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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

#Newsmaker: As BoJack airs its last season, a look at all we’ll miss

Hollywoo won’t be the same without the horse-man has-been.

art-and-culture Updated: Nov 08, 2019 17:38 IST
Zara Murao
Zara Murao
Hindustan Times
Cut loose: They say Netflix has found that the optimal number of seasons for a show is two. After that, it just doesn’t bring in new subscribers. BoJack Horseman lasted six seasons; part two of its finale will air in January. Meanwhile, there’s another theory that it is ending, amid its successful run, because its crew unionised.
Cut loose: They say Netflix has found that the optimal number of seasons for a show is two. After that, it just doesn’t bring in new subscribers. BoJack Horseman lasted six seasons; part two of its finale will air in January. Meanwhile, there’s another theory that it is ending, amid its successful run, because its crew unionised.
         

There are few places that could have accommodated BoJack Horseman. To Netflix’s credit, it was one of them. This is a show about a horse-man who starred in a sitcom, then faded away, and now, nearly two decades later, is a very rich, over-indulged has-been, struggling to stay afloat in the drug and alcohol haze of Hollywood.

Early descriptions of the show made it impossible to imagine what was going on in this world peopled by cat people and bird people and people people and mouse people. That was five years ago. Since then, Netflix fans have fallen in love with the sharpness, the acid humour and the evolution of this remarkable TV experiment.

We’ve watched as this horse-man was forgiven no matter how badly he behaved (he stole the D out of the HOLLYWOOD sign in S1 and still didn’t get into trouble; instead, people just calmly switched to calling it Hollywoo). In early seasons, you get to see what that permissiveness does to him. As the show unfurls, you are confronted with what it did to the people in his life.

BoJack (voiced brilliantly by Will Arnett) returns after each catastrophe to a house that is breathtaking when you first encounter it — glass-fronted, clifftop deck, luscious interiors (the art on this show is stunning in both detail and irreverence) — but gradually comes to feel like a cage. By Season 6, even he can’t bear to go home any more. 

This is not what you would expect of a cartoon show. The sumptuous opening sequence, with a whoomping title track by Patrick and Ralph Carney, told you immediately that this was going to be an unusual ride.

The show’s star, deeply flawed and flailing, was seemingly propped up by the exhausted people (most of them women) whose job it was to make sure he showed up, made the big bucks, said his lines (and also felt important, loved and heard).

As it unravelled, you discovered they were flawed and flailing too. The journalist Diane Nguyen was fighting to find meaning in her work. The agent Princess Carolyn wanted to start a family but how could she, while simultaneously juggling the rollercoaster careers and endless neediness of her clients.

BoJack Horseman started out as an irreverent, insightful takedown of celebrity culture, and became a takedown equally of so much of modern living — the pressure to succeed early and never stop, the myth of the do-it-all mom, the isolation of our lives, our hypocrisy (#ThoughtsAndPrayers).

It worked to include greater diversity. It grew to give its women characters more space. 

They say Netflix has found that the optimal number of seasons for a show is two. After that, it just doesn’t bring in new subscribers. BoJack lasted six seasons; this is its last. There’s another theory that it is ending, amid its successful run, because its crew unionised.

There’s no way to confirm whether either theory is true, because Netflix only shares the data it chooses to. It made no real comment when a similar, even more groundbreaking show, Tuca & Bertie, was cancelled after just one season (10 episodes, released in May).

Created by Lisa Hanawalt, also the creative designer of BoJack, this was a world that looked and felt much like Horseman’s, but was even more layered. It was populated largely by bird people but also by monkey people and plant people with breasts. Most of them were female.

Tuca & Bertie, an even more groundbreaking show, was cancelled after just one season.
Tuca & Bertie, an even more groundbreaking show, was cancelled after just one season.

In a world where our screens are still peopled largely by Whites, most of them men (even BoJack ran into trouble over using a White actress, Alison Brie, for the voice of the Vietnamese Diane Nguyen), this was a show created and peopled by women. Tuca and Bertie were voiced by women of colour, Ali Wong and Tiffany Haddish. And the show itself was a celebration of all kinds of bonds between its women characters.

More than the art and double-breasted plant people, that was the real experiment in Tuca & Bertie, but it didn’t work for Netflix.

And so we’re left with that one season, a soon-to-be-gone BoJack, and the sad knowledge that even a world that embraced a dysfunctional has-been horse-man with multiple addictions couldn’t make room for a genuinely funny, quirky show that didn’t revolve around a male.