After a pretty good first season, the show seems to be stepping up its game.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were some battles among celestial bodies. Five years after the Rebellion managed to destroy the second Death Star and kill the Emperor, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) is a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. He is hired by a client (Werner F*CKING Herzog) to secure a bounty, which is revealed to be a small child of an unnamed species. The Mandalorian betrays the client and decides to protect the child, earning him a host of enemies all over the galaxy, most notably his allies Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Peli Motto (Amy Sedaris), Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and the late Kuiil (Nick Nolte) as well as the ire of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito). Eventually, he is charged by his clan’s armorer (Emily Swallow) with finding a home for the Child with its kind. All kinds of fun surprises lie in store.
When I reviewed the first season of The Mandalorian, I definitely liked it, but I admit to still feeling like they hadn’t quite started fully tapping its potential. This second season started to step up its game a bit and I really appreciate it.
First, giving the Mandalorian an actual explicit goal beyond “keep the child alive” has given him motivation that he definitely needed. For all of the badass and bravado that we get from Din Djarin, he is a fairly void character. While it’s often fine to have a character onto whom the viewer can project, and having a character who is literally faceless facilitates that well, they still need personality. I think that they’ve done a great job expanding on that without having to use clunky exposition by showing how the Mandalorian handles his current task, particularly since it forces him to interact with people that he normally wouldn’t.
Second, while the first season gave us a taste of life in the Star Wars universe for the more normal people, the second season has expanded on that both geographically and politically. It’s shown us monsters on a scale that really had only been alluded to before now. There are extra cultural touches to every planet and hazards that you wouldn’t normally consider for this kind of fantasy universe. It has the effect of giving us more of a frontier element to the series to complement its Western elements. Also, we start to get an idea of why, exactly, the new Republic is going to be put in danger again in The Force Awakens, due to their own incompetence. It turns out that the Empire, while it suppressed everyone through force and violence, did actually at least keep some of the lawlessness on the outer planets, which the Republic completely ignored, in check.
Third, they’ve been tying the show into the existing Star Wars mythos in JUST the right way. It was a big deal at the end of the first season to introduce the Darksaber, but this season has reintroduced multiple characters from other Star Wars properties. The key, though, is that none of the references or introductions have required the viewer to know the backstory. If you are familiar with it, then you get more out of the experience, but people I know who have never seen anything other than the films who have been enjoying the series thoroughly.
Overall, just a great step-up by Disney+ and I am hoping they keep it going.
One of my favorite shows on television came to an end and it was a bit painful.
Just watch the damned thing. I’ve been telling you how awesome it was since I started this blog. The highlights are:
BoJack (Will Arnett) doesn’t really get a happy ending, but since he’s a rich celebrity he doesn’t get the punishing ending that he probably deserves, either. Even in fiction, justice stops at a certain tax bracket.
Diane (Alison Brie) doesn’t write the book she wants, but instead writes a fun young adult series and finds a wonderful partner.
Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) fails to fix the Hollywoo sign, but also finally gets past his fear of being alone.
Todd (Aaron Paul) gets dropped off in Alaska after… wait, no, he gets a girlfriend named Maude (Echo Gillette), reconnects with his family, and ends up giving BoJack good advice.
Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) gets a happy ending and dammit, she deserved it.
Zach Braff is still dead.
The first thing I say here is going to be personal. If you want the review without my whining, skip down to the next heading.
Because if I don’t, that means that all the damage I got isn’t good damage, it’s just damage. I have gotten nothing out of it and all of those years I was miserable was for nothing.
