Is a good cast enough to sustain a dull story? That’s a question I think about often while watching pilot episodes like this year’s Selfie and last year’s We’re the Millers or Bad Teacher. I’m more likely to stick around after a lackluster pilot if I like everyone involved. Netflix’s BoJack Horseman boasts the voice talents of Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins, Kristen Schaal, and more. It’s a mix of people who are universally adored, but even their presence isn’t enough to push this show above average.
BoJack Horseman is an animated comedy about a horse, BoJack (Will Arnett), who was once a famous sitcom star on a Lassie-like show. Years later he’s washed up, not working, drinking too much, and halfheartedly trying to write his memoir so he can preserve his legacy. He’s the typical former actor we see on shows like this: a drunk, a drug addict (horse tranquilizers, naturally), something of a womanizer, simultaneously insecure and egotistical, prone to fits of anger, and secretly sad. He is many of Will Arnett’s previous characters rolled into one, but, well, as a horse.
Surrounding BoJack is his freeloading human roommate Todd (Aaron Paul), who is basically Jesse Pinkman before his downward spiral; BoJack’s feline agent, who doubles as his occasional sex buddy (Amy Sedaris); and Diane (Alison Brie), the ghostwriter who is hired to help write the memoir. The humans and anthropomorphic animals all coexist and date each other — there is a horse-dog-human love triangle throughout the series — but are unaware that there is anything strange about this. This world is one of the most original things about BoJack Horseman, but other than that, it’s more of the same.
BoJack Horseman follows the usual Netflix model, premiering this morning at midnight, with all 12 episodes made available for streaming at once. These series are made to be binge-watched, but this one lacks the urgency and intrigue of other Netflix shows. I was in no rush to load the next episode, but passively accepted when Netflix automatically did it for me. The first six episodes of BoJack, which were made available for critics beforehand, mostly blended together because none was distinct enough to make an impression. There are some bright spots in BoJack Horseman, such as Lisa Hanawalt’s work; I dig the animation style enough that I’ll watch every episode Netflix puts out, regardless of the plot. There are funny moments when the characters subconsciously show their animal characteristics, like the distinct horse sputtering when BoJack exhales while smoking cigarettes. For the most part, BoJack Horseman nails the pop culture references, the media’s obsession with celebrities, and the ridiculous way they report on it — a standout scene is a news report that’s basically just a long list of increasingly desperate Beyoncé-related puns.
Yet the show is still lacking in originality. It’s entirely possible that if BoJack Horseman were released several years ago, I would have enjoyed it more. But now we’ve already had plenty of “raunchy” animated comedies — and plenty of those have involved talking animals — that blend childish cartoon visuals with more adult humor. BoJack’s booze-swilling and constant swearing are boring. There isn’t even anything shocking in the scenes where he has sex with his cat girlfriend or a human fling.
To the show’s credit, BoJack Horseman tries its best to satirize celebrity culture, and sometimes, in fleeting moments, it even succeeds. Attacking Hollywood and exploring the fucked-up world of fleeting fame through the eyes of a drunk, talking horse is definitely a unique concept. Unfortunately, in its execution, the show too often falls back on tired ideas.