Film and drama

Screen Themes — Archer vs BoJack Horseman

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It’s animation for adults as entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at the James Bond spoof Archer and the 90’s sitcom inspired BoJack Horseman.

DESPITE THE abundance of evidence to the contrary, some people still think that cartoons are just for kids. Consider this: The Flintstones was originally aimed at an adult audience and run in prime time. South Park has had 18 seasons of increasingly profane content and The Simpsons is one of the biggest franchises of all time, making headline news around the world recently when Harry Shearer decided to leave the show.

If you don’t like any of the above programs (I was never a fan of the Flintstones to be honest) that’s fine — there is a plethora of animation options for almost all tastes. Here are a couple of the best …

Archer — created by Adam Reed

A spoof of all things James Bond and spy movies in general, Archer premiered in 2010 and is currently up to Season 6. Telling the tales of egotistical super-spy Stirling Archer and his team, the series is set in an undefined time period to take advantage of political crises and fashion crimes from the 60s to the 90s.

Played by experienced voice actor H Jon Benjamin, Archer works for a secret intelligence agency called ISIS which recently merged with the CIA to avoid confusion with the international terror group. To make things more difficult, Archer’s overbearing mother Mallory is the head of ISIS, voiced by the caustic Jessica Walter from Arrested Development. 

The links with Arrested Development don’t end there, with Jeffrey Tambor (George Bluth), David Cross (Tobias Funke) and Judy Greer (Kitty Sanchez) all appearing in recurring roles.  In fact, creator Adam Reed has described the series as "James Bond Meets Arrested Development".

Like its spiritual predecessor, Archer rewards viewers who pay attention with running jokes and small yet hilarious gags in the background. The supporting cast is filled with misfits including super-spy with strangely large hands Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), psychopathic secretary Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer), heroin addicted butler Woodhouse (George Coe) and harried accountant sex-addict Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell). 

After four seasons of spy mayhem, Season 5 takes a drastic left turn as ISIS is shut down and Archer and friends become international drug runners. A spoof of the pastel-hued police drama Miami Vice, the season embraced all of the tropes of the genre to hilarious effect, only to reset completely prior to season 6 as if nothing had ever happened.


Seasons 1-5 of Archer are available on DVD.

BoJack Horseman — created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

BoJack Horseman tells the story of a former sitcom star who struggles to remain relevant to an entertainment industry that thinks of him as a relic from a bygone age. Populated by humans and anthropomorphic animals, the world of BoJack Horseman takes a skewed look at celebrity culture, Hollywood’s obsession with youth and the increasing desperation of faded stars to stay in the spotlight well past their best-before date.  

Voiced by Will Arnett (yet another Arrested Development alumnus), BoJack is a misanthropic, alcoholic, self-loathing horse with trust issues. He lives with his best – and possibly only – friend Todd, voiced by Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad. Todd remains loyal to BoJack in the face of constant insults and increasingly poor behaviour — typified when BoJack deliberately de-rails Todd’s big break (a Rock Opera set in Space) by getting him hooked on a video game.

The overarching storyline of season 1 revolves around BoJack committing to write a tell-all book, then immediately employing a ghost writer to do all the hard work for him. Alison Brie from Community voices his biographer Diane, who is in an on-again, off-again relationship with Mr Peanut Butter, another faded sitcom star (also a talking dog) seemingly far happier with his lot in life than BoJack.

Combining absurdist humour with sharply observed satire (Penguin books is run by actual penguins and is constantly on the verge of bankruptcy), BoJack Horseman is often more clever than laugh out loud funny, but is more than worth a look for fans of Will Arnett or the adult entertainment genre.

Season 1 of BoJack Horseman is now available on NetFlix, with Season 2 scheduled to release on July 17th, 2015.

The Verdict

If you’re in the mood for laugh-out-loud humour which is crude yet intelligent, you really can’t go past Archer. While not as immediately hilarious, BoJack is more of a character based comedy that grows in warmth and humanity as the season progresses, whereas Archer is the same asshole at the end of season 6 as he is at the start of season 1.

BoJack Horseman is likely to appeal to fans of 90s sitcoms and anyone who has ever wondered what John Stamos or Tony Danza are doing these days. I’m also told that the series is particularly funny for anyone who has suffered depression, and does seem to approach the issue with an insider’s sensibility.

Reflecting the new "binge/on demand" model of broadcasting, both Archer and BoJack Horseman benefit from viewing over a short window. Not that they wouldn’t work on a weekly episodic basis, but the way some of the gags are structured works far better over a 2 hour sprint than a 4 week stroll.   

Like what you just read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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