Each year, the quality of content released to the public from the entertainment industry hits new highs and lows. With every sequel and prequel released, I sink further into doubt that Hollywood can surprise us anymore. After all, what can shake audiences to their core the way that “Arrival of a Train” did? Or the “firsts” of every genre? Thankfully, something always comes along that proves me wrong, and after all these years that Hollywood has gifted me with pleasant surprises and whirlwinds of emotion, it would be an absolute shame if I didn’t take a moment to thank the shows that shifted my perspective on the industry and society as a whole. I’ve been blessed by the entertainment industry a countless number of times, but the most memorable gift was my introduction to the depths and bounds that animated shows can reach in their content, spirit and artistry. People have a tendency to associate animation with children, failing to realize how animation allows creators to push boundaries with more flexibility and ease. When you start to realize just how far they can go, it completely changes the way you view television.
My proper introduction to a good animated show was “Avatar: The Last Airbender” in the basement of my childhood home. My memories of it are hazy — it was long ago when the show was still on Netflix. As someone who grew up on Disney and Nickelodeon sitcoms, it was rare to see a normalized version of Asian culture in a mainstream television series. There’s still an ongoing debate as to whether “Avatar” counts as anime — if it does, the show blows my whole article wide open. So let’s say it doesn’t. As a Nickelodeon-produced show, “Avatar” displays astonishing layers of cultural sensitivity and inclusion with tact and ease. It quickly became my personal standard for what I can expect from a good animated series, and few animated shows over time have been able to stand beside or surpass its predecent.
The first to do it was “Bojack Horseman.” Anyone who knows me has likely been pestered to watch the show several times, and those who I can force to get past the first season never regret it. At its best, it’s a surprise. Like most first time watchers, I began the series with a halfhearted effort. Even though I had been told it was better than it appeared, good shows aren’t appreciated until they’re lived and experienced. I had subconsciously categorized it under the expectation that it would be a jaunty, vulgar adult cartoon like the rest, and while it starts that way, it finds its footing and maintains its excellence throughout its nearly-concluded six season run. Its existentialism is gradual, and the depths it reaches are wholly unexpected but entirely welcome. The creators somehow made this animated anthropomorphic horse such a heartbreaking yet alarmingly relatable character, not to mention the other side characters, each of whom have complex, three-dimensional features that the majority of secondary television characters lack. It’s extremely predictable of me to stamp this as the best animated show of the decade, but I can’t help it. There aren’t many shows that’ll make you feel the same way that this one does, and it’ll draw out any buried existential dread that you might have hoped to get rid of by early adulthood.
But that’s not to say that there are only two good animated television shows out there. This decade had much to offer in the realm of animation and its various art styles, which advanced quickly throughout the decade. 2019 alone has had amazing animated shows start, end and get cancelled by cruel shifts in streaming and entertainment. A notable mention is “Undone,” a show by the same creator as “Bojack.” It’s a quick eight episodes on Amazon Prime Video, and breaks barriers of genre like I’ve never seen before. Its run is too recent to label as the best animated series of the decade, but it’s a beacon of hope for those who fear that the new decade will have nothing to offer but terror and moral panic. Apart from some select real-life issues we might have to face head on in the very near future, at least we can be soothed in the fact that good television is out there, and likely won’t be going away for some time.