BoJack Horseman season 3 is Looney Tunes and Mad Men all at once

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS WRITTEN AFTER 8 EPISODES OF SEASON 3. I DON’T EXPECT MY OPINION MUCH TO CHANGE.

Yeah, no, I was pretty much as shocked as you are, those you who haven’t been on this train for two seasons now. The first season has a slow start, but by the time the strains of Tegan and Sara’s “Closer” were closing it out, I was hooked.

Bojack Horseman has quietly (minus for those of you among the media literati set, many of whom have been championing this show’s virtues since halfway through its first season) become Netflix’s critical darling.

It’s the most remarkably poignant mediation on depression, masculine achievement, and the meaning of happiness. It’s Netflix’s most daring show in the depths it’s willing to let its characters go to. It’s also a silly talking animal cartoon with 30 Rock-ian levels of joke density and background detail.

All this is to say that I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to spend some more time watching the titular Horseman’s slow trainwreck and the July 22nd return absolutely did not disappoint. This is the kind of imagination combined with writing prowess that the modern age of television can offer at its best.

Season 3 rejoins Bojack (Will Arnett) a few months after the end of the last one. His sins against a former friend still haunt him (I won’t name it for the few of you reading who haven’t seen) but he’s trying to move on given that he’s full-bore into his Oscar campaign, with the help of his new publicist Ana Spanikopita (Angela Bassett), for Secretariat, a movie in which he was replaced entirely by CGI. He’s feeling like an impostor again, drifting through this campaign that promises to be his comeback, flashing back to 2007 when he last tried to change his image.

Meanwhile, his biographer/distant friend Diane (Alison Brie) and rival/friend? Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) are working through their fractured marriage. And Bojack’s roommate (read: couch crasher) Todd (Aaron Paul) is getting a blast from the past with an old girlfriend and coming up with yet more business ideas.

So, getting a rough idea of the show is noticing that while the premise and the story reads like your standard premium cable drama, it features character names like Bojack and Mr. Peanutbutter. It’s the show’s deft dance between the absurd and the resonant that informs its storytelling power.

Partially, that’s because of the talent on display. Raphael Bob-Waksberg has created a show immensely smart in how it handles every one of the plates that it spins, remaining in top shape whether its indulging in Hollywoo (watch the show) satire or one of the smartest handlings of self-destructive depression out there. It’s a show that gets that depression isn’t always necessarily an inward turn, but can be about throwing your negativity onto others. There’s so much wisdom and wit in the show’s addressing of everything it does.

I also want to throw some praise to this show’s voice actors, which feels only fair given how much I’m about to praise an episode that doesn’t use them. This show is loaded to the brim with semi-celebrity to celebrity voice actors that seem to be taking this seriously, none of that celebrity voice acting laziness that so often crops up. Will Arnett in particularly is giving the dramatic performance of his career as Bojack, filling his voice with rich layers of sarcasm and sadness in every line, a detached largely monotone that still knows when to hit just the right notes. It also says something that Aaron Paul’s best role since Breaking Bad is Todd Sanchez, who he plays with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that it can actually make you forget Jesse for a second.

Also, Paul F. Tompkins is the man. That just needs to be said whenever I get the chance.

Also, Amy Sedaris is the cat’s pajamas. That also needs to be said whenever I get the chance.

Now that I’ve praised the voice actors, I feel comfortable saying that no episode this season  embodies the aforementioned dance better than its fourth, “Fish Out of Water.”As part of the Oscar campaign, Bojack needs to hit up the festivals, which takes him to the Pacfic Ocean Film Festival underwater. It’s a country where Bojack can’t understand a word nor can he speak one. Also there is Kelsey Jannings (Maria Bamford), promoting her small indie flick after she was fired from Secretariat. Bojack needs to reconcile with her, but can’t seem to get a note passed along which leads him to a good old-fashioned cartoon adventure through the undersea world.

By good old-fashioned, I mean somewhere around the Looney Tunes and Charlie Chaplin. The show drops its normal dialogue focus for essentially a colorful silent film, the creators reveling in the fact that they actually are making a cartoon for a series of broad (but still amazing) physical gags and telling stories through design and motion. It’s a gorgeous episode, there’s something very surreal and very familiar about the world at the same time, anchoring plenty of goofy factory gags and seahorse baby silliness to keep it from wasting the surreal, colorful world.

And yet that world takes on a strange depth as well. Playing with the show’s general concept of self-imposed isolation, that underwarter world the feeling of being trapped and alone in a country you don’t know, and in a place in life that doesn’t make sense anymore, almost this show’s version of Lost in Translation. Bojack is watching a whole world pass by and he can’t make a single connection, not even the one he wants to make, the apology he needs.

It’s Looney Tunes, but it’s also Mad Men. 

 

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