Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 22: 'Bojack' Runs Silent, Runs Deep
Once a day, until Dec. 25, we'll be highlighting a specific small, good thing that happened in popular culture this year. And we do mean small: a moment or image from a film or TV show, a panel from a comic, a brief exchange from a podcast, or a passage from a book.
The Netflix animated series Bojack Horseman boasts some of the best voice-acting around. Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Amy Sedaris make up the core supporting cast, and Will Arnett voices horse-that-walks-like-a-man Bojack himself, with a whisky-voiced rasp of barely throttled anger and self-loathing.
The show's dialogue, which features both blistering takedowns and achingly sad admissions of regret, is never anything less than sharp and quick.
Which is why it's so striking that the show's standout episode should rely on neither of those things.
"Fish Out of Water," the fourth episode of the show's third season, features Bojack attending an underwater film festival and attempting to make amends to someone he'd previously mistreated. As he's confined to a diving helmet, the bulk of the episode passes silently.
The absence of vocal performances and dialogue serves to refocus our attention on the show's unique, ingenious, and deeply weird look (cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt designed the characters) and the brilliant exploration of its silent underwater setting (the episode was directed by Mike Hollingsworth).
Along the way, Bojack stumbles across an alarmingly cute baby seahorse and attempts to get the kid back to his parent. The usually closed-off actor/horse makes a surprising emotional connection that, on another show, would be played for sentiment: lessons would be learned, hugs would be hugged.
But Bojack Horseman isn't another show, and its baseline melancholy can't admit anything so saccharine. Instead, Bojack's gorgeous, achingly funny undersea odyssey concludes with him making yet another attempt to apologize to someone he's wronged.
It's sincere, it's eloquent, and it's moving.
Also, because this is Bojack Horseman: It's unsuccessful.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Brie Larson, not Alison Brie, among the cast. It has been corrected.
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