The third season of BoJack Horseman, which begins streaming on Netflix on Friday, finds our title hero on the verge of reaching a goal he’s spent the past two seasons pursuing: He’s on the cusp of movie stardom, with the release of his long-gestating biopic Secretariat. But the animated series created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg plays as drama almost as frequently as it plays for laughs, so fans should be assured that things aren’t bright and sunny for the horse-man for very long.
BoJack, voiced by Will Arnett, moves through Hollywood with a long face and a droll aspect — the static nature of its minimal animation perfectly suits the tone of the series. One of the things the show is about is the emptiness of fame, and if that strikes you as something you’ve seen a thousand times, you know my underlying problem with Horseman: It’s a show filled with many clever little jokes and sight gags — the new season contains knee-slappers about the final episode of The Sopranos and the voice of NPR’s Terry Gross — but its moments of seriousness and poignance rarely pay off with the kind of emotional resonance that is clearly intended. I think what works against that last goal is what Matt Zoller Seitz, a critic I respect and who, like many of my colleagues, is a bigger Horseman fan than I, has incisively phrased as “a dark-horse candidate (not sorry) for the title of hippest show on TV.” For me — and not just in a show such as Horseman — hipness and heartfelt emotion work against, not combine to achieve, the sort of depth ambitious pop culture can choose to seek.
One exception to this is the lovely fourth episode, which takes place at a film festival held underwater and, for much of its length, works like a silent movie, as BoJack moves along the sea bottom interacting with film folk and civilians in a dreamy, melancholy, undulating narrative rhythm that matches the tides. If I rarely find Horseman more than mildly amusing, I certainly recognize the careful craft behind it, as well as the excellent vocal performances by regulars including Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul. And fans can rest easy knowing that Netflix has just renewed the series for Season 4.
BoJack Horseman is streaming now on Netflix.