Binge-r #108: BoJack Horseman + Hold the Dark
BOJACK HORSEMAN S5
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 12 episodes now streaming (plus S1, S2, S3, and S4)
When people think about the early days of Netflix’s original programming, years before the streaming service became a dedicated weekly provider of new content, they tend to remember House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. They don’t tend to recall the show that’s been around nearly as long: BoJack Horseman. It’s not because the series, which now has five seasons, is indistinct, rather people tended to overlook it because of how niche it sounded. An animated Hollywood satire set in an alternate word where anthropomorphic animals and humans casually interact, it suggested a very obscure Venn diagram of artful appreciation.
Yet even as House of Cards ran off the rails to become a Washington D.C. soap and Orange is the New Black squandered the power of its radical inclusiveness, BoJack Horseman revealed itself as an emotionally illuminating and tellingly sharp comedy. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, this mix of wild imagery and soulful self-discovery about the uncertain middle years of a huge 1990s sitcom star, Will Arnett’s selfish BoJack, skewers everything from fame’s toxic residue to Californian lunacy with a purposeful gaze. When you’re done laughing at the sardonic punchlines, you’re left with bittersweet realities not so easily cast aside.
If you’ve tried the first season and it hasn’t clicked that’s understandable, as it is the lesser collection due to comparative tentativeness. You won’t suffer if you jump to – or simply start with – the second season, which dealt with BoJack’s depression by forcing the privileged star, with his hillside mansion and lack of responsibility, to consider why he was so unhappy. Loopy visual gags unfold in the background, madcap leaps of faith dot the storylines and surreal one-off episodes occur, but the show has revealed itself as a terrific chronicle of unhappiness and its enduring traits, while opening up genuine narratives for the likes of BoJack’s manager, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his ghost-writer turned conscience, Diane (Alison Brie), and his cheerfully indolent permanent houseguest, Todd (Aaron Paul).
The fifth season begins with BoJack shooting a bleak crime drama for an online streaming service (the show has a taste for Hollywood meta-commentary), but as with prior years it soon engages with deeper ramifications, notably grief. The fourth season, for example, delved into BoJack’s family life, complete with a sojourn at his family home in Michigan that intermingled memory and regret in a way that was at times heartbreaking. BoJack changes but he doesn’t necessarily become a good person, and the back and forth of his betterment and barbed avoidance underpins Netflix’s quiet achiever. It’s never too late to change, just as it’s never too late to start watching BoJack Horseman.
Hold the Dark (Netflix, 2018, 126 minutes): A meticulously made horror film about the inexplicable but comfortable depths of human behaviour, Hold the Dark starts at the ominously still and proceeds to get very bloody. In a tiny Alaskan village where civilisation circa 2004 is little more than a thin wall against the elements, a grieving husk of a mother, Medora Slone (Riley Keough), summons a naturalist who is an expert in wolves, Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright), to hunt the pack that took her young son. She wants vengeance before the return of her husband, Vernon (Alexander Skarsgard), who kills with dispassionate exactness as a U.S. soldier serving in Iraq. The compacts of society repeatedly fail, falling before acts that hint at the supernatural but also suggest that human nature is not far removed from its historic recesses. Director Jeremy Saulnier flourishes visually, capturing a stark, seditious winter environment and the exceptional cast, but where his previous features, Blue Ruin and Green Room, were about the horrifying reality of violence that sprang from the everyday, the heightened atmosphere of Hold the Dark creates a fearful otherness that’s actually easier to grimly marvel at and then put aside.
New on Netflix: Oscar Isaac plays the Israeli agent covertly hunting Ben Kingsley’s escaped Nazi war criminal in the dangerous Argentina of 1960 in Operation Finale 2 (2018, 123 minutes), a thriller about captivity and evil’s power; The Immigrant (2013, 117 minutes) is a remarkable period drama from James Gray, with Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner as newcomers to the slums of 1920s New York.
New on SBS on Demand: There’s a raft of horror films just added, most notably the terrifying It Follows (2014, 100 minutes) where a young college student (Maika Monroe) is pursued by an unknown entity that kills anyone in a chain of sexual partners; 100 Bloody Acres (2012, 87 minutes) is a macabre and eccentrically Australian tale of two brothers (Damon Herriman and Angus Sampson) whose fertiliser mix requires unique elements.
New on Stan: Step Brothers (2008, 102 minutes) is the pinnacle of idiotic man-child humour, with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as room-sharing brats – Richard Jenkins’ reaction shots as their exasperated guardian are magnificent; a study of enduring love in the time of HIV, Holding the Man (2015, 128 minutes) opens up multiple eras of Australia’s gay social history as liberation turns to loss.
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