BoJack Horseman is an underappreciated Netflix gem just about any way you slice it. Overshadowed by the streamer’s splashier, more well-established shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, the animated dramedy about anthropomorphic animals and their all-too-human emotions has quietly become an absolutely stellar series. But judging by the mile-long list of actors who have lent their ample talents to BoJack’s voice cast, you would never guess the show was anything less than a smash. Here are just a select few of the finest guest stars that BoJack Horseman has boasted in its first three seasons.
(Note: Per the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, an actor only qualifies as a guest star if they appear in fewer than 50 percent of a season’s episodes, meaning the stellar contributions of Lisa Kudrow in season two and Angela Bassett in season three won’t be lauded here.)
The esteemed, Academy Award-winning Arkin joined BoJack’s cast in season two, giving voice to reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. Princess Carolyn, struggling to rise through the ranks of her agency, needs to sign a huge name, and washed-up one-hit wonder Salinger, author of “Catcher in the Rye and … others,” is her ticket. The character’s very inclusion in the show is a joke—other showbiz-based series invariably use this kind of comeback subplot to feature a fan favorite, not a decades-past-relevant novelist—and Arkin’s performance provides the exact level of grizzled gravitas necessary to make sure that joke lands. Salinger is absurd, a severe and self-serious old-timer who nevertheless fully embraces the Hollywoo way and goes on to create vapid celebrity game show Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out! (or HSACWDTKDTKTLFO for “short”). BoJack tells “the long joke” like no other show, and Arkin executes this one masterfully.
Unlike Arkin, whose performance is largely comic, Wilde represents a very different side of this show. Her character, BoJack’s “one who got away,” taps into the series’ broken heart—sweet deer Charlotte could have been BoJack’s soulmate if not for his many failings, and therefore symbolizes the happiness he yearns for so desperately that is forever beyond his reach. Wilde’s character haunts the show like a lovely ghost, appearing mostly in BJ’s halcyon memories until an unforgettable season two arc that kicks the entire series up an emotional notch or three—her performance in this scene alone is so devastating that we viewers feel BoJack’s shame as intensely as he does. The fire in Wilde’s voice when she catches BoJack with her young daughter Penny (Broad City’s Ilana Glazer—more on her performance later) is that much more affecting because of the otherwise-irrepressible warmth she brings to the character.
The perennially excellent (and underrated) Wright’s rich, oaken baritone lends a grandiosity to any role, and in BoJack’s third season, he uses that high-flown tone to great effect—mostly by undercutting it at every turn. Cuddlywhiskers, creator of Krill and Grace and the ill-fated BoJack Horseman Show, is a brilliant TV veteran (and hamster) who becomes a svengali of sorts to BoJack, helping him to find some iota of enlightenment: “Only after you give up everything can you begin to find a way to be happy,” he wisely opines, blowing BJ’s mind. But Cuddlywhiskers is also a pretentious ass who takes great care to spell out the “harvard.edu” at the end of his email address, as well as taking every other opportunity to remind BJ how Ivy League he is. Wright’s role is a small but crucial part of BoJack season three, and the actor’s standout voice performance elevates a character who could have essentially just amounted to a plot device into one of the season’s most delightful elements.
Considering BoJack’s many emotional issues, it’s no stretch to say his parents did quite a number on him. But while his conservative patrician of a father, Butterscotch Horseman, was mostly just indifferent to young BJ, it was his mother, Malick’s Beatrice, who was the truly vicious one. Malick brings a perfectly awful domestic venom to the character, paring down young BoJack’s dreams and reminding him of how damaged he really is at every turn, a brutally self-fulfilling prophecy. “You’re BoJack Horseman,” she laments. “There is no cure for that.”
