Winner of the summer TV season: ‘Bojack Horseman’ Season 2

A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that one of the most realistic character shows on TV would be a show about an anthropomorphic horse. But then “Bojack Horseman” galloped onto the scene.

“BoJack Horseman” is the latest in a growing number of shows whose cynicism masks a deeper intelligence, both in its humor and its emotion. Season one took a while to find its feet, but season two suffers no such tepid period. Gone are the times when they leaned on jokes that were too easy and ended up with hit-or-miss comedy. This season is straight out of the gate.
From the very beginning of first episode, the sophomore season establishes that it is just as fast with the punchline as it is with the gut-punch. The trick is that it doesn’t favor either side of its balancing act. “BoJack Horseman” is both an irreverent comedy with animals that act like humans and hilarious sight gags, while also being a grounded and biting character study of life as a Hollywoo(d) has-been.

When we left BoJack (Will Arnett) he was at a bit of a crossroad in his life: After what little public persona he had being blown up by Diane’s (Alison Brie) tell-all, he was never more lonely, and never more popular—having landed his dream role of Secretariat. Season two’s opener, “Brand New Couch,” picks up right from mess of emotions as BoJack tries to move on and up with his life and career.

Similar to season one, the description of basic events often seems run-of-the-LA-mill. And admittedly none of the themes of season one or two—fame, relationships, success, and the prices we pay for all of it—are fresh on their own. But the magic of “BoJack Horseman” has always been that it’s grounded those themes intensely with their characters, resulting in comedy and drama that consistently feels smart, even when it’s making a dirty joke.

Season two takes all those characters and raises them to the next level. That means it doesn’t skimp on secondary characters, like Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd, who are given expanded roles carving out a slice of Hollywoo(d)’s notoriety.

"After the Party" plays with storytelling techniques, and wonders why Mr. Peanutbutter keeps going back to the same printer.
“After the Party” plays with storytelling techniques, and wonders why Mr. Peanutbutter keeps going back to the same printer.

Overall, season two starts to feel a bit more like an ensemble; closer to “Mad Men” in tone and character focus. “After the Party,” the fourth episode of the new season, jumps from dynamic to dynamic, volleying between eccentric humor and raw emotion without so much a yellow light.

And just like Don Draper, though “BoJack Horseman” leans on more than its title character doesn’t mean it’s not willing to plumb the depths of his darkness. By the end of the season we’ve seen BoJack reach new levels of shame, and it’s not always easy to watch. Or rather, it wouldn’t be, if this show weren’t so damn engrossing.

But for the world of “BoJack,” the worlds of comedy and drama aren’t separate genres at all. Instead they’re closely related, allowing even wacky humor to float closer to real life than it really deserves to (this season does, sort of, answer the question of “in a world with anthropomorphic animals why do they eat meat?” Just in case you’ve been dying to know). It leaves viewers with the feeling that the show is always one punchline ahead of you. And thanks to the outstanding voice acting, even when the path of the joke feels obvious it feels brilliant.
And for a cast that was already bursting at the seams with comedic talent, season two turns it up to eleven; with Lisa Kudrow, Tatiana Maslany, Aisha Tyler, and more joining the ranks—with some surprise guests sprinkled along the way.

Not all the rough edges have been sanded down. “BoJack” has always taken an Adult Swim-esque humor, where if you’re not in on the joke you can move along. And with the most commitment to a laugh-a-minute in-jokes since at least “Arrested Development,” it’s likely that a lot of that could fly by the casual viewer’s head. It’s unlikely that anyone who didn’t find themselves enamored with BoJack and his band of merry misery by the end of the first season will start appreciating it more with season two. The sophomore season doubles down on the world it’s built, and adds in a healthy helping of high ambitions.

hqdefault-2By the end of the season the nuance and realism have ballooned, in the best way, to a snowball that’s only picking up more and more speed. It’s a bit crowded by the time “BoJack” crosses the finish line, but never completely out of whack, and with a third season officially on its way there’s a whole new dozen episodes to spurt out everything that’s left over.

Intelligent, absurd, and dark, in equal measure, “BoJack Horseman” season two keeps the fun rolling all the way until the knife is at its hilt, and then twists. And then it answers that question you had about whether or not the universe had a separate Emmy category anthropomorphic animal actors.

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