by Alan Yudman
I just finished watching two very odd, very different half hour comedies on Netflix. Season 2 of BOJACK HORSEMAN and season 1 of THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT. I found them both fascinating and entertaining for very different reasons, yet I find them inextricably linked in my head. For those unfamiliar, here’s a brief summary of both shows. Bojack Horseman is the name of the title character in that animated show. He is an anthropomorphic horse. The show is populated for anthropomorphic animals. Bojack was huge in the 1980’s. He was the star of a wildly popular sitcom called “Horsin’ Around”. He was the foster father to three cute kids, two girls and a boy. Think of it as a kind of “Full House” meets “My Two Dads”. That was the last thing Bojack did successfully, other than drink and be a complete ass. Which is to say that is all he has done in the last 30 years. BOJACK HORSEMAN is merciless in its skewering of Hollywood and the privileged culture of celebrity. But it is also very deeply felt and emotional. The other side of this odd coin is Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT. Star Ellie Kemper is one of four women rescued from a doomsday bunker in Indiana after having gone missing about 15 years earlier. The other three women try to adapt by remaining in Indiana. After an appearance on the Today Show, Kimmy decides to start her new life in New York City. Her dialogue is dappled with old references that she naively throws out, not realizing pop culture has passed her by. She lives in a basement with a wanna be actor who goes by the name Titus Andromedon. KIMMY SCHMIDT is a screwball comedy that’s a mile wide and about an inch deep.
Now here’s why they are both stuck in my head. The cartoon behaves like a live action show. The show featuring real life actors behaves in a more cartoon like fashion. BOJACK does take advantage of its cartoon world. Bojack and the guy living on his couch, Todd steal the “D” from the Hollywood sign without much in the way of consequence other than the shallowness of Hollywood is once again fodder because now everyone refers to it as “Hollywoo” without even a second thought that the “D” is missing. The comedy in BOJACK is smart, sly and topical. But there are huge emotional stakes for Bojack. He is trying to make a comeback, he is working on a biography with the help of a ghostwriter who is constantly frustrated by Bojack’s drunken assholery. But she sees what we all see. He is truly trying to be a better Horseman. But there are also heartbreaking scenes that detail his horrible home life, raised by parents who ether didn’t care or outright hated him. No wonder he is so damaged.
KIMMY SCHMIDT on the other hand has no such depth of feeling. Yeah, Kimmy is frustrated trying to fit in in a completely foreign world. But she is so unrelentingly sunny about everything you are not sure if she is really just trying to put on a brave face or if she’s just a freaking moron. The characters are all goofy, outsized portraits of normal people. Titus is my favorite. Brilliantly played by Tituss Burgess, he so wants to be a star in a completely modern way, but he seems so clueless about how to really get what he wants. I believe he is the true heart of the show. For most of the first season there aren’t many emotional stakes on display. Things get a bit more interesting towards the end when the cult leader (an Emmy worthy performance by Jon Hamm) goes on trial for kidnapping the girls. But, most of the time the stakes feel like a modern version of “Saved by the Bell”. At the end of the day, who really cares. That begs the question, once Kimmy gets more familiar with modern society, where does the show go, because that is the central joke in the fist season.
So if you want to add a show to your Netflix list, I’d pick BOJACK HORSEMAN. The main voice cast is amazing; Will Arnett as Bojack, Amy Sedaris as his agent Princess Carolyn (a cat), Alison Brie as his biography Diane, Paul F. Tompkins as his friend/foil and Diane’s husband Mr. Peanutbutter (a dog), and Aaron Paul as Todd. The guest stars are unbelievably great and a who’s who list of great Hollywood character actors; Margot Martindale (who plays herself in a completely hilarious way), J.K. Simmons, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Wilde, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Schaal, and many many more. Oh!!! And Keith Olbermann nails it as a bloviating whale-anchor at MSNBSea. He’s really a whale… no.. seriously.
KIMMY SCHMIDT has its charms. But it’s BOJACK that will stick with you for weeks after watching it.