‘BoJack Horseman’ is the only show that really gets my city
Tucked into the often-bleak narrative are disarmingly familiar glimpses of Los Angeles life
To live in Los Angeles means forever catching glimpses of your street or favorite restaurant staged as a stand-in for someplace else. Moving around town becomes an exercise in avoiding those film shoots, a constant reminder that we reside on a giant soundstage, where at any given moment, a beloved block or building is being carefully snipped from the surrounding context.
In the last few years, however, shows have been set in actual LA neighborhoods, with characters referencing real places, sometimes with stunning geographic accuracy. There’s the show Love, which takes place in a well-known apartment complex in the Valley. In Transparent, the neighborhoods where the family members live, from Silver Lake to Marina del Rey, provide cues about their characters. LA’s noir past intersects with present-day addresses in the thriller Bosch. Issa Rae’s Insecure is probably the best example of the genre, offering a look at everyday life in South LA with locations as mundane as a Rite-Aid pharmacy.
But BoJack Horseman—the animated Netflix show by writer Raphael Bob-Waksberg and artist Lisa Hanawalt, who were high school friends—is the first show to create an entire Los Angeles universe that feels like it was made for people in LA.
For people who don’t live here, BoJack Horseman might appear to be an endless string of cliches: a narcissistic washed-up sitcom star (who is also a horse) voiced by Will Arnett, colonnades of palm trees, candy-colored convertibles, and jabs at celebrity culture. But tucked into the narrative are disarmingly familiar glimpses of actual Los Angeles—well, Los Angeles if it were mostly occupied by animals.
Every street scene sends me scrambling to hit pause. There are LA landmarks like Chateau Marmoset, Fred Seagull, Parrotmount Studios, and Moose-O & Frank Grill, but it doesn’t stop with obvious parodies—next door to Moose-O’s is Garcetti & Meatballs, the winkingest nod to our Italian-Jewish-Mexican American mayor. Billboard icon Angelyne is portrayed as an angelfish. Even small neighborhood businesses get cameos, like l.a. Aye-Ayeworks, Secret Hindquarters and confusingly named local grocery chains. A dutifully updated Instagram devoted to the hidden jokes has become the best way to catch the ones I’ve missed.