A word or two about binge-watching: As a long-term sustainable business model, it works only if the original content being produced is binge-worthy, i.e. any good. Sure, people will spend a day nursing the flu or a breakup by tearing through multiple episodes of some cheesy show or other, but “Breaking Bad” didn’t become a binge hit simply because it was available in seasonal increments.
Also, for the record, there are already plenty of mediocre shows to go around. These days, most people don’t have time to keep up with the really good television ones.
So I’m not quite sure what Netflix is thinking with “BoJack Horseman,” other than realizing a rather naked desire to create genre diversity and showcase a newfound popularity with A-listers like Will Arnett, Aaron Paul and Amy Sedaris. Beyond these supposed accomplishments, however, there really isn’t much to, er, graze on in the adult-oriented comedy, which becomes available Friday.
For reasons known only to creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the show exists in a universe where some people are people and some are talking, bipedal versions of various animals. BoJack Horseman (Arnett) is an upright horse who is also a washed-up sitcom star. In the ’90s, he headlined “Horsin’ Around,” a “Full-Housian” tale of a bachelor horse who finds true happiness when he adopts three orphan children.
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That show was such a huge hit that BoJack never quite recovered. Now he lives in one of those big glass houses in the hills favored by writers seeking to make a statement about Hollywood, with a couch-surfing slacker leech/assistant (Paul). BoJack spends his days watching his own reruns while his agent/sometime lover, Princess Caroline (a pink cat voiced by Sedaris) fails to find him even a walk-on in “War Horse.”
Instead, she pushes him to finish his memoir, which he hasn’t even started. Princess Caroline eventually hires Diane (Alison Brie), a ghost writer who happens to be living with BoJack’s “nemesis,” Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), a golden retriever who had a show similar to “Horsin’ Around.” Diane is there to get BoJack to face his fears, tell his story and, presumably, become a better … horse.
All of which is not nearly as confusing as it sounds or, unfortunately, as funny. In parodying the celebrity life, Bob-Waksberg only occasionally hits the mark. An episode in which BoJack is reunited with one of his former co-stars has some smart and stinging things to say, and some of its digressions into diatribes about our attitudes toward the military or the fall of the publishing business are dark and funny.
Mostly, however, the show safely canters through familiar terrain: The oblivious narcissism of actors complete with drinking, drugs and random sex; the double-edge sword of social media, the ruthlessness of agents, etc., etc.
Twenty-five years after the debut of “The Simpsons,” satiric adult animation is nothing new. Being the first such show with an instantly available full season may still be a novelty, but that too is getting old.
In the end, if you want people to watch your show, your best bet is still to make sure it is very good.