The Equine Ennui of ‘Horsemen’; BBC’s Tepid Thriller ‘Intruders’
"BoJack Horseman," a new animated series streaming Friday on Netflix, stars the voice of Will Arnett as a washed-up celebrity horse who had a successful 1990s sitcom called "Horsin' Around." At right is his friend Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul). Illustrates TV-STUEVER (category e), by Hank Stuever © 2014, The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Netflix)
BoJack Horseman, a strange and somewhat delightful animated comedy that begins streaming Friday on Netflix, seems at first glance to have arrived several years late to the profane adult-cartoon genre.
It’s about a horse who starred in a network sitcom in the 1990s called Horsin’ Around (try imagining Charles in Charge if it starred a bipedal and far more articulate Mister Ed clad in Cosby sweaters) and who now languishes in the Hollywood Hills, whining and occasionally whinnying about his washed-up career.
BoJack is brought to life by the full-ashtray voice of Will Arnett ( Arrested Development ), who lends the character a perfect, gravelly disdain for the vagaries of showbiz success. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul co-stars as the voice of Todd, a human layabout who has crashed on BoJack’s couch for years. Amy Sedaris ( Strangers With Candy ) provides the voice of Princess Caroline, a pink Persian cat who is BoJack’s agent and occasional sex partner.
Yes, the cat has sex with the horse, of course — and it’s mediocre sex at that, especially from the cat’s perspective. This sort of visual barely registers anymore because adult-themed cartoons crossed so many lines, so long ago, that you sometimes forget to notice simple crimes against nature. That’s precisely how this deadpan style of irony thrives.
Whether your animation studies take you as far back as the 1972 cartoon movie Fritz the Cat or you joined this journey with the works of Mike Judge and Seth MacFarlane, South Park and two decades of the Adult Swim oeuvre on Cartoon Network, there still remains a strange and even sick desire to see a genre meant for children (Cartoons! Gather round, kiddos!) subverted by the hang-ups and odd proclivities of adults.
Sometimes you arrive at a piece of animated work that both grown-ups and savvier kids can share (Fox’s Bob’s Burgers comes to mind), and sometimes you land on a show that, to borrow a phrase from the 1981 hit song Bette Davis Eyes, knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. (FX’s Archer, for example.)
I mention Bob’s Burgers and Archer only because I happened to give unenthusiastic reviews to both when they first aired, based on a couple of episodes — opinions which grew lonelier and more invalid as each show found its intended audience in ensuing seasons.
I promise that I’ve howled with laughter at dirty or simply inappropriate cartoons many times before. Viewers respond to cartoons in arbitrary and personal ways — even more, I think, than they respond to live-action comedies. When it comes to animation, something about it just has to click, and what might click for you might not click for the just-as-drunk guy on the other end of your sofa.
All of which is to say it took precisely three episodes for BoJack Horseman to click for me. (There are 12 episodes total; as per Netflix custom, you can watch them all in a row if you like.) Up to a certain point, the show feels like another shopworn commentary on the emptiness of Hollywood, produced by and for underemployed artists, comedy writers and voice actors.
But BoJack Horseman is better than that. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg (who was inspired by Lisa Hanawalt’s animal drawings), the show rather cleverly and seamlessly imagines a world of complete anthropomorphisis. Animals and humans in this particular world are the same, with subtly humorous — even happily corny — results.
Here, Keith Olbermann (voiced by the real Keith Olbermann; BoJack Horseman is strewn with celeb cameos) is a whale with a nightly news commentary show on MSNBSea. The bartender at Pelican’s is a pelican. Paparazzi are birds and pigs. Two lady dogs in the grocery store giggle over how much they love chocolate, even though it will kill them. BoJack’s memoir editor at Penguin is a penguin. A Navy SEAL is ... a seal — you’re getting it! When BoJack calls Princess Caroline’s office, the hold music is always Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats ; BoJack’s nemesis, an overly optimistic sitcom actor and golden retriever named Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins), has a car trunk full of tennis balls.
Stuff like that puts a viewer in the right sort of giddy mood that makes BoJack Horseman’s longer and even melancholy story arc a tad more rewarding.
BBC America’s somewhat violent and tepidly convoluted new thriller, Intruders, premiering Saturday night, pretends that audiences have never seen any movie or TV show with an eerily clairvoyant 9-year-old girl who snaps awake in the middle of the night with frightening visions and (in this case) decides to drown the family cat. The real mystery is what possesses producers and writers to think of children so often in the context of malevolent messengers between here and the paranormal dimension. It’s so tired.
And so confusing. Two episodes in, it appears Intruders might be about reincarnation or immortality and the evildoers who are either in pursuit of its secrets or trying to keep a lid on it — whatever “it” is.
Mira Sorvino shakes off the foam peanuts of celebrity storage to play Amy, a woman from a small Pacific Northwest suburb who vanishes on a business trip to Seattle. Her husband, Jack (John Simm), is a former LAPD detective-turned-author who sets about trying to find her, unlocking a blasé web of supernatural conspiracies that would defy anyone’s interest level.
Smartly, however, the network has wedged “Intruders” between the season premiere of Doctor Who (with Peter Capaldi assuming the role of the Doctor) and Doctor Who: After Who Live, another one of those post-show gab sessions hosted, per nerd decree, by Chris Hardwick ( Midnight ; The Talking Dead ).
I don’t claim to know everything about Doctor Who fans, but I know enough to know that drowned kitty cats are not on their list of favorite things. Intruders is beneath them.