Ellen E Jones: The Weekend's TV from BoJack Horseman to The Real Mill

Horsing around and wry humour make this a cartoon comedy for grown-ups

On Saturday Peter Capaldi made his debut as a “less user friendly” and “darker” Time Lord, but the 12th Doctor was not the only lovable anti-hero we met over the weekend. Netflix also debuted a new original series, BoJack Horseman, with all 12 episodes of the first series now available on demand.

Given the huge success of exclusive series like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, plus the fact that the fast-growing streaming service now has three million subscribers in Britain, the debut of any new Netflix Originals series should be an event of note. This one also has the cast of a telly addict’s dreams.

Will Arnett (Arrested Development, 30 Rock) plays BoJack, a washed-up Nineties sitcom star hoping to stage a comeback; Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul is his loafing houseguest Todd (a not-so-distant cousin of our old friend Jesse Pinkman); Amy Sedaris (sister of David) plays the bitter ex-girlfriend who is also BoJack’s faultlessly professional agent; and Mad Men’s Alison Brie is the ghostwriter of his upcoming memoir. Guest-stars include the respected likes of Patton Oswalt, Stanley Tucci and Melissa Leo. So why hasn’t this brand new sitcom been greeted with more fanfare? Probably because it’s an animation.

In the years since South Park proved that cartoons could be for grown-ups too, animated comedy has become more “adult” in the most puerile sense – lots of sex, violence and swearing. This series from Raphael Bob-Waksberg is more in the tradition of Mike Judge’s understated King of the Hill – grown-up in the sense that the comedy derives from properly developed characters and relationships.

True, our anti-hero BoJack is an actual “horse-man”, living in a Los Angeles where humans and anthropomorphic animals co-exist, but this gives the familiar set-up of showbiz satires like Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm an enjoyably absurd twist. When, for instance, BoJack is told: “Penguin is very eager to publish your memoirs, but you keep missing deadlines”, it’s made more amusing by the fact that the editor telling him this is an actual penguin. 

The humour is wry and bittersweet and there’s also a really great theme tune by Jesse Novak, so while BoJack Horseman might not be an obvious candidate to sit alongside the Netflix greats, subscribers should give it a chance. These 25-minute episodes would make the ideal palate cleanser during a serious drama binge-watch.

Much less fun than a talking horse was The Real Mill with Tony Robinson (Sun), a two-part documentary series that airs on More 4 immediately following the final episodes of The Mill. The Time Team star was joined by social historian Professor Emma Griffin and together they diligently pored over the unusually complete 19th-century records of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire, gradually building a picture of what life was like for workers and factory owners during the Industrial Revolution.

It’s a noble popular-history endeavour, no doubt, but the real problem with The Real Mill is one that penny-pinching mill boss William Greg would’ve identified in  an instant: there’s no need to employ two  to do a job that is already done sufficiently  well by one. As long-suffering viewers of The Mill are often reminded, the dramatized version of life at Quarry Bank already stays close to grim historical fact, but even so it might have been interesting to find out more about how the real Esther Price, Daniel Bate and co differed from their fictionalised counterparts. Instead, The Real Mill focused on the generalities of the Industrial Revolution. And we knew all that already.

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