No one does overblown pomp quite like Colbert, and his BoJack role is no exception. Mr. Witherspoon, the bloated, pinstripe-sporting treefrog at the head of the Vigor Agency, falls firmly on the show’s silly side, and the Late Show host is more than up to that task. Witherspoon’s stuffy captain-of-industry routine makes him the perfect foil for Princess Carolyn, whose impressive attempts to move up at Vigor are frequently swept aside by the blithe boss man, who prefers to promote his idiot kid, Charley. Despite the fact that he’s essentially playing an empty suit, Colbert brings an obnoxious, yet irresistible charm to the amphibian Mr. Witherspoon.
Glazer’s performance on BoJack is a far cry from her delightfully off-the-wall starring turn on Broad City, demonstrating her considerable range as a (voice) actress. Penny, the aforementioned daughter of Wilde’s Charlotte, appears in only two episodes, but each represents a new low for BoJack: season two’s “Escape from LA,” perhaps the most agonizing in the series to date, finds BJ accompanying Penny to prom with disastrous results, while season three’s “That’s Too Much, Man!” sees BJ all but stalking her at her college while on a drug-fueled bender. Penny embodies an innocence that BoJack has long since lost, and Glazer’s tender voice performance brings that concept home with stunning delicacy and feeling.
Bader barely qualifies as a guest star, appearing in just shy of half of season three’s dozen episodes. Even so, the Veep star makes his presence felt as Princess Carolyn’s socially rigid hipster assistant, whose beard is just as robust as his ambitions. Where Bader’s Veep character Bill Erickson is a slimy schemer, Judah is a whirlwind of machinelike efficiency, and the polar opposite of Princess Carolyn’s former assistant, the bumbling treefrog Charley Witherspoon. Bader, though a relatively little-known character actor he may still be, is practically unrecognizable in the role, voicing Judah in a carefully controlled monotone that is the perfect fit for his buttoned-up automaton of a character. But like Erickson, Judah ultimately has little more than his own self-interest at heart, and Bader’s just the man to make that mercenary drive shine through. Here’s hoping we hear more of him in season four.
Huston needed just one episode—hell, one scene—to make this list, which speaks to the utter excellence of her performance. Her character, ruthless TV studio head Angela Diaz, is the bangs-wearing buzzsaw that BoJack walks into in season one while trying to fight for his friend Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci) to keep his job on Horsin’ Around. “I’m not going to waste your time with small talk, because you work for me and your time is my time,” she purrs, putting BJ’s dignity in a vice grip from the very start of their conversation. The world of BoJack Horseman is not a nice place, and Huston’s character is not-nice incarnate, a domineering showbiz shot-caller who holds the keys to the kingdom to which BJ so badly wants to belong. She wrecks his half-hearted attempt at loyalty without breaking a sweat, using BoJack’s own ambition against him in a masterful mental judo throw that leaves him utterly headfucked.
If BoJack has one most valuable unsung hero, it’s Oswalt. Not only is he hysterical as the hopelessly neurotic publisher-turned-TV exec Pinky Penguin, but he also serves as the series’ foremost floating utility player, filling in thankless roles throughout all three seasons. If there’s a male voice you don’t recognize on this show, chances are it’s Patton, doing what he does best.
This list simply would not be complete without the excellent Kristen Schaal, who also barely slips in under the guest star threshold. Sarah Lynn, a former child star who found fame alongside BoJack on Horsin’ Around, is an impetuous wild child who practically vacuums up drugs. In BoJack’s first two seasons, Schaal’s character is little more than a reminder of BJ’s glory days, as well as a bad influence who brings out BoJack’s self-destructive side. But her season three storyline is one of the most—if not the most—emotionally potent parts of the season. The planetarium scene in “That’s Too Much, Man!”—named for Sarah Lynn’s Horsin’ Around character’s catchphrase—numbers among the show’s most tragic, which is saying a whole hell of a lot. Schaal’s inimitable voice is a perfect fit for the tainted youth of her complex character, and BoJack Horseman is far better for it.
Phillip Baker Hall as Hank Hippopopalous, Maria Bamford as Kelsey Jannings, Stanley Tucci as Herb Kazzaz.
Scott Russell is Paste’s news editor. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.