Netflix Review – BoJack Horseman (Season 6: Part 1) (Spoiler-Free) – Time for Me to Speculate Wildly

BoJack Horseman returns for the first part of its final season and holy hell do I want to see the rest of it.

SUMMARY

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.

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Surprisingly, the cat and dog get along great.

END SUMMARY

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.

Not BoJack.

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Hell, they even remember Margo Martindale… you know, from that thing.

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.” 

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And it ages him 25 years rather quickly. 

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.

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His sister is about to have something repeated to her about him. Something bad.

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. 

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He’s not an orca, but he’s a killer whale.

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. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Netflix Review – Tuca and Bertie: Energetic, Stylistic, and Fun

Lisa Hanawalt, the production designer from BoJack Horseman, gives us a show about two women dealing with their lives in a strange, strange world.

SUMMARY

Tuca (Tiffany Haddish) is an irresponsible and formerly alcoholic toucan. Bertie (Ali Wong), a robin, is her neurotic best friend. At the start of the show, Tuca has just moved out so that Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yeun) can move in with Bertie, but she still lives in the building. Tuca is unemployed while Bertie works for Conde Nest magazine publishing. The general theme of any episode is “something happens, hilarity ensues or doesn’t.”

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Sometimes they distribute flyers for a spontaneous workplace seminar.

END SUMMARY

So, everyone who reads this is aware that I think BoJack Horseman is one of, if not the, best shows currently on television. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s subversive, and it’s stylistically unique. This show is also all of those things, just in very different ways. Do I think it’s as good? No, but I can see some people thinking it’s much better. It really just comes down to taste. Part of it is that I think women will relate to this show more than men.

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Though it is not solely made by women, the majority of the crew is female.

The art style of the show is very frenetic and extremely variable. The coloring, movement, and even character designs can alter from scene to scene depending on what’s happening. The movements can be extremely quick, as can the cuts, even compared to other animated shows. This is largely used because the two main characters are often energetic, bordering on manic, although in very different ways. For the most part, though, you never lose track of the plotlines even when the quick cuts and style changes are happening.

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They also sometimes insert random things like the hand of the grocery store.

The gags in the show run basically the full gamut of humor. There are sight gags, often based on the anthropomorphic characters, as well as brick jokes, puns, gross-out humor, dirty jokes, and slice-of-life observations. Part of what makes this work is that the world that the show takes place in is so off-kilter and wacky that literally anything feels like it could happen. While BoJack (yes, the comparisons are going to happen, just deal with it) has anthropomorphic animals, this show has anthropomorphic everything. There are plant people, potato people, bird people, lizard people, car people, building people, body part people, and honestly I think at one point I saw an anthropomorphic representation of the concept of loneliness but that might just have been my cold medicine. Anything can be alive if it can be used for a gag.

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For example here’s a topless plant lady who uses turtles for decoration. Because why not.

A few other things set the show apart. For example, things that would normally just be one-off gags that animation uses that would be undone in the next shot, like a character’s boob talking or a mirror image commenting on their appearance, are not only not undone but are sometimes plot elements. It’s like watching Family Guy using the cutaway gags to actually accomplish something aside from filler. It’s not quite the same as BoJack Horseman’s “canon ensues,” where things that would be reset in a sitcom are instead incorporated into later episodes (most famously “Hollywoo”), but it’s similar. The show also is more than willing to feature nudity and sexuality, exemplified by the building with bare breasts that is part of the opening sequence.

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And sometimes they’re just dancing around corn chips.

The other thing that the show does well are the dramatic moments. While, like I said, most of the series is fast-paced and off-kilter, when there are actual serious things to address, such as sexual harassment, the show does treat them with the gravitas that they deserve, even if they quickly follow it up with a joke. The show’s focus is often on issues facing women as well as people in their thirties and people with anxiety issues, many of which are not really “resolved” within the episode, which is somewhat more realistic than other ways of handling it.

The voice talent is all superb, particularly the leads and recurring guests Richard E. Grant and Reggie Watts.

Overall, I liked the show. I recommend giving it a try. It takes a bit to really give you an idea of how it works, and it’s not going to work for everyone, but I look forward to more of it.

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100 Greatest TV Episodes Add-on – Free Churro (BoJack Horseman)

*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.

SUMMARY

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.

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Butterscotch is every angry failed writer.

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.

END SUMMARY

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.

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We never see the body, but BoJack does an impression.

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.

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Granted, her dad lobotomized her mother, so she technically did better than that.

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.

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They don’t even look that great.

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.

BojackS5-5ADollsHouse

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Netflix Review – BoJack Horseman: Season 5 (Spoiler-Free)

SpoilerFree

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.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

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).

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Sadly, character actress Margo Martindale has disappeared after a pasta accident.

Some stuff happens. Literally describing any of it would be a spoiler and this season is too good to spoil.

END SUMMARY

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.

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And a lot more meta-fiction.

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.

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Even if it’s just having only one bottle of vodka every day.

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.

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Why yes, there’s an episode about #MeToo. It’s unrelated.

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.

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It also shows us how far she’s come already.

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.

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It caused hell with title cards, though.

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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Author Bonus: 23a) Fish out of Water (BoJack Horseman)

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.

BojackHollywooBoJack 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.

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As opposed to some other Very Special Episodes

The show follows the title character BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), a washed-up actor who had a long-BojackHorsin.pngrunning 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).

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This was before Disney made that an acceptable practice

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.

SUMMARY

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.

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Is he worse than Hitler? The Media says “Sure, why not?”

bojackseahorse.jpgHe 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 BojackLetterto 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.

END SUMMARY

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.

PREVIOUS – 21: Futurama

NEXT – 22a: Adventure Time

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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Episode’s on Netflix. Watch it.