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What made BoJack Horseman such a phenomenal Netflix cartoon?

Shows have mixed comedy and drama before, but the beauty of BoJack Horseman lies in its unprecedented blend of screwball humor and profound emotion.

BoJack Horseman wasn’t the first show to blend comedy with heart-wrenching emotion. Long before this titular horse and his animated, anthropomorphic world existed on Netflix for six incredible seasons, more traditional sitcoms like The Fresh Prince of Bel-AirFriends and especially the more recent How I Met Your Mother dabbled in occasionally veering away from routine jokes to give the audience something more profound.

And yet, if Monica and Chandler finding out they were infertile, Will asking Uncle Phil, “How come he don’t want me, man?” or Marshall Eriksen dealing with the death of his father were among comedy’s memorable early forays into more melancholy territory, BoJack pushed that unconventional TV experiment to its limits … and was extraordinarily successful in doing so.

Mixing zany, screwball humor with intense, depressing moments of introspection — often at the drop of a hat — is not an easy endeavor, but creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and company made it their crowning achievement.

It’s a testament to Bob-Waksberg, his team of writers, the animators and the superb voice acting cast to be able to construct such jarring collisions between wacky antics and emotional gut punches, often just minutes apart. From witty puns and hilarious one-liners to visual gags utilizing the creative freedom of placing these characters in a world where animals and people live together, Bojack Horseman is an immensely funny show, both in writing and execution.

However, it’s also a deeply sorrowful one, which is where the brilliance of everyone involved truly shines. This is not a show that needs to rely on blatant profanity to get its points across; over the course of its 77-episode run, BoJack only employs seven F-bombs, and four of them are used to devastating effect. Rather, the superb, vulnerable writing in those downcast moments comes second only to the voice actors’ ability to bring those thoughts, feelings and deep-seated fears to life.

You wouldn’t expect a show about an animated horse to provide TV’s most perceptive and honest look of the 21st century at problems like depression, alcohol and substance abuse, mental illness, family trauma and a host of other issues, but it’s true of BoJack Horseman. Being able to balance the weight of the verbal delivery in those heartbreaking scenes with quirky one-off jokes and tongue-twisters makes this the best work of Will Arnett’s, Alison Brie’s, Amy Sedaris’, and Paul F. Tompkins’ careers (and if not for Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul’s as well).

That this dichotomy of comedy good and inner evil takes place within the “confines” of a cartoon is all the more groundbreaking. The stylish animation, which grows more confident with each passing season, makes it possible for these rapid tonal shifts from absurdist laughs — rabid clown dentists, killer whale-strippers-turned-Uber drivers and Vincent Adultman, a character who is literally three children stacked on top of each other under a trench coat, are all fair game — to stunningly expressive illustrations of each character’s pain.

The allure of its colorful art style, comedic riffs and visual gags draw the viewer in, but the story’s profound transformation late in Season 1 is what keeps the audience enthralled all the way until sticking the landing in a way very few shows manage to pull off. It’s an impressively difficult balance to strike, but one this tragicomedy masters it unlike anything that’s come before it.

From its satirical jabs at celebrity culture to the blunt accusation lobbed at our main character that he “fetishizes his own sadness,” this is an acutely self-aware show that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. Dealing with depression, alcoholism and past trauma is an ongoing battle, and one that often affects a person’s relationships around them. There are supremely gloomy and disturbing examples of that thesis throughout the series’ six-season run (namely, the penultimate episode of each season), but there are also uplifting, hopeful conclusions peppered with corny yet clever jokes throughout each episode.

In other words, BoJack Horseman‘s parity between joy and sadness is a fairly apt representation of real life — a surprising accomplishment for a show about a cartoon horse.

Viewers have always secretly craved those instances when comedies get serious, and that emotional body slam sometimes hits harder than actual dramas. No show understands this symbiotic relationship better than BoJack Horseman, and the fact that it teeters back and forth between the two, within this animation style, makes it that much easier to entice the audience … and that much more shocking when it deftly transitions to some of the saddest, most heartfelt sentiments seen on any TV show, cartoon or otherwise.

The old adage “laughing to keep from crying” often feels like BoJack‘s operating premise, but that’s not meant to sell either the humor or the drama short; if anything, it’s a wonder one show is able to masterfully explore each end of the spectrum and thrive in that perfect harmony.

Keep up with FanSided Entertainment as we continue to look back at our favorite cartoon shows all this week!

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