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Weekly Watch: ‘BoJack Horseman’

| Sunday, September 7, 2014

web_bojackSARA SHOEMAKE | The Observer
The first episode of “BoJack Horseman” plays it relatively safe, albeit in a smart manner. With its premiere, the adult-audience, animated comedy spends most of its running time expounding rather than exhausting. The script is not interested in diluting its characters to cheap punch lines and paper-thin dimensionality. Raphael Bob-Waksburg, writer and creator of the series, clearly had a vision for his show’s first season planned out in advance and takes measures in “BoJack Horseman: the BoJack Horseman Story, Chapter One” to lay the necessary groundwork for later, continued payoff.

The episode opens with a faux Charlie Rose interview with the titular character.  We quickly learn about BoJack Horseman’s past in the limelight, as well as what early success on a 90s television show has shaped him into in the present. BoJack is bitter and sour, but there is more than a touch of self-deprecation and destructiveness to his current state, too. We also learn from this first scene that BoJack is part horse and part human — not directly because it is never given any real thought or mention, but just look at him. This all helps set the premise of the series’ first season; BoJack reveals he is writing a tell-all memoir, seemingly his last chance to maintain his stature. Likewise, we get a sense of the world he will do it in: one in which humans and anthropomorphized animals cohabitate, but, nonetheless, maintain their kind’s respective characteristics and mannerisms.

From there, we get a rundown of the main players and storylines that will compose the season. There’s Todd, BoJack’s not-roommate; Diane, BoJack’s not-ghostwriter; and Mr. Peanutbutter, BoJack’s not-friend. Consequently, much of the episode’s runtime slogs through exposition and introductions, although it does feature hints to the scale of joke building at work.  For instance, in perhaps the first episode’s best gag, and the show’s most immediate reward, Princess Carolyn, the cutesy-named cat BoJack dates, dumps him, and the call he receives seconds after their split plays off of that information instantly.  In addition to the writers never missing a joke based on their show’s environment (see: Princess Carolyn’s name), the rate of return on these first few episode character and plot setups only increases as the show goes on.

Therefore, early on, BoJack’s jackassery tends to annoy and weigh down the plot, creating a crutch the show can always fall back on. This generates a concern for a fairly standard exploration of fame — specifically in television — from the series, and a slightly uneven season on the whole.  However, as we get more familiar with him throughout the course of the first season, BoJack gives more and more revealing glimpses into his childhood and rise to fame. As a result, his actions become easier to understand and accept, but at the same time, all the more difficult to watch. Paralleling this, the show similarly spirals out from the standard around the halfway point in the series. At this turn, the show folds unto itself, with self-referential plots and nonlinear storytelling that exponentially escalate the payoffs compared to the amount of groundwork laid in episode one.

While, alone, this first episode is not overtly funny, it must be restated that it develops a background for the rest of the season. Bob-Waksburg knows his show streams on Netflix. He knows how viewers tend to watch television shows on Netflix. Unless they absolutely cannot stand the twenty-something minute opener, they will keep watching the show for at least a little while longer — and the name-dropping cast certainly aids in retaining an audience. After all, once the first episode ends, Netflix gives a mere ten-second countdown to step away from the second installment and to not see the masterfully directed and scored opening theme, courtesy of the drum half of The Black Keys, Patrick Carney.

By the end of the season, entire episodes reference stories that have occurred before them and build upon the constantly growing universe established earlier. In the final episode, the show comes nearly full circle, with another character mimicking BoJack’s previously uncovered career decisions. Raphael Bob-Waksburg and company have planned so well that they ordered a second season pickup nary days after the first one was released, and they already have the launching groundwork laid for another densely-populated twelve episodes.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Matt McMahon

Notre Dame Class of 2016 student studying Finance and English. From Mercer County, New Jersey. Interests include music, television, film, and writing. Also food. My Mom didn't like what else I had to say here so I took it down.

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