If you’re a fan of cartoons, you know that this past year has been a good one. With shows like HBO’s Animals., Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, and OF COURSE Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, older fans of comedic animation have little to no reason to be disappointed. These new and noteworthy cartoons aren’t great just because they’re funny, they’re great because, in addition to being absolutely hilarious, they’re also tragic, poignant, and heartwarming. Do I take cartoons a little too seriously? Yes. But believe me, these cartoons are worth getting emotionally invested in.
Animals., the two season HBO series created by Phil Matarese and Mike Luciano, explores New York City from the perspective of the animals who inhabit it. In the show, animals are far more human than the few humans who appear in the series: they fall in love, deal with loss, and do things like run businesses and graduate from high school. We meet a wide variety of characters, from cats who run a mob in Little Italy, to squirrels dealing with their respective parents getting married, to dogs interacting in a dog park that seems more like a prison yard. Plus, the cast is packed with some of your favorite comedians and artists. As you watch, you’ll recognize voices like Aziz Ansari, Eric Andre, Wanda Sykes, and even Usher. Some moments in the show are a little grotesque, like when the rats who live in the Nostrand subway stop in Brooklyn grow up, have babies and die within the span of one episode, or when a bird who leaves her newly hatched baby to get some food is killed by a possum, but these moments are part of what makes the show so great. It makes you see these animals as emotional, intelligent beings who you can’t help but sympathize with. In the final episode of the second season (which feels like it’s probably the series finale) we get to see Mike and Phil, portrayed as rats, talk about following their shared dream to make a cartoon together. I literally cried. It’s incredible.
Another must-see is the acclaimed Netflix series Bojack Horseman, created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and stars Will Arnett as Bojack, a horse, a has-been celebrity, and an alcoholic. Yes, I said a horse. In Bojack Horseman, sometimes people are humans and sometimes people are horses, or cats, or mice, or goldfish, or any other animal. Unlike in Animals, these animals walk upright, wear clothes, and interact with humans regularly. Like Animals, the series is funny because many of the characters are funny, but the events in the show are often tragic. Bojack constantly is faced with his own dysfunctionality, insecurity, and intimacy issues. The show also does a great job satirizing show business and the concept of celebrity. In the fourth and newest season, which was released just a few days ago on September 8th, Bojack is forced, now more than ever, to deal with the repercussions of his actions, mend relationships he’s destroyed, and face his own inner conflicts. Sounds funny, right? Believe me, it is. It’s also captivating as it’s serialized, so you’re constantly left wanting to know what happens next. As if that weren’t enough the new season features the incredible New York comedian Aparna Nancherla. I recommend binge watching the entire series on Netflix ASAP.
Of course, I can’t write about cartoons without mentioning Rick and Morty. It’s on Adult Swim, it was created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, and it’s one of the most fun shows to watch. Rick is a genius scientist, a misanthropic alcoholic, and Morty’s grandfather. Morty is a fourteen-year-old boy who probably shouldn’t be in any of the situations Rick puts him in due to the physical danger and emotional trauma, but he continues to go on adventures with Rick regularly. One of the most remarkable aspects of the show is how well-crafted the world they’ve made it. It exists half in Rick and Morty’s family’s suburban household and a half in other worldly intergalactic dimensions that Rick drags Morty into. The show is also brutally honest about the tragedy surrounding many of its characters. In the current season (airing now on Adult Swim), Morty has to deal with his parents getting divorced, while Rick has to find the strength to stay in the lives of his daughter and grandchildren, who he’s abandoned multiple times before. The series also has a nihilistic quality and often causes characters to go through their own existential crisis. Because the characters are able to travel into different dimensions, they often meet other versions of themselves in them, making them aware of how insignificant they are in comparison to the entirety of the universe. You know, a comedy. It’s tragic, it’s horrific, it’s violent, it’s emotional, it’s touching, it’s heartwarming, and it truly is absolutely hilarious. Take my word for it.
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