That’s probably the first line that broke me in the last 8 episodes. Since by this point the majority of my following hasn’t been with me since my original series of posts, many of you might not know that this blog’s very existence was borne out of my failure to create anything meaningful with my cancer. At first, I wanted to write the great American novel before I died at 25. Instead, I discuss the meaning of a cartoon horse’s impact on my life at 32. A few rounds of chemo and enough painkillers to make me ignore the fact that I had more cancer than spinal column pretty much eliminated my ability to write a paragraph, let alone a novel. 7 years later, my suffering has not given me any insight into the soul of mankind or even my own, it’s just left me chronic pain that I try to channel into finding the beauty or meaning in other, better, people’s art. So, hearing someone else say that pain doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t channeled into some grand work was a little rough, to say the least. It crystallized something that I’ve tried to avoid for a while, that I went through something that most people never get to talk about later and yet I never managed to use that experience for anything other than these reviews. Then I realized that having a scene that so perfectly relates to and encapsulates my feelings on something, despite being based around an entirely different experience, is exactly why I love spending time dissecting media. That said, I’m going to try and work on some other, more creative stuff in the future, because maybe I’ll find the words one day. In the meantime, let’s talk about this show.
BoJack Horseman always went straight for the jugular when it came to harsh truths, but damn, did they decide to lay some on this final season. After we spent the first half of the season watching BoJack finally start to actually change for the better, I thought this meant that BoJack would end up finally taking responsibility for all of the things that he had done. Instead, while he does at least deal with it more honestly than he would have before, he still tries to squirm out of real accountability. Princess Carolyn, ever the companion, even tries to help him by getting him to do a television interview. He blames his addictions and his trauma for all of the things he has done, including falling back on the idea that addicts aren’t really in control of their own actions. When he does his first interview confessing to a number of the things that he’s done, he’s hailed for his honesty. He gets to put forth his own narrative in which he’s the victim and people love him for it.
Then, the addiction takes over and he agrees to go back for a second interview. The show less-than-subtly affirmed that ultimately BoJack will always be an addict and he’s not just addicted to drugs or alcohol, he’s addicted to the love he feels when he’s the focus. BoJack had absolutely nothing compelling him to do a second interview and no one would have blamed him for not doing it, but he couldn’t resist a spotlight. Then, rather than getting to put forth his own narrative, BoJack is confronted with the objective facts about what he’s done. Moreover, he’s forced to confront that he has a very bad pattern with women. Even when it’s pointed out to him that he slept with a woman he considered to be his own daughter, gave her the heroin that killed her, avoided calling an ambulance which might have saved her in order to protect himself, tried to sleep with the daughter of an ex-lover that rejected him, and slept with the president of his own fan club (twice), BoJack tries to deny that he was the one with the power in these situations. Finally, though, he does start to get it, just a little, in time for everyone to hate him. It’s brilliant that they spent the first half of the season getting us to empathize with BoJack by showing us more of his background and his efforts to get better, only to brutally remind us that BoJack has done terrible, terrible things and hurt many people in the process.
That makes it even harder when he finds out that Hollyhock has, apparently, decided to keep herself out of his destructive sphere, resulting in him giving up on his sobriety. Then, he finds out that the first thing that he thinks set him on this path, betraying his friend Herb, was always his decision, rather than something he was forced to do. That’s the true last straw and leads to BoJack’s near death and imprisonment.
I admit that, at the end of the series, BoJack doesn’t really suffer as much as I thought he would. In Season 5, one of the biggest themes was that people should not project themselves onto broken characters and use them to justify their own bad decisions. I thought that meant that in the end BoJack would finally be forced to fully take responsibility for his own actions and learn that the only real freedom is when you’re no longer a prisoner to your own guilt and regret. Instead, BoJack goes to jail for fourteen months and that’s apparently enough for everyone to move on. Princess Carolyn even indicates he’s going to be able to restart his career when he gets out. That felt like a cheat, but it’s also kind of an accurate depiction of how celebrity works. Mel Gibson and Mark Wahlberg got to do a movie together recently and both of them have convictions involving hitting people and using the n-word. They never even try to re-address the fact that Jeremiah Whitewhale is taking over the country with impunity and actively murdering people using his billionaire status. Still, at least at the end BoJack’s acknowledging that he has to be responsible for his own behavior.
Over the last few years, this show consistently showed itself to be one of the best-written and most impressively animated series on television. I’m going to miss it.
