It’s a great, nay, a tremendous pleasure to report that Netflix has dropped new seasons of Bojack Horseman and American Vandal and both live up to extremely high standards previously set. With Bojack, this isn’t unexpected; it’s already racked up four consistently excellent seasons. If you’re not familiar with idiosyncratic creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s surreal animated fantasia, it’s about a Hollywood television actor who was huge in the 90s on his own sitcom and now floats around, buffeted and comforted by plenty of money, booze and friends but troubled by a million doubts, fears, anxieties and, at least in seasons past, honest-to-goodness depression. It’s extremely funny, beautifully drawn and animated, perfectly acted (Will Arnett plays Horseman) and a sharp LA satire, but where it really kicks goals is in its ambitious tonal reach: it’s not afraid to play melancholic notes, nor reach for true pathos and occasional tragedy. Frankly, it got a bit too depressing for me at times last season, but this season there’s more fun and zip in the air, buoyed by Bojack’s new lease on life: he’s drinking a little less, taking care of himself a bit more, and has a new starring role on a “prestige” show that may just put him back in the game in a major way. By the way, Bojack is half man, half horse or something like that; the technicalities don’t matter, as the entire universe of the show is populated by humans, animals, and a million variations in between. You can dive right in, but if you have the time, definitely start from Season One.
American Vandal potentially faced less chance of repeat success, essentially because Season One was such a self-contained, satisfying jewel. It was a perfect satire of the new style of binge-worthy prestige true-crime shows such as Making a Murderer, The Keepers and The Staircase, with a healthy whack at the podcast Serial as well. It mimicked the style and tone of the opening credits, the theme music, the camera angles, the blend of archival, interview and new footage (including the obligatory drone-overs), the pacing, the drip of information, everything. But then, in a coup de TV, it also provided a compelling story that made you want to find out who did it; the characters were superbly drawn, the mystery deep, the plotting intricate. And all stemming from a base crime – the drawing of a bunch of penises on a lot-full of parked cars at a high school.
Season Two had the potential to be totally irrelevant, and the first ten or so minutes of the first episode were ominous. The setting had switched to a private high school, but the crime remained base, this time involving a lot of poo. Not to worry. Just like the first season, this story very quickly starts multiplying, branching, expanding and soon becomes massive, engrossing and very, very addictive. It even, extremely cleverly and rather subtly, starts to engage with current American politics. The gimmick still works, but the suburb storytelling is what will grab you and glue you, once you get past all the poo.