There’s a battle brewing, and it’s being fought by streaming services, cable TV and primetime television. If you’re too weak to resist, “UnBinged” is here to help, telling you what to hate, what to love and what to love to hate. This week: the end of a cartoon anti-hero, the beginning of suspenseful new series and the return of a sci-fi hero.
BoJack Horseman | Netflix
It might be unexpected that one of the most heartfelt, gut-wrenching dramas on television happens to be a cartoon, but Netflix’s BoJack Horseman is a show that has been defying expectations for the better part of six years. It’s been a long journey for the equestrian nincompoop, but over the last seven seasons, BoJack (Will Arnett) has developed a character arc that rivals Breaking Bad’s Walter White or Game of Thrones’ Jamie Lannister. Seriously.
The events of the final season hold the newly-reformed BoJack accountable for previous misdeeds, including inadvertently causing the death of his former co-star Sarah Lynn. Though the former sitcom star has gotten his life together, as well as a new teaching gig, the damage he caused to friends and family catches up with him, forcing him to finally face his demons. In the end, his punishment is more than just the loss of personal possessions and freedom, but having to stand witness as the world moves on without him.
BoJack has always been deeply flawed. An addict with anger issues that once caused him to choke out his co-star, he’s been a bad influence — and sometimes just a bad person. And while he attempted to make good, the sins of his past remain a constant for viewers. He tries. He fails. He tries again and he fails again. His constant fuck-ups drag us down with him, both to judge and to laugh and to comtemplate the fuck-ups of our own life.
And that is the greatness of BoJack Horseman. It’s a dark, winding road of a show filled with critter caricatures and puns to help cushion its brutality. The adorable animal names, funny booze-fueled antics and hundreds of super famous voice actors never distract viewers from the brilliant pessimism that drives the show, a fatalistic ideology filled with remorse and wrapped in a cartoon candy shell. It will be missed. Goodbye, Hollywoo, and thanks for the memories.
The Outsider | HBO
Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) is a small-town baseball coach and teacher who was seen by witnesses abducting a local boy and later emerging from the woods covered in blood. He is seen on video in the area, he was witnessed by local townsfolk with the lad and he left behind a trail of DNA evidence a mile wide. But he was also 70 miles away attending a teacher’s conference at the same exact time. He is on video at the conference, witnessed by local townsfolk and left evidence that places him nowhere near the scene of the crime. It is a conundrum for local officials, especially Det. Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), who is given the daunting task of solving the case.
Based on Stephen King’s 2018 novel, The Outsider is a creature feature of the highest order, a monster movie that is anything but boilerplate. The miniseries is a slow burn, taking its time to build on the approaching dread, a luxury sorely lacking in several previous King adaptations. And because it is a series, it has time to construct a specific class of terror: suspense and an unfolding narrative that keeps us guessing.
The show is given its depth thanks to the stellar cast. A particular stand-out is Cynthia Erivo, who plays investigator Holly Gibney, a genius who brandishes Occam’s razor as her weapon of choice. She is brought into the case by Anderson to help hunt the boogeyman — whoever that may be.
The Outsider is another win for HBO, and an example of the network’s ability to elevate entertainment by surpassing any preconceived notions of what television should be. We’re glued.
Star Trek: Picard | CBS All Access
What the Starship Enterprise is to Starfleet, Star Trek: Picard is to CBS All Access: A flagship show meant to show off the service’s best assets. But is it worth the subscription? Short answer: Yes. But only if you are already a fan.
The show follows the venerable Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) in his twilight years. Surrounded by Romulans and living on his family’s ancestral vineyard, Picard’s star treks are far behind him. His association with Starfleet is all but severed, with the exception of a loyal hound named Number One. Nursing his bruised ego, Picard is hiding, just waiting to die, at least until he meets Dahj (Isa Briones). Somehow tied to the late, great Data (Brent Spiner, in a welcome guest appearance), the young woman offers an intriguing mystery that awakens Picard’s inner adventurer.
With a great supporting cast made up of new cronies (Alison Pill, Michelle Hurd, Santiago Cabrera) and the occasional old friends we all want to see (Jonathan Frakes, Jeri Ryan), Picard sets on a mission of his own making, offering a fun continuation of Star Trek:The Next Generation and a final chapter for a great character. It’s also fan service to those who stayed loyal to the franchise.
But it won’t be too exciting for new fans. Unlike previous Star Trek shows, which offered a Doctor Who–esque solution by starting any new series with a fresh slate, Picard requires a bit of homework. Movies need to be watched and series needs to be binged to get it all. It’s a massive undertaking for the unindoctrinated.
Still, for folks already onboard with the second generation of Trek (versus the Shatner era) and for those who always wanted to be, Picard is a bold and nostalgic treat. He’s the wise and multi-faceted captain we grew up with, now older, maybe wiser and battling illness as well as the issues that come with aging. But he still has plenty of spirit here, as does the show. Engage.