BoJack Horseman returns for the first part of its final season and holy hell do I want to see the rest of it.
There’s no summary. Just go watch the damned thing. I waited a month to post this, but I still want you all to watch it.
The characters are BoJack (Will Arnett), Mister Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul). The creator is Raphael Bob-Waksberg. There are too many guest stars to name.
BoJack Horseman is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen and yet I fully admit that I didn’t enjoy most of the first season. The thing about the show is that it started out defying the usual tropes of sitcoms by having nothing in the show ever really go away. Things didn’t reset in this world the way they do, for the most part, in animated sitcoms like The Simpsons or Family Guy. Typically the only things that are permanent in sitcoms are when someone dies or gets married or marries a ghost. Hell, some shows write out major characters (like Chuck Cunningham) and then later pretend they don’t exist.
When stuff happens here, it lingers. They sometimes use the audience’s familiarity with sitcom tropes about resets and lost plot points to make us think that something that happened has been dropped, only for it to be revealed that it wasn’t. Instead, BoJack’s fame and wealth and sometimes pure dumb luck keep him from suffering the consequences at the time. We’ve seen BoJack do wonderful things (like returning a lost seahorse child) and terrible things (like leading his friend Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) to start using drugs after she got clean, resulting in her fatal overdose), and sometimes it felt like those things were forgotten. However, this season makes it clear that they weren’t. Moreover, these things are being remembered just as BoJack starts to remember them, because, as he puts it “I remember everything. I’m sober now.”
That’s what this show appears to be setting up for: The great sobering of BoJack Horseman the show. A big theme of last season was addressing the issue of whether or not people should be looking up to BoJack (or his character, Philbert) or using his depression and self-abuse as an excuse to feel better about their own personal failures. While ultimately BoJack acknowledged that he needed to be better and going to rehab, there’s still a question of accountability. At the end of last season Diane gave BoJack a talk about how there are no good guys or bad guys, there’s just guys and that believing that you’re bad is just an excuse to be bad. He counters that he’s asking to be held accountable and she says that “…no one is going to ‘hold you accountable.’ You need to take responsibility for yourself.” However, now that BoJack is ready to do just that, the world seems to be setting up to take him to task. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out, but it really seems like they’re preparing to take down more than just their lead. They’re going to try and take down all the people that view him as something to emulate or something to use to excuse their own shitty behavior. I could be wrong, but as that would be the most amazing way to end a show this self-aware, I’m hoping that I’m not.
They also seem to be building a parallel plot that I can’t quite figure out how it’s going to tie-in to the central narrative. A company called Whitewhale, run by a White Whale named Whitewhale (Stephen Root), has begun acquiring almost all of the companies in America and has begun murdering anyone that gets in their way (because Congress made murder legal for billionaires… despite that being a state crime and not a Federal crime in most cases). It could just be a set-up for a plot with Diane trying to take them down, but I am willing to bet heavily that there’s a joke pending involving “Ahab” and “Rehab” that is dependant on BoJack’s newfound taking of responsibility for himself being what finally forces the public to demand the same of all our celebrities.
The end of the show kind of always had to be BoJack being destroyed. I mean, the opening sequence changes every season, but it always concludes with BoJack drowning and looking up through the pool as everyone looks down at him. Does that mean that he’s going to die at the end? Well, possibly. It wouldn’t shock me if the first shot of the last half of the last season is a tribute to Sunset Boulevard with BoJack lying in a pool narrating how he got to this point, only for it to be revealed that he’s now broke and cleaning pools for a living or something. I mean, with all this set-up, BoJack can’t be allowed to end without some form of consequences and BoJack has grown into the kind of person who will accept them.
Either way, the show was amazing, and I’m so sad it’s ending, but also so glad that it existed.
I got a request for a Halloween episode of BoJack and I cannot resist going into it.
