The third series of Netflix original BoJack Horseman comes with a bit of a dilemma. Series one introduced the weird and wonderful world former celebrity BoJack (Will Arnett) and his friends inhabit (where anthropomorphic animals and humans live together in a twisted version of Hollywood), and delved deep into his damaged psyche as he realised he was basically a bad person. Series two saw him try to dig his way out of depression and hatred and find mainstream success, only to stumble again and self-destruct even more spectacularly.
Both had clear paths – first the introduction of BoJack’s basic premise, and then his drive to clean up his act. But series three lacks such a clear narrative. BoJack is on the Oscar trail now, more successful than ever, and he occasionally stops himself from being as cruel to others as he once was. He’s grown, and he’s on the up. From the outside, he’s better than ever.
But in reality, BoJack is drifting, unsure what his purpose is if his long-awaited big break won’t bring him respect or happiness, and haunted by the mistakes he’s made. He lacks purpose, and in response the series starts to drift as well, becoming slightly more episodic.
One episode sees him struck dumb at an underwater film festival, resulting in beautifully realised silent slapstick scenes as he chases a seahorse through a taffy factory, while another riffs on LA noir stories to have BoJack and his friend Diane (Alison Brie) solve a murder. All the while, BoJack is still struggling to work out what he needs to be a good person – or even just happy.
If that sounds pretty heavy duty for a cartoon with talking animals – it is. BoJack is a funny show stuffed with brilliant lines (watch out for one about Sarah Keonig’s Serial podcast), but it’s also become a show about depression, morality and what it actually means to, you know, live. It manages all that without being anywhere near as po-faced and pretentious as that last sentence makes it sound.
Series three continues this exploration as it delves more and more into what makes the characters tick (this series is as almost as much about BoJack’s troubled entourage as it is him), all while going in weirder comedic and visual directions than we’ve seen before. From what I’ve seen, it’s a great continuation that will satisfy viewers, whether they’re looking for pathos or laughs.
But then of course, BoJack Horseman’s central joke remains somewhere between those two elements. Somehow a show about talking animals, whale strip clubs and weirdly important spaghetti strainers has ended up as one of the most talked-about and admired depictions of the human condition in modern media. There are people out there looking to a cartoon horse for accurate and nuanced insight into their own emotional lives, and what it means to find meaning in existence. A cartoon horse. It’s ridiculous.
But the best part? Those people are right. Now THAT’S funny.
BoJack Horseman series 3 is available to stream on Netflix in full now