Consider this TV pitch: The faded star of an upbeat 1990s family sitcom confronts the gloom of contemporary life from his gilded cage in the Hollywood Hills.
One other thing: The leading man is a horse.
In BoJack Horseman, Netflix's first animated series aimed at adults (all 12 half-hour episodes will be out Friday), talking horse BoJack (Will Arnett,The Millers, Arrested Development) is an anthropomorphic misanthrope who sits around drinking beer, desperate for a return to stardom as he inches closer to the Hollywood glue factory. Think Sunset Boulevard, equine edition.
How does Arnett describe BoJack? "I try not to -- lest I should freak people out. I see people's eyes widening when I say, 'It's about a guy who's a horse who used to be a '90s sitcom star,'" he says. "Honestly, it's just a study of these characters, and BoJack happens to be a very extreme narcissist who is having a tough time re-entering the world."
BoJack is not alone, however. He's surrounded by people -- and other talking animals -- including the feline Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his agent and sometimes girlfriend; Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins), a golden retriever and star of a rival TV show; his best friend, Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad); and ghostwriter Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie, Community), who's helping him write his memoir.
Much of the Hollywood satire seems spot-on, but Arnett says it's "not too inside baseball."
"It's more like what happens when you live in a world where everyone always says yes to you, and all of a sudden, that world ceases to exist," he says. And it's a commentary on our insatiable appetite for the famous: "We're obsessed with celebrity."
Todd, the easygoing, accidental tenant, offers emotional buoyancy and social connection for BoJack, but they are an odd couple.
"On BoJack's side, it's more of a frustrating love-hate relationship," says Paul, who also plays a rooster in a jogging suit that runs around the neighborhood at dawn yelling for everyone to wake up. "At the beginning, he's just annoyed by Todd and doesn't feel like he even wants Todd around. Throughout the season, BoJack realizes that he does, deep down, care for Todd quite a bit."
Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg enjoyed the animal drawings of his friend, graphic artist Lisa Hanawalt, and conceived a story around them. He saw BoJack as cutting against the grain.
"So many shows these days are about happy-go-lucky, cheerful characters ... wandering blissfully through life. I thought it would be a fun change of pace to do a show about a really sad, depressed character," he says.
Animal jokes leaven BoJack's trips to the dark side.
"We talk about our show as having two feet, one in crazy cartoon land and one in emotional, grounded storytelling," Bob-Waksberg says.
Netflix's structure helps with character development and story serialization, not the usual practice in animation, he says. Viewers are likely to watch the show from the beginning, since all episodes are available at once, rather than to happen upon it during the middle of the season.
"You don't have to worry about people coming in on Episode 7 and not know what's going on," Bob-Waksberg says. "For me, a big selling point was the idea you start out light and fun and cartoon-y and then you get progressively darker."
Paul seconds that emotion. "It's not just humor that people are going to take from this," he says. "It goes through such a wild roller-coaster ride of emotions, many ups and downs and heartache and tragedy."
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