Taking place in a world populated by humans and anthropomorphic animals, BoJack Horseman is a show about an equine equity actor named BoJack (Will Arnett) who had a popular, but critically panned, show from the late 80s through the 90s. In this season, he is having a career resurgence on a new detective series. His closest companions are his feline ex-girlfriend and ex-manager Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his ex-roommate Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), his ex-ghostwriter Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and his rival and Diane’s ex-husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). BoJack is an alcoholic and chronically depressed in addition to a host of other vices. In the episodes leading up to this, BoJack had developed an opioid habit after sustaining a back injury, had started sleeping with his current TV co-star, and had just discovered that Diane knows that he almost slept with the daughter of a former flame.
This episode takes place over the course of 4 separate Halloween parties in 1993, 2004, 2009, and 2018. It turns out that in 1993, Mr. Peanutbutter mistook BoJack blowing him off as an invitation to host a Halloween party. So, he invited himself, all his friends, and his first wife Katrina (Lake Bell) over to BoJack’s house. Each of the Halloweens features Mr. Peanutbutter bringing a different wife/girlfriend (or his “Boo”) to the party. In 1993, he took his then-loving first wife Katrina; In 2004, he takes his second wife Jessica Biel; In 2009, he takes his then-girlfriend Diane; and in 2018, he takes his girlfriend Pickles Aplenty (Hong Chau), and yes that’s her real name.
At each of the parties, Mr. Peanutbutter screws up somehow, resulting in him causing a rift in his relationship. In 1993, it’s that he keeps abandoning Katrina to talk to other people against her request, resulting in her talking to Ben Stein and Tim Allen and becoming an adulterous and cruel ultra-conservative. In 2004, he fails to protect Jessica Biel from seeing a mummy, reminding her that she didn’t get the part in the Brendan Fraser movie (she auditioned for the role of the mummy). In 2009, he pressures Diane into going to the party even though she hates parties. In 2018, he talks about his exes to Pickles, including Diane, who is at the party. He realizes that all of the women he dates start out happy and fun, then end up being bitter and mean. Diane tells him that it’s because he keeps dating women in their 20s, while he’s now in his late 40s. They don’t change because of him, they just outgrow him. After Diane consoles Pickles and tells her that Mr. Peanutbutter does always love every woman he’s with, including her. She then reminds him that she’s so much younger than him by saying they’re gonna party more.
So, this episode definitely is something that has to be watched and re-watched to really make complete sense, because they constantly cut between the time periods to draw parallels between the stories. In a brilliant stroke, however, you can almost always recognize what year it is in any scene by what costumes people are wearing. The costumes are probably the best part of the episode, but more on that later.
One of the major themes throughout the show, and one that BoJack himself had recently elaborated on, is that there are no such things as happy endings. That’s because everyone in the show is so caught up in Hollywood (or Hollywoo as it is called in the show) that it tends to blur their reality and, in TV sitcoms, there can’t be happy endings. Because, if everyone’s happy, there’s nothing to watch. BoJack’s inability to ever improve himself in any meaningful way is tied to the fact that he is a sitcom character. However, this episode shows us that Mr. Peanutbutter suffers from the same futility of change, but in a different way. He can’t grow up, something that does NOT affect the women in his life. In each party, Mr. Peanutbutter acts essentially the same, even though it’s over a 25 year period, and each party ends essentially the same. The same is true for BoJack and Princess Carolyn. This is possibly the scariest theme in any of the things I’m going to go over this Halloween: That no one can ever really change for the better. All change is only temporary, because the show must go on, and we’re all the characters that have to become simpler over time so that the grand audience can follow it more easily. We’re leads in our own story, but that means we can’t ever be more than we are when we finally are being observed.
Note: I don’t believe the above, but the idea that maybe it’s true horrifies me.
