Television: Half-man, half-horse and the black dog

BoJack Horseman (Netflix) is such an unusual show that it’s hard to know how to recommend it without sounding as if I’ve taken leave of my senses.

It’s an animated comedy about a half-man, half-horse who played the lead in a terrible sitcom called Horsin’ Around. He’s got a drink problem and isn’t very nice. A typical BoJack line: “Being a movie star is the hardest job and we get no recognition.” This is meant unironically.

Why does a show about a self-loathing narcissist work? Partly because of its trans-humanist setting – I couldn’t get enough of a manimal LA in which cats have scratching posts as office toys and Vanity Fair is called Manatee Fair and is run by actual Manatees. But also because BoJack is one of the greatest explorations of depression ever filmed, or animated or whatever.

“Depression”: I hate that word. It’s at once insultingly banal – almost meteorological – and yet also an attempt to pathologise something that is a perfectly normal part of the human experience. Churchill’s “black dog” is better, or the French ennui.

BoJack’s problem is that he suspects the best thing he ever did was Horsin’ Around and is determined to do better. Yet he’s also terrified that he isn’t capable of better, so he creates traps for himself to fall into. His prediction of failure thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A way of life. His agent tells him: “BoJack, you are amazing. You’re bright and you’re funny and you’re talented. But if you can’t see that, then you’re the biggest, dumbest piece of s— in the world.” Anyone who has known an alcoholic or drug addict will have found themselves saying something similar at some point in their friendship.

The third season of this brilliant show has just hit Netflix, and to understand what’s going on, you really have to watch it from the beginning. Be warned: the first few episodes are rubbish. BoJack Horseman only comes alive halfway through its first season, which actually makes it one of the best adverts for the kind of multi-episode simultaneous release that Netflix specialises in. Had it been broadcast week by week on a normal network then it probably would’ve been cancelled. So stick with this one. It’s some of the best television ever made.