Given that I put one of the episodes of BoJack Horseman on my list of The Greatest Television Episodes while saying it was one of the best shows on television currently, it’s probably fair to say I’m a fan. It’s hard to say whether or not I love the show more after watching this season, but I definitely respect it more for its dedication to improvement. If this isn’t the best season of the show, it is damned close.
BoJack (Will Arnett) starts working on his new show, Philbert, which co-stars Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz), a veteran TV actress who starts casually sleeping with BoJack. Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) deal with the end of their marriage, while Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) tries to adopt a baby and produce Philbert. Todd Chavez (“Ya done f*cked up” Aaron Paul) has moved in with Princess Carolyn and is trying to make his asexual relationship work with Yolanda Buenaventura (Natalie Morales).
Some stuff happens. Literally describing any of it would be a spoiler and this season is too good to spoil.
I truly loved this season.
On some level, BoJack knows that its fans trust it by this point and that it can coast a little and play off of some of the formulas it has set-up, knowing that we’ll still find the elaborate gags and surrealist jokes funny. However, what really sets this show apart is its dedication to constantly build upon them. It doesn’t just subvert established tropes, it subverts the subversion, then subverts that subversion’s subversion. Then, sometimes it plays things straight and the tropes that in most shows would be tired and overused are played out like it’s the first time and we remember why we loved those tropes in the first place. This season does all of that and more, but it tries to really blend the darkness and sadness that is constantly in the show with elements of hope and a lot more social commentary.
Part of the beauty of the show has always been that BoJack is aware of how sitcoms work, since he was in a notoriously formulaic one, which gives him an excuse to point out that his life is devoid of growth. But, after spending years having characters in the show telling us how television characters are hopeless because they’re stuck in a sitcom and are never allowed to grow, the series has also been showing their growth. It’s not always in a straight line, to be sure, and there are lots of setbacks, but that’s because that’s how growth actually works. Sometimes you’ll skip the gym because you had a bad day. Sometimes you’ll quit altogether for a while when you start to think that it’s not worth prolonging your life when you hate it. But, then, maybe, after trying enough times, you’ll be a little better. Then you’ll screw up again, but maybe you’ll be better after that. It’s not ever easy, it’s not always even a choice you can make, and life can, and does, kick you down for no reason, but it’s possible to get better. Even a show about characters that are supposed to be stuck in a cycle can remind us that growth really is possible.
Now, you might watch this season and think that I’m nuts and that BoJack is just going to reset after all of this or that he’s reset after the last season, but after re-watching seasons two and three recently, this season really does show that he’s grown. Yes, he is still unbelievably flawed, but he’s past the stage of believing that it’s everyone else’s problem and he’s past the stage of believing that it can’t be changed. Those are both steps towards improvement. Also, the “reset” in this season isn’t entirely his fault, as he is caught up in an addiction that is, sadly, all too realistically portrayed (though it culminates in him doing something unspeakable). At the end of the season, he does something that almost no one else will ever do and asks to be held accountable for all of the things he has done. Because of that, even more than all of the other things, I do get the feeling that he might be becoming a better person… or horseman, whatever.
Another thing I noted was that this show, like Rick and Morty, is often criticized for the fact that it has such a compelling lead that it glamorizes being a shitty person. This season finally makes one thing clear: Even BoJack hates BoJack. You shouldn’t like him for being shitty, you should like him for learning how to NOT be shitty.
Also, it’s not just BoJack that grows with the story. All of the supporting characters have been tested and have changed (except, perhaps, Mr. Peanutbutter, something the season directly addresses). Diane is probably the most notable change at the end of the season, delivering a short speech in the last episode which is both touching and devastating. Princess Carolyn, too, has grown, and shows exactly how much during one episode of this season.
The Good Place once said that it’s our connections to other people that make us want to be better, because we feel we owe it to each other to be better. I think that’s true and I think that’s what makes the characters on BoJack grow, because as the show has gone on their connections have been severed, altered, and repaired, but they’ve mostly deepened through moments of genuine connection, even if they’re rare. The reason why that can happen here, as opposed to most sitcoms, is because things don’t just get dropped. The plots carry on, with things that were skipped over for a season or two resurfacing to confront the protagonists. Hell, they still call it “Hollywoo” after the D got destroyed in season one. That’s really the biggest subversion about the show, particularly for an animated series.
The humor in this season is a step up from the last one, which I thought was a little bit of a drop from the previous ones. They really went back to embracing the “shotgun approach” to comedy that I loved from seasons two and three, where jokes can be puns, sight gags, but mostly brick jokes that are set-up with such subtlety that I sometimes just had to pause, go back, and trace all the steps in order to show the proper respect for how amazing it was.
Like I said, I loved this season. I was a little worried after the last one, but this one just blew me away. All the returning characters were great, all the new characters were great, and the world of BoJack just keeps getting simultaneously more absurd and yet more honest. It’s a reflection of the real world through a mirror that shows our true selves, which sadly are kind of shitty. Still, we can get better… mostly if we have shows that keep reminding us how to do so.
Oh, and one of the episodes is one of the best half-hours of television I’ve ever seen, to the point that I’m adding it to the list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes tomorrow.
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