What makes it worse is that we know how Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationships are going to go because we’ve seen what they’re like in other flashbacks in the show. Katrina will become abusive to him, but will say it’s because he never listens to her, the thing that he promises to do in this episode. Jessica Biel will become obsessed with her own fame, even claiming success from movies like Stealth, possibly because Mr. Peanutbutter can’t stop her from being reminded of her failures like he did in this episode. There’s an entire episode about a fight that occurs between him and Diane because he hosts a surprise party for her, even though he tells her that he won’t ever force her into another party. He never learns to listen to others, no matter how much he loves those other people.
The only other major revelation in the episode is that Todd only became BoJack’s roommate because he offered to hang out so BoJack wasn’t alone after his dad died. It adds a layer to their relationship off of such a simple act.
Also, I can’t help but appreciate the effort that went into all the costumes at the parties. There are three people who wear the same costume each year: Princess Carolyn who goes as Amelia Earhart, a roach who wears a Beetlejuice costume, and a moth who goes as a ghost, but eats more of his costume every year, finally finishing it off in 2018. Other fun costumes are dependent on the year. In 1993, there’s a costume of Ellie Sadler from Jurassic Park and a pair as Wayne and Garth from Wayne’s World. In 2004, Jorge Garcia from Lost is dressed as Shrek, there’s a woman as a female version of Cast Away, Mrs. Incredible from The Incredibles, three girls as the Plastics from Mean Girls, a Jack Sparrow, and a very untimely costume that’s a Bugs Bunny knock-off wearing a shirt for the movie “Space Jelly.” In 2009, there’s an octopus as Octomom and a cat as Keyboard Cat. In 2018, there’s a maiden from The Handmaid’s Tale and a Wonder Woman outfit. 2004 likely has the most timely references because the Jessica Biel plot is based more on costume jokes.
The best part about the use of the costumes is to remind us that even if we don’t change, the rest of the world does, but not in a meaningful way. Pop culture moves on, but people are people. Some people get older and leave, like Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall) from 1993 and some new people come in, like Flip (Rami Malek) in 2018, but the way the party goes is still the same.
Overall, this is a great episode of the show and of television in general.
*SPOILER WARNING* – This literally just came out, but I couldn’t not add it. I watched it four times in the 24 hours it came out. I may regret this over time.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will acknowledge that this episode hit me especially hard as it deals with giving a eulogy, something that I recently had to do. I know that it feels different than giving a speech or doing a performance or speaking to a courtroom or reciting a monologue. I would not have believed that a show featuring an animated horse could have managed to address all of the complicated elements of trying to summarize how you felt about the life of a person (or horse) that you knew deeply in 25 minutes (let alone the five that I took). However, somehow, they managed to not only nail it, but nail it while having the eulogy be done by a character whose relationship to the deceased was extremely complicated.
The cold open features a young BoJack (Will Arnett) being picked up by his father, Butterscotch (Arnett), who proceeds to give his son a horrifying lecture that concludes with the lesson that you can’t depend on anyone.
We then see BoJack at a funeral parlor next to a coffin. It’s revealed that his mother, Beatrice Horseman (Wendie Malick), has died. BoJack then proceeds to give a eulogy about his mother which alternates between funny, horrifying, poignant, and depressing. That is the entirety of the episode.
I can’t really summarize this episode, obviously. It needs to be seen to be believed. Aside from the cold open, this entire episode is just a speech by BoJack. I’ve never seen anything like it. One of the best monologues in the history of television was at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that was only 6 minutes and included audience reaction shots. This was over three times that length and the camera never leaves BoJack. We don’t even see the audience until the last 5 seconds of the episode.
BoJack hated his mother, but he didn’t want to. That’s really an insane thing to have a character state outright. Maybe the worst part is when he mentions that he had always hoped that his mother would figure out how to love him the way that she should and that losing her means he finally has to accept that he will never get the love he wanted. Both of his parents, rather than loving him, chose to drown in sadness, something BoJack says he, too, will always chose to do. Because that’s sadly part of the cycle of abuse and depression. In the previous season we had seen how much Beatrice had herself been abused as a child, so she almost became sympathetic, but this episode removes much of that sympathy by reminding us that she knew something was wrong with her and she never tried to change it, even for BoJack’s sake. Instead, she took the love and trust of a child and broke it over and over again, watching her son try to fix it only so that she could destroy it once more, until he never could trust someone again.
