BACK IN 2014, Bojack was in quite a successful Netflix show. So successful it was commissioned for another season and, on a lesser note, so successful that it was the very reason I subscribed to Netflix. I’d seen the trailers for it and was quite impressed with the idea of an anthropomorphic horse-man who was a washed up actor living in modern day L.A. Wanting to add to my list of crazy cartoons where loveable curmudgeons have silly adventures with a similarly silly cast I signed my name on the dotted line and plugged in. What I found, however, was quite different.
The crazy adventures were there but there was an undercurrent of something that didn’t become apparent to me until midway through the season, Bojack is a horrible person. Not just a curmudgeon, he pushes people away from him who show the slightest affection yet constantly craves the adoration of random strangers. The show cleverly sends up many facets of modern life (social media, modern day journalism, the film industry, celebrities) whilst focusing on Bojack and the people around him as they, in their own way, spiral out of control. What you get is a show that is sometimes heart-warming but often emotionally hollowing with large dashes of black comedy. Almost immediately, I was hooked.
Season 2 has rolled around very quickly after Season 1’s release in August last year which is great for the impatient ones amongst us and the very slight wait was worth it. We re-join Bojack a year after the publication of his book, ghost written by Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), which slowly took form in the first season and his career has had a bit of a resurgence. More people are starting to pay attention to him again on the street and in bars which is exactly what he wanted from life in the previous season, so we can guess that he will find a way to turn it into a horrible experience in his head. Bojack finds the sudden rise in fame cloying and all he wants to do is focus on making the movie of the life of Secretariat with him in the lead role and get away from the fame he has achieved once more. He does this by dating Wanda (Lisa Kudrow) an owl who has just come out of a 30 year coma, so has no idea who he is.
This is just one of the many elaborate things Bojack does to make his life better but inevitably will be doomed to failure in some way. But rather than this being a typical sitcom trope of “the straight man vs. the world” it’s very much a case of “Bojack vs. the world but really vs. himself”. In Season 1 we saw the elaborate lengths he would go to so he could keep his housemate /squatter Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) financially dependent on him just because he was afraid of being alone, but also because he does care about Todd in his own way. In this season we see the same kind of downward spiral in Bojack but more so in those around him, particularly Diane and her husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) as their relationship fluctuates between function and dysfunction. In a way it’s strange to see people other than Bojack spiralling as badly as he is and, on watching this season, it was a little jarring at first but the resolution of these issues later on in the season felt all the more satisfying because they were happening to other people as well as the titular character.
Bojack is an interesting character in that you can’t really like him because of the way he is to those around him but you can’t help yourself. Not in a begrudging way in many other shows, but the background information (and plenty of it) you get about him makes you love him more. In the previous season there were more moments where you saw past-Bojack being morally reprehensible than moments where you sympathise with him. This season that’s flipped around. The opening scene in which a young Bojack is watching a Dick Cavett interview with Secretariat, seen last season, but with his parents fighting in the background sets the tone for this season. We see a more vulnerable side to Bojack than we did before. It’s a testament to the writers and Will Arnett (who voices Bojack) that they can pull this off whilst still making him the same Bojack from last season.
The best thing about this season though is the amazing attention to detail and subtle humour. Amongst the things lampooned in this season are; selfies, cults, improv troupes (the two being blended together), Richard Nixon, fax machines, heist movies, iPads, apps, the debate between free range and caged chicken rearing and Netflix itself. With lots of blink and you miss them little easter eggs, you’ll want to re-watch it as you will laugh even harder the second time around. Two of my favourites are the fact that nobody has replaced the D on the Hollywoo sign yet is still incredibly funny and Princess Caroline’s (Amy Sedaris) relationship with Vincent Adultman (Alison Brie) which is still fascinating to watch.
Like any second of anything it can quite a mixed bag. You either get such a ground breaking new thing that it can be taken as something completely removed from the first or you can get a shallow re-tread of the same material that preceded it. Either way the best sequels are able to walk this tightrope in such a way that doesn’t alienate the fans but still remains interesting. The second season of Bojack Horseman doesn’t break out and try something completely brand new this time around, what it does instead is peel away new layers of the same thing we’ve seen before so it remains fresh for returning fans. We get to see familiar characters put up against new challenges and delight in their exploits as they either overcome them or are overcome by them and, it being Season 2, we get a few surprising celebrity cameos thrown into the mix. Well it is Hollywoo after all.