly voiced by Aaron Paul, and our eponymous horse-headed alcoholic hero stood on a beach contemplating life’s bitter mystery. BoJack was out of jail for the weekend for the wedding of his ex and agent, Princess Carolyn, a svelte pink cat voiced by Amy Sedaris.

Is Princess Carolyn marrying the Pink Panther? No, you bigot. She doesn’t have to stay in the pink feline lane when choosing a life partner. She’s marrying a human, even though Judah has a man bun, an equally unacceptable beard, and the trans-species surname Mannowdog.

Nobody realises, Todd tells BoJack, how profound the Hokey Cokey is. “You turn yourself around,” is the key line, he observed. It shows how we overcome life’s setbacks – be they BoJack’s alcoholism and self-loathing, or Princess Carolyn’s miscarriages.

BoJack looked doubtful. “I don’t think the songwriters thought about the existential significance of the lyric,” he sneered. “They rhymed ‘about’ with ‘about’.” Todd didn’t care for BoJack’s sneer, retorting: “Isn’t the point of art less what people put into it, more what they get out of it?”

Todd is surely right: we can all find jewels in unexpected places. If you’re open to having a pink talking cat struggle with the grief of miscarriage, or can find emotional depth in a horse with dementia being consoled by her errant son, then you bring to BoJack Horseman what it needs to be appreciated. And it’s worth it. Like The Simpsons or Daria, two of creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s touchstones, BoJack Horseman can be touching and profound without relinquishing the funny.

In the opening episode of season six, BoJack checked into rehab. “You can’t put a price on clean living,” said the receptionist, demanding $100,000 for a six-week stay. “And yet you seem to have,” BoJack replied. There he met Jameson, a woman in denial. “I blame water for being vodka-coloured,” she explained. Later, they skipped rehab so Jameson could check up on her boyfriend, only to find him at a party making out with a sexy woman with the head of a fly. The relationship was surely doomed: her kisses involved sucking her new love interest’s face with an insanitary proboscis. I’ve had worse dates.

But there’s more to BoJack Horseman than bestial allegory of diversity. “Laura!” yelled Princess Carolyn at one point, Camus-like in comprehending human absurdity. “Clear our my schedule! I have to push a boulder up a hill and then have it roll over me time and time again with no regard for my well-being.”

When BoJack was dumped by deer-headed Charlotte, it was painful to hear her plausible explanation: “You make me too sad.” When he and Todd fell out, BoJack had the best line: “You sleep on my couch and you don’t pay rent. I’ve had tapeworms that are less parasitic.”

Why the long face, you ask? Netflix is cancelling BoJack Horseman, sending him to TV’s knacker’s yard to join Mr Ed, Steptoe’s Hercules and Follyfoot’s stars among others. Which is a shame because the show had legs. And a lustrous mane, too. I’ll especially miss the voice of BoJack, Will Arnett. Going beyond his Batman growl and 30 Rock simper, Arnett eloquently expressed a horse’s existential woes. “That voice – the one that tells you you’re worthless and ugly and stupid,” said BoJack once. “It goes away, right?” When this horse talked, I had no problem understanding him.


Stuart Jeffries

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How BoJack Horseman became the most empathetic show on television
In a standout fifth season, the dark animated comedy continues to provide unexpected insight about human behavior through its non-human protagonist

Arielle Bernstein

14, Sep, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
BoJack Horseman review: shades of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Daria, but hard to love
Stuart Jeffries: The Netflix animation about a washed-up celebrity horse, which stars Will Arnett and Aaron Paul, arrived this week. But is it any good?

Stuart Jeffries

29, Aug, 2014 @11:27 AM

Article image
Green Eggs and Ham review – I'm a huge fan I am I am!
Woohoo! It’s the Dr Seuss crew, full of derring-do, tunnels of goo, with Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton too. Netflix, thank you!

Lucy Mangan

08, Nov, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
How BoJack Horseman became a surprise, heartbreaking hit
It started out as a low-stakes satire, but the Netflix comedy – whose final season begins this week – has morphed into a sweet, surreal meditation on the messiness of being alive

Stuart Heritage

24, Oct, 2019 @8:26 AM

Article image
Hoops review – puerile animation is perfect for Trump's America
Jewish kids are nerds, black men are fetishised, and women hardly figure at all in Netflix’s tedious, toxic pageant of frat-boy idiocy and penis gags

Stuart Jeffries

21, Aug, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
BoJack Horseman: season 5 review – pathos and punchlines make this a Netflix showstopper
The razor-sharp writing of Raphael Bob-Waksberg and its all-star cast make this unlikely story of a depressed showbiz horse one of the most compelling around

Rebecca Nicholson

24, Sep, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
The Good Place season 3 review – a fiendishly smart sitcom salvation
Ted Danson leads the gang into an unwitting experiment as the wonderfully elaborate show keeps up its staggering gag count

Lucy Mangan

28, Sep, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Neighsayers! BoJack Horseman: season two details
The second season of cartoon equine adventures will launch on 17 July, with Will Arnett, Aaron Paul and Alison Brie returning to voice the cast

Guardian TV

21, May, 2015 @1:00 PM

Article image
Lunatics review – thankfully no blackface, but still painfully unfunny
Chris Lilley’s latest comedy lacks the offensiveness of his past work. But a sigh of relief is still some distance from laughter

Lucy Mangan

19, Apr, 2019 @11:01 AM

Article image
Living With Yourself review – are two Paul Rudds better than one?
Rudd is doubly charming in this cloning comedy-drama on Netflix, which riffs on identity, self-sabotage and the lives we wish we were leading

Lucy Mangan

18, Oct, 2019 @5:01 AM