The past year’s slate of TV shows awakened a burst of creative thinking in Emmy voters that seemed all but impossible, given the vast expanse of slots usually reserved for the previous year’s nominees.
There were a few predictable yawners, like an outstanding drama nod to Downton Abbey that should have gone to UnREAL (or Billions or Outlander or Halt and Catch Fire or The Path), but the high-profile nominations for Mr. Robot, The Americans and black-ish show that the Television Academy is actually capable of communing with the critical zeitgeist.
It’s never too early to start campaigning for 2017, and the category most in need of a snort of Mr. Robot’s Adderall is outstanding animated series, one of the few categories that puts comedy and drama on an even plane.
Four shows—Archer, Bob’s Burgers, South Park and The Simpsons—are wry adult comedies made with traditional animation and story structures. Comedy has changed a lot in the last five years and a whole lot since the Pleistocene Era when South Park and The Simpsons began, and those two are perennial repeaters in a category that should give more of a nod to experimentation (Rick and Morty), fresh voices (F is for Family), visual variety (Animals, Robot Chicken) and even fanboys (Star Wars Rebels).
The clearest omission, though, is BoJack Horseman. The Netflix dramedy stars Will Arnett as a washed-up TV actor who came up years ago on a popular-but-terrible sitcom called Horsin’ Around and has been wasting oxygen in his Hollywood Hills mansion ever since; Aaron Paul voices his unemployed sidekick.
The third season, whose 12 episodes premiered last week on Netflix, is a category-buster that ranges from cringe-inducing satire to relationship drama to bleak nihilism. It perfectly exemplifies an animation category that makes no distinction between drama and comedy. BoJack is both and neither.
The season’s concluding arc is a Louie-esque three-act tragedy that recalls the more difficult moments of Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. BoJack’s descent in those episodes has an intensity of despair that makes you wonder how the show can ever be funny again. And maybe it can’t.
“I can’t keep lying to myself, saying I’m going to change,” BoJack says in the season finale. “I’m poison.” It’s self-pity, but it’s also true. He is poison, or at least he is right now. Is it within him to change? I hope so.
It’s a good time for comedies. Acidic comedies like Difficult People. Dingy comedies like Workaholics and Bajillion Dollar Propertie$. Auteurish comedies like Love and Casual. I’m sure I would like a version of BoJack Horseman that isn’t so dark.
But it is dark, and it’s wonderful.