If you had to be part horse, which would you prefer: human head and horse’s body, or vice versa? If you had a horse’s body, you could leap over fences naked without flouting social convention, but it would be hard to swipe right on Tinder. Equally, if you had a horse’s head, how would any humans you hoped to seduce understand you? Neighing, in my experience, rarely gets one past first base. Wittgenstein wrote: “If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.” The same goes for horses.
This matter has been on my mind for years, ever since I reviewed the premiere of BoJack Horseman (Netflix), the cartoon about a talking horse actor and other anthropomorphised animals coexisting with humans in Hollywood. How could it have anything more to say than one hoof stamp yes, two no? And yet it has amassed awards and outlived Channel 4 Racing, so it clearly has something.
Near the end of the final episode, we got to the nub of what that something is. Asexual human slacker Todd, fittingly voiced by Aaron Paul, and our eponymous horse-headed alcoholic hero stood on a beach contemplating life’s bitter mystery. BoJack was out of jail for the weekend for the wedding of his ex and agent, Princess Carolyn, a svelte pink cat voiced by Amy Sedaris.
Is Princess Carolyn marrying the Pink Panther? No, you bigot. She doesn’t have to stay in the pink feline lane when choosing a life partner. She’s marrying a human, even though Judah has a man bun, an equally unacceptable beard, and the trans-species surname Mannowdog.
Nobody realises, Todd tells BoJack, how profound the Hokey Cokey is. “You turn yourself around,” is the key line, he observed. It shows how we overcome life’s setbacks – be they BoJack’s alcoholism and self-loathing, or Princess Carolyn’s miscarriages.
BoJack looked doubtful. “I don’t think the songwriters thought about the existential significance of the lyric,” he sneered. “They rhymed ‘about’ with ‘about’.” Todd didn’t care for BoJack’s sneer, retorting: “Isn’t the point of art less what people put into it, more what they get out of it?”
Todd is surely right: we can all find jewels in unexpected places. If you’re open to having a pink talking cat struggle with the grief of miscarriage, or can find emotional depth in a horse with dementia being consoled by her errant son, then you bring to BoJack Horseman what it needs to be appreciated. And it’s worth it. Like The Simpsons or Daria, two of creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s touchstones, BoJack Horseman can be touching and profound without relinquishing the funny.
In the opening episode of season six, BoJack checked into rehab. “You can’t put a price on clean living,” said the receptionist, demanding $100,000 for a six-week stay. “And yet you seem to have,” BoJack replied. There he met Jameson, a woman in denial. “I blame water for being vodka-coloured,” she explained. Later, they skipped rehab so Jameson could check up on her boyfriend, only to find him at a party making out with a sexy woman with the head of a fly. The relationship was surely doomed: her kisses involved sucking her new love interest’s face with an insanitary proboscis. I’ve had worse dates.
But there’s more to BoJack Horseman than bestial allegory of diversity. “Laura!” yelled Princess Carolyn at one point, Camus-like in comprehending human absurdity. “Clear our my schedule! I have to push a boulder up a hill and then have it roll over me time and time again with no regard for my well-being.”
When BoJack was dumped by deer-headed Charlotte, it was painful to hear her plausible explanation: “You make me too sad.” When he and Todd fell out, BoJack had the best line: “You sleep on my couch and you don’t pay rent. I’ve had tapeworms that are less parasitic.”
Why the long face, you ask? Netflix is cancelling BoJack Horseman, sending him to TV’s knacker’s yard to join Mr Ed, Steptoe’s Hercules and Follyfoot’s stars among others. Which is a shame because the show had legs. And a lustrous mane, too. I’ll especially miss the voice of BoJack, Will Arnett. Going beyond his Batman growl and 30 Rock simper, Arnett eloquently expressed a horse’s existential woes. “That voice – the one that tells you you’re worthless and ugly and stupid,” said BoJack once. “It goes away, right?” When this horse talked, I had no problem understanding him.