Jan 3, 2015 · 4 minutes

"You know, sometimes I feel like I was born with a leak, and any goodness I started with just slowly spilled out of me, and now it's all gone. And I'll never get it back in me. It's too late. Life is a series of closing doors, isn't it?" - BoJack Horseman

If you logged into Netflix at any point over the holidays, you probably saw a big advertisement promoting an odd-looking animated show called BoJack HorsemanWhile it featured an all-star cast of comedians including Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, and Patton Oswalt, it lacked the promotional budget and assumed gravity of Netflix originals like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. After all, it's a show about a talking horse, not Washington corruption or a women's correctional facility. But don't be fooled by its goofy equine protagonist. BoJack Horseman is the best show Netflix has ever produced, and it's also one of the greatest -- and funniest -- shows ever made about depression.

Despite its odd cast of animal characters, the premise of BoJack Horseman is a familiar one: Arnett plays the title character, an anthropomorphic horse who starred as the patriarch in a popular but critically-panned 1990s family sitcom. The show's called Horsin' Around but it could have easily been called Full Horse, with BoJack playing the wholesome Bob Saget role. Off-camera, however, he is a desperately lonely egomaniac with a pit of emptiness at his core that he tries to fill with alcohol, cigarettes, pills, and one-night stands.

The show takes place years after the cancellation of BoJack's show, and the first season begins with BoJack being approached by a publisher at Penguin (who, of course, is a talking penguin voiced by Oswalt) to write an autobiography with a help of a beautiful and intelligent ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie). This forces him to confront all the people he's mistreated, abandoned, or betrayed in his life, and how those experiences came to define him.

It sounds depressing and it is -- often powerfully so. But because BoJack is a talking horse, surrounded by a cast of both human and animal characters, it allows the show to explore some really dark territory without tossing the audience into a pit of despair. Moreover, the show's dialogue is a hilarious mix of gallows humor, wordplay, and foul jokes that are as simultaneously smart and sick as anything Louis CK has ever conjured.

BoJack takes a page from the Arrested Development comedy handbook, making reference to the same gags over and over again throughout the series' 13 episodes, rewarding the most attentive viewers and making audiences feel like they're in on a bunch of inside jokes with friends. For example, one of these favorite gags involves characters repeatedly fucking up the "Fool me once" saying. ("Fool me once," one character says, "Shame on you. But teach a man to fool me and I will be fooled for the rest of my life.")

Perhaps the show's most impressive achievement is how it slowly becomes darker and sadder without ever losing its comic edge. The penultimate episode, for example, is both the series' funniest and its most heartbreaking. Embarrassed with Diane's unflinching yet accurate telling of his life -- not to mention emotionally shattered over Diane's marriage to his sworn enemy, a golden retriever named Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins) -- BoJack decides to write the book himself. But first, he seeks inspiration in the only way he knows how: By calling up the child star of Horsin' Around, who is now a drugged-out pop star, and taking a massive helping of hallucinogens and stimulants. His trip is a smorgasbord of visual puns and mad hilarious rants -- as if Pixar directed the Quaaludes scene from Wolf of Wall Street.

The book the drug-addled BoJack ultimately writes, with the help of his roommate Todd (Aaron Paul), is a total mess -- little more than "20 pages of Dr. Who erotica" and some YouTube embed codes, he's told later. But the personal insight he receives along the way is real. After a life lived in pursuit of fame and cheap thrills, BoJack finally realizes what he really wants, and sees it manifested as a hallucination of him and an old crush, a deer named Charlotte (Olivia Wilde) raising a child in a cabin in Maine. It's the first time in the show's run that Bojack feels truly content. In this moment of unsullied happiness, he asks Charlotte what she's thinking about.

"Just what it would have been like if you had chosen this life." And suddenly the trip is over, and BoJack is back to his sad, lonely life.

And with that, the most powerful scene of 2014 stars a talking horse and a talking deer. And that's not even the end of the episode. BoJack suffers one final gut-punch after coming back to reality -- a realization that, while enormously painful, might just turn his life around.

BoJack Horseman is about a lot of things: The insincerity of Hollywood, the easy manipulation of public opinion, and egotistical delusions of grandeur. But while many comedies in recent years -- particularly those starring Will Ferrell -- have riffed on selfish, irresponsible, emotionally immature men, BoJack Horseman depicts the consequences of this destructive behavior. It also seeks to identify why somebody like BoJack would act this way for so long.

With so many mistakes made and bridges burned in his past, there's a self-destructive momentum to BoJack's life; an inertia that, if he slams on the brakes, could cause him to crash through a windshield and perish. It's a story about how our past prevents us from allowing ourselves to be happy, and it's told with more humor and heart than anything on TV this year.

Not bad for a show about a talking horse.