The episode’s title comes from what is one of the most uncomfortable but also somehow accurate parts of the eulogy, where BoJack relates that he stopped at Jack in the Box for food on the way to the funeral and the girl at the counter asks him if he’s “having an awesome day.” He opines that he’s usually not allowed to respond to that with anything except “yes,” because that’s a societal expectation, but he tells the girl that his mom died. She cries, horrified at what she’s done, and gives BoJack a free churro. He thinks about the fact that he got a free churro because his mom died, something he later comments was more kindness than he ever got from her.
There’s one external reference I found particularly telling in the episode and, honestly, it might be the only one in it. Butterscotch mentions that Beatrice broke down crying after seeing a production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. If you haven’t read or seen the play, it features a man, Torvald, who, much like BoJack’s father, Butterscotch, treats his wife like a living doll, rather than a person. Some of the play involves his wife, Nora, preparing to dance the Tarantella on her husband’s request, something which her arouses her husband. The Tarantella signified violent movement which was supposedly designed to remove poison from the body. Within A Doll’s House, the idea is that Nora is trying to dance the poison out of her circumstances. This is mirrored within this episode by a story of Beatrice dancing at her supper club, while being watched by her husband. BoJack mentions that those were the only times where he felt that his family stopped drowning and remembered how to swim. If you want to know why Beatrice is crying, I imagine it’s because, at the end of A Doll’s House, Nora leaves her family. Beatrice didn’t, instead choosing to stay around the people who were just as miserable as she was.
This truly is a masterpiece of an episode. The animation and Arnett’s voice acting are unbelievable, all building to a very sincere last thirty seconds, undercut by the last five.
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.
Okay, so, this is the fourth of the add-ons, and unless something amazing comes on before I finish the last 22 entries of this list, there will only be one more. Given that I write this before Season 2 of Stranger Things comes out, I might already be setting myself up for failure, but this is probably going to be it.
BoJack Horseman, the show, is weird. It takes place in a world where humans regularly interact with anthropomorphic animals as if it’s just a natural part of existence. It also takes place in Hollywoo (the D gets stolen and then destroyed), a place that, regardless of which universe you’re in, is filled with so many fake identities and false personas that an animated talking horse isn’t that much different than some of the real people. Because of the setting being so distanced from reality, however, the show can address issues that most shows probably couldn’t without significantly more backlash. However, most of those are not fun issues.
The show follows the title character BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), a washed-up actor who had a long-running Full House-esque 90s family sitcom called “Horsin’ Around.” During the first season, we follow BoJack trying to get some of his fame back by releasing a ghostwritten biography. The human ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), is also the girlfriend, and later wife, of Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), an anthropomorphic dog that had a show that was essentially a rip-off of Horsin’ Around. We’re also introduced to the human homeless slacker who sleeps in BoJack’s house, Todd (Aaron Paul) and his agent/ex-girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy “I deserve more work than I get” Sedaris). The second season depicts him filming the role of a lifetime in “Secretariat,” and this season, the third, features him trying to win an Oscar for Best Actor (despite the fact that he actually had been replaced by a CGI version of himself, meaning he did no actual acting in the film).
Part of the theme of the show is the nature of happiness. BoJack, who, during the course of the series, has a fortune from residuals, gets a best-selling biography, and finally a starring role in the movie he dreamed of forever, is one of the most lonely and miserable people in existence. He is constantly either questioning why he isn’t happy, or finding a way to distract himself from being happy, usually with sex, drugs, and hijinks. He doesn’t connect with people, despite the fact that he keeps becoming progressively more popular. His relationships are shown to be self-sabotaging, his friendships consist mostly of him screwing other people over or doing selfish things that drive wedges between them, and his family, until the most recent season, consists only of his horribly abusive mother (whose backstory is actually even more tragic than BoJack’s, when revealed). BoJack almost always chooses to do the easy thing, or the selfish thing, and yet even when that’s pointed out to him, he never manages to really change himself (though, in the most recent season, he actually shows signs of being better).
