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Will Arnett channels “Troy McClure as a talking horse” in Netflix new animated original series
Did you know cartoons aren’t just for kids? I think these days we take that notion for granted but it wasn’t that long ago animation was considered solely the domain of family entertainment. As a kid growing up in the 80s I watched hours of television featuring either giant robots, talking animals, lasers or some combination of all of the above. Cartoons were mostly shallow toy advertisements masquerading as morality tales so I can appreciate why my parents generation typically viewed the medium as a distraction used for placating children. For decades Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation perpetuated the notion that if it was animated and it was on TV it was meant for kids.
That perception would forever change on December 17, 1989 when the Fox (not quite a network) network debuted an animated comedy known as “The Simpsons”. While it wasn’t the first prime-time cartoon series that showcased a cell-painted family it was however groundbreaking with its subversive writing and irreverent tone. “The Simpsons” ushered in a new era of cartoons intended for adults. Emerging in its wake came a new era of edgy, animated comedy—featuring the likes of “Ren and Stimpy” (1991), “Beavis & Butthead” (1993), “South Park” (1997) and “Family Guy” (1999)— and TV would never be the same again.
Fast-forward to today and the television landscape is overflowing with animated series of various levels of maturity. Some are clever family sitcoms (“Bobs Burgers”), some cater to kids and parents alike (“Adventure Time”), some are witty satires with sophisticated themes (“Futurama”) while others embrace a mix of high concepts intertwined with dirty jokes (“Rick & Morty”). Netflix is definitely going with the latter as it prepares to toss its hat into the animated ring with a new, original, adult cartoon series called “BoJack Horseman.”
This is a premise so crazy that it could only be realized through the medium of animation. “BoJack Horseman” follows a self-absorbed, hard-drinking, and washed-up actor (star of a hit 90s TV show called ‘Horsin’ Around’) named BoJack as he deals with the reality of his declining celebrity. With the help of his slacker roommate and talent agent slash ex-lover BoJack tries to survive one personal crisis after another as he aimless navigates the Hollywood entertainment landscape in hope of a comeback. Did I mention the fact that BoJack is a horse and his friends live in an alternate reality where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist? Think “Californication” meets “The Muppet Show” and you might have an idea at how insane this show looks.
“BoJack Horsemen” stars, and is executive produced, by Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”). It also features Amy Sedaris (“Strangers with Candy”) as Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s feline agent and Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) as Todd, BoJack’s hoodie-wearing, human sidekick. Why BoJack is a reverse Centaur I really can’t say but there is something inherently funny about a horse-man, wearing a Cosby sweater, speaking with the gravelly voice of G.O.B. Bluth.
Rounding out the cast is comedian Paul F. Tompkins as a cheerful man-dog named Mr. Peanutbutter and Alison Brie (star of “Community”, “Mad Men” and the voice of Unikitty in “The Lego Movie”) as his human girlfriend Diane. I assume there is more to Ms. Brie’s role than is advertised—for now the promotions only describe her character as Mr. Peanutbutter’s lover prompting BoJack to vomit over a balcony—and I suspect she will play a foil and redemptive love interest role for our hero since she is listed as a headlining cast member. Other notable guest stars include Patton Oswalt (“Ratatouille”), Kristen Schaal (“Bob’s Burgers”), former MSNBC alum Keith Olbermann and many more.
Netflix will be debuting all 12 episodes this Friday, August 22. The show is created by relative newcomer Raphael Bob-Waksberg, produced by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s company Tornante and developed by ShadowMachine; the animation house that brought to life “Moral Oral” and “Robot Chicken”.
It’s hard to believe that at one time “The Simpsons” was considered edgy and a corrupting influence on the youth. In 1992, during his re-election campaign George H.W. Bush proclaimed “We’re going to keep trying to strengthen the American family. To make them more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.” I can only imagine what the 90 year old former president would think if he saw the trailer to “BoJack Horseman” with its f-bombs and implied beastialty. The world may never know. As for me, I couldn’t help but laugh when I watched a ditzy junkie, voiced by the gleefully kooky Kristian Schaal, lock lips with BoJack and declares “the only drug I’m addicted to . . . is horse.”
It’s been nearly 80 years since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” premiered as the first feature length animated film and cinema is still struggling to utilize animation as anything more than family fair. Meanwhile, on the small screen, television producers have taken advantage of the limitless storytelling possibilities animation can afford. And while an equestrian thespian and parakeet paparazzi aren’t pushing the envelope of the medium the absurdity of their existence make “BoJack Horseman” a curiosity worth checking out.