Not of all time, probably, but right now, yeah, I can’t think of anything that beats it. This is a cartoon show with funky animal people, and yet the characters live and grow and change while they and the show’s creators make you laugh. Often the moments of laughter and pathos are intertwined in an amazingly effortless way. The thought that goes into not just the dialogue and voice acting, but every background shot, becomes apparent the longer you watch. We have paused this show at least half a dozen times just in the second season to appreciate background gags that never got callouts (the company that tows Bojack’s boat has on its truck “Stoats Boats Totes Tows Boats”–and there’s a stoat driving the truck–but you have to work to see it). The creators know that not all the gags will be seen by everyone, but they make sure there’s almost always something there for the people who are looking.
An example that impressed me from this season was actually an extension of a joke that started last season, Mr. Peanutbutter’s continuing difficulties with signmakers. Last season he had a banner made that read “Congrats Diane and Mr. Peanut Butter Peanut Butter Is One Word.” Later in the show another banner read “Congrats Diane and Mr. Peanut Butter Peanut Butter Is One Word Don’t Write One Word.” The gag is never remarked upon in the show. This season, for Diane’s birthday, Mr. Peanutbutter makes shirts that say “I had a ball at Diane’s 35th birthday and underline ball I don’t know why this is so hard.” Again, nobody remarks on it. There’s no cutaway to the shirt. It’s just there, amazingly funny, part of the show organically.
[MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW–SKIP THESE PARAGRAPHS IF YOU ABSOLUTELY DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM]
Later in the show, when Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are in different locations and Diane is questioning herself and her relationship, she wears that t-shirt constantly. Again, it’s never mentioned. She doesn’t talk a lot about how she’s feeling. But the shirt–the joke shirt–is a clue that she’s thinking about her husband and on some level she is really missing him. It’s a character moment, just like the giant portrait of child (foal?) Bojack and his family in which they’re wearing the same clothes they are wearing in every flashback to his childhood.
And the final scene between Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter in the season is fast becoming one of my favorite scenes in television the more I think about it. It’s amazing how understated and beautiful it is. Mr. Peanutbutter’s last line in that scene is not necessary, but it is absolutely perfect.
[OKAY SPOILERS OVER YOU MAY RESUME READING]
I can’t think of another comedy that does so much with its characters. Arrested Development was probably a superior comedy, but its characters didn’t change as much. Bojack has a lot of the sensibilities of AD, but it cuts deeper with the characters. AD came close–the Michael/Gob/Marta arc, for example–but by and large AD worked because each of the characters was who they were, in perfect comedic balance. Bojack works because the characters are struggling, learning, growing, and changing. The world around them is funny and they are sometimes funny, sometimes hurt, sometimes mean, sometimes kind. Bojack is not a nice guy, but he wants to be, and the show is about his journey to be, if not that, at least someone who’s happy about himself. But it’s also about Diane worrying that she won’t have an impact on the world, about Mr. Peanutbutter’s frustration when love and affection aren’t enough, about Princess Caroline’s self-esteem and security, about Todd’s struggle to let his creativity out.
Some writing advice you may hear is to have all your side characters have their own stories; don’t just make them subservient to the main character. Bojack Horseman is an excellent example of that. Everyone in it has his or her own life, and we get a very real sense that we are just seeing the moments when they intersect with Bojack. There is so much more in the show, too, about how we present ourselves to the world: Bojack is upset in the first season at the honesty in Diane’s book about him, while in the second season he becomes worried that the Secretariat movie isn’t presenting his idol honestly.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, give it a few episodes into the first season–I think the fourth or fifth was where it clicked that this was something special.