This is made even more stark when he is paired with his counterpart Mr. Peanutbutter, who, like most dogs, is almost unwaveringly happy, even though he also has dark events in his past. While BoJack is intelligent and hesitates on almost anything, Mr. Peanutbutter tends to not think things through and blindly charge ahead on any idea, even insane ones, if he thinks it’s a good thing to do. Despite his hesitation, however, BoJack does often want to do the right thing. He’s not necessarily a traditional bad person, he’s just horribly weak. Many episodes end with his weakness or irresponsibility hurting someone, even if he didn’t mean to, and BoJack trying to avoid responsibility. This episode, however, goes the other way. And it does so with almost no dialogue, making it more impressive.
When the episode starts, BoJack is headed to Pacific Ocean City to promote his film Secretariat for the Pacific Oceanic Film Festival (a POFF piece… get it? Sometimes they don’t have to try that hard). As the festival’s name indicates, it’s underwater, and BoJack wears a helmet that prevents him from speaking. Meanwhile, all the underwater residents, mostly fish and sea-mammals, speak what sounds like gibberish to air-breathers. So, once he’s underwater, dialogue stops being a thing. Most of the citizens communicate with air-breathers by pantomime. BoJack first ends up accidentally causing a scandal, of which he is completely unaware, but we see in the background of the episode, by giving a thumbs-up, which is the most offensive gesture underwater.
He then sees the ex-director of the Secretariat film, Kelsey, whom he did not stick up for after she got dismissed for shooting a scene the producers didn’t agree with, and attempts to write her an apology note that is designed to avoid any personal responsibility. In the process of trying to give it to her, he ends up on a bus going out of the city, then gets caught up delivering the babies of a very pregnant, and, accurately, male, seahorse. After getting off the bus, now lost and without any money or way of communicating, BoJack finds that one of the seahorse babies has clung to him. The rest of the episode is a series of colorful and entertaining shenanigans while BoJack tries to return the baby. When he finally does, the seahorse dad is not particularly appreciative, at first ignoring him, then offering soup, then money. Finally, the seahorse dad appears to ask “what do you want?” and BoJack, suddenly without the purpose he had for the episode, does not have an answer. On the way back into the city, he manages to write a heartfelt, sincere apology-note to Kelsey that takes responsibility for his actions. When he finally gets it to her, however, the ink has blurred, because they’re underwater, and Kelsey leaves angrily. Just to drive home his failure, it’s then revealed that the helmets have a function allowing for speech, BoJack just didn’t know to use it.
Okay, first of all, any episode that manages to keep you entertained without dialogue is impressive. There are a few others on this list, and for good reason. They engage the mind in a way that being told something doesn’t. It allows us to project ourselves more completely onto a character, as well as to think more deeply by forcing us to interpret non-verbal cues. That’s always a good start. Putting our main character into an unfamiliar situation, both in terms of location and in actions within the episode is also brilliant. The latter, though, is really what makes this episode. BoJack causes a scandal in his usual fashion, but that’s put in the background. Instead, we focus on BoJack trying to do something good, for which he doesn’t seek attention or reward. He’s trying to return a lost baby, and he goes through some harsh trials to do it. He’s actually pretty heroic. He even manages to write a completely uncharacteristic apology, contrasting with everything he usually does. But, ultimately, he fails to deliver it, and, at the end, he’s still miserable, and by the next episode is unchanged.
Change begets change, but that only goes so far. A new job or a new city may be an opportunity to redefine yourself, but, deep down, you are still you, and changing that is harder. In this episode, they speed up the process by completely changing everything around BoJack, allowing his better angels to prevail, for once. And what’s the term for something else that has had everything around him changed? A fish out of water. Sometimes they do work hard on these.