Friday, May 24

Up Next: ‘BoJack Horseman’ uses freedom of web format better than ‘The Awesomes’

Netflix's original programming has expanded into adult animation with the program "BoJack Horseman," following titular character BoJack as he tries to reestablish his frame by writing a memoir about his days as a '90s sitcom actor.
(Courtesy of Netflix)

Netflix's original programming has expanded into adult animation with the program "BoJack Horseman," following titular character BoJack as he tries to reestablish his frame by writing a memoir about his days as a '90s sitcom actor. (Courtesy of Netflix)

The rise of original online programming has revolutionized the way we consume television. But are any of these new shows actually worth watching? Up Next highlights noteworthy original content from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios and examines how the flexible online format functions within each show. All you need is a laptop and your friend’s Netflix or Amazon Prime password.

Hulu’s “The Awesomes” and Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” arrived during an opportune period for adult animated shows, with shows like “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers” growing in both popularity and critical reception.

Because animated shows are cheaper to produce than live action, the writers of these shows have virtually endless options for the types of stories and characters they can create. “BoJack Horseman” uses the freedom of its genre and web platform to its advantage, but “The Awesomes” struggles to set itself apart from typical network or cable animation.

“BoJack Horseman” follows titular character BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett), a washed-up ’90s sitcom star, who tries to reenter the spotlight by writing a memoir about his acting career. With the help of ghost writer Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), BoJack reflects on his relationships with Todd (Aaron Paul), a live-in slacker; Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), a pink cat who is BoJack’s agent and sometimes girlfriend; and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), a golden retriever and rival ’90s sitcom star.

With its world of anthropomorphic animal and human characters, “BoJack Horseman” offers an edginess that suits that of other Netflix originals. At the very least, this bizarre concept takes full advantage of the freedom of the animation genre, though it still makes for a few unsettling sex scenes.

The show’s material also brings an edge. Although branded a comedy, “BoJack Horseman” is unnervingly sad at times. BoJack has serious childhood issues that hinder him from forming meaningful relationships. This melancholic twist matches the freedom Netflix gives to its writers, since network shows may deem some of the show’s plots too sad to sustain an audience looking for comedy.

As a result, “BoJack Horseman” is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it does offer witty jokes, sharp dialogue and knowing, ironic commentary. Some planted jokes don’t pay off until several episodes later, and this intricacy tailors itself to the web format. Because viewers can watch episodes all in one sitting, they are more primed to catch subtle jokes that may have been lost to memory otherwise. In addition, creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg does not have to reintroduce minor characters, as a week-to-week network show might, which opens the possibilities for running gags spanning the full season.

The freedom of Netflix’s web platform encourages the writers of “BoJack Horseman” to take major risks, which gives the show its absurd yet poignant flair.

“The Awesomes,” in contrast, fails to take any risks at all. Created by Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker, the show follows a band of superheroes trying to take the place of a beloved, retired superhero team. The unlikely heroes include Prock (voiced by Meyers), Muscleman (Ike Barinholtz), Frantic (Taran Killam), Gadget Gal (Paula Pell), Sumo (Bobby Lee), Concierge (Emily Spivey) and Impresario (Kenan Thompson).

The show features several “Saturday Night Live” veterans. Because “The Awesomes” is Hulu’s second original program, the company likely wanted the draw of big names to boost its credibility as a web television platform, and the show relies heavily on their popularity to attract viewers.

The play-it-safe mentality of its writers may stem from the fact that it was originally set to air on SyFy or MTV before being passed over. Because it was initially developed as a network show, “The Awesomes” does not use its web platform in any inventive way.

For an adult animated show, “The Awesomes” is pretty clean. The writers censor swear words and rarely show sexual content, so the safe material resembles that of a network show. This isn’t necessarily a hindrance, but rather a surprise since the majority of web shows tend to push the boundaries of explicit content.

Plus, the show runs weekly and is not packaged in any innovative way. The writers could have experimented with binging installments. Even the premise of the show is cliché since the superhero genre has been beaten to death by movies and television alike, leaving “The Awesomes” with little original material to work with.

That’s not to say the show is not funny, but it simply doesn’t adapt to the specialities of the web platform in any inspiring way. “The Awesomes” ought to take a card from “BoJack Horseman” if it hopes to give critical credibility to Hulu.

Savannah Tate

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