FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (21)
March 11, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite animated TV series.
BOJACK HORSEMAN | RAPHAEL BOB-WAKSBERG | 2014–2020
Horror vacui, according to Oxford Languages, is “a fear or dislike of leaving empty spaces, especially in an artistic composition.” It’s also a fair description of the backgrounds in Bojack Horseman, often crowded with human and animal extras, sight gags and signs that reinforce the loopy logic of the Bojackiverse. A clothing store: “Big And Tall And With Six Arms.” A giraffe in the airport, sporting four neck pillows. A pig dining alone at Elefante, and at the next table, a human couple whose shared entree is a pig’s head, complete with apple in mouth. A festive banner: “Happy Bat Bat Mitzvah Yes Two Bats Because She Is A Bat.”
If you’ve watched all six seasons without periodically pressing pause to parse the piquant, poignant panoramas that pack pungent puns and petite pantomimes in with the protagonists’ pained perseverating, please, proceed to the pilot and partake of a proper perusal. (Alliteration in dialog, especially from Princess Carolyn, is another of the show’s particular pleasures.)
I was dubious about Bojack Horseman when I first saw billboards advertising it. Lisa Hanawalt’s art pulled me in; the performances and the show’s experimentation with structure and style kept me watching. That, and the humor that hairpin-turns from goofy to grim. And the callbacks; the show gets a lot of mileage out of repeating lines with new contexts and readings, perhaps most notably with the simple question: “What are you doing here?”
Of the main animal characters, the one whose personality most evokes his species is Mr. Peanutbutter, the goonily gregarious yellow lab from the Labrador Peninsula. The show leans into his doggy nature: he contemplates the fire hydrant outside the Nixon Library, shakes himself after a bath, turns around three times before getting into bed with Diane. In another of the show’s great callbacks, at every party he’s guaranteed to abandon his date and/or conversation to delightedly greet his friend Erica, who is never shown.
Bojack Horseman, by contrast, is hardly horse-like at all, barring the occasional snort or whinny, mostly during sex. His narcissism, self-loathing, and stupefyingly bad decisions coexist with acerbic wit and rare moments of kindness and consideration. Horror vacui characterizes him, too: he also fears leaving empty space, making no mark. And like many fans, I appreciate the show’s resistance to giving him a simplistic redemption arc. The series ending leaves his future and eventual legacy beautifully, humanly ambiguous.
FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Miranda Mellis on STEVEN UNIVERSE | Luc Sante on TOP CAT | Peggy Nelson on PINK PANTHER | Charlie Mitchell on COWBOY BEBOP | Mimi Lipson on THE FLINTSTONES | Sam Glenn on BIG MOUTH | Mandy Keifetz on ROAD RUNNER | Ramona Lyons on SHE-RA | Holly Interlandi on DRAGON BALL Z | Max Glenn on ADVENTURE TIME | Joe Alterio on REN & STIMPY | Josh Glenn on SPEED RACER | Adam McGovern on KIMBA THE WHITE LION | Jonathan Pinchera on SAMURAI JACK | Lynn Peril on JONNY QUEST | Stephanie Burt on X-MEN THE ANIMATED SERIES and X-MEN: EVOLUTION | Elizabeth Foy Larsen on THE JETSONS | Adam Netburn on NARUTO | Madeline Ashby on AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER | Tom Nealon on TRANSFORMERS | Sara Ryan on BOJACK HORSEMAN | Michael Grasso on COSMIC CLOCK | Erin M. Routson on BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD | Deborah Wassertzug on DARIA | Lydia Millet on BOB’S BURGERS.
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