BoJack Horsemanhas always been an optimistic show, even when it’s being cynical and very, very bleak. But the show’s always had an underlying feeling of hope for the future that wants you to believe its characters can get better – you may just need a jogging baboon to tell you that it gets easier. Now that we’re on the first half of the final season of the show, BoJack Horseman finally asks: can a terrible person actually achieve happiness? And more importantly, do they deserve it?
Spoilers for the new season lie ahead.
BoJack Horseman is not a good person, and that much seems self-evident. For five seasons, we’ve followed the former star of a ‘90s sitcom do horrible things. He nearly slept with a teenager and is partially responsible for the overdose and death of a former co-star. But he has many excuses, like undiagnosed depression and a very shitty childhood. Last season, we saw him reach a new low when he nearly choked another co-star on set, and yet the show doesn’t necessarily portray BoJack as a bad person – just a person who has done terrible things. That season ended with BoJack finally taking some responsibility for his behavior and checking in at rehab to treat his alcoholism and painkiller addiction.
Back in the ‘90s…
As season 6 begins, Todd is living with Princess Carolyn and helping her take care of her baby, “Untitled Princess Carolyn Project” while waiting for someone to join his asexual dating app. Diane is trying to survive in the media world after she’s forced to pivot to video. Meanwhile, Mr. Peanutbutter is struggling to maintain the secret that he cheated on his girlfriend with Diane while preparing for his wedding.
As for good old BoJack, he’s still haunted by the pain he’s caused to others. In rehab, he finally begins to learn that he might be able to forgive himself for his past mistakes, as he starts thinking that maybe he deserves to be happy.
The first thing that came to mind as BoJack came to this realization was Neon Genesis Evangelion, the classic ‘90s anime by Hideaki Anno. Like John Maher argued in his excellent piece for Polygon, both shows explore abstract concepts and experimental animation to get inside the tumultuous minds of their characters. But while the article focuses on the similarities in animation between the two shows and their use of the medium to reflect the story, there’s also a thematic resemblance between BoJack’s journey and that of Shinji Ikari.
In the second half of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Anno pivoted from the “mecha” story of the kids tasked with saving the world by piloting giant robots, and instead used the show to deal with his own depression. The last two episodes in particular take place entirely inside the minds of its protagonists and explore the bleakest parts of the human psyche and our struggles with interpersonal connections. It has always been hard for Shinji to let others in his life, as he always thought people around him hated him. But in the final moments of the show, Shinji faces the idea that maybe it is his own mind that perceives reality as being ugly and painful, that he is simply not used to being liked by others so he perceives that as being hated by everyone. It is not until he realizes that what he hates about himself can be changed, and that if he changes those things he can learn to like himself, that Shinji realizes it is okay for him to be in this world. Likewise, BoJack has always considered himself to be a shitty person because of his upbringing, and the idea that he can do nothing right became to integral to who he is that his action reflected that, continuing his belief that he can only hurt those around him. He has denied himself to be happy because he doesn’t think he deserves it. But season 6 finally has BoJack consider the idea that maybe he doesn’t ruin everything.
I feel like my life is just a series of unrelated wacky adventures
Of course, this is BoJack Horseman, so nothing is easy. On the contrary, if there’s one thing the show does so well, is show how incredibly hard it is to be better or be happy. The first half of season 6 give us a fantastic example of this in “The New Client.” In it, Princess Carolyn attempts to be a woman who “does it all,” raising her baby while also managing her agency – with less-than-stellar results. The animators bring to life dozens of strained Princess Carolyns at once, each doing a different task in her endless list of things to do, superimposing them to show not only how much she already did before becoming a mother, but how restless her mind always was, and still is. To drive the point home, her new baby’s cries serve as a metronome, coordinating all the movements of Princess Carolyn’s doubles. It’s a simple yet highly effective way of getting us inside of her head that reminds of how “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” which voiced BoJack’s self-loathing thoughts aloud via crudely drawn doodles. Though she isn’t able to do it all, Princess Carolyn ends the half-season realizing she doesn’t need to do it all, and she can delegate some of her tasks and have some more time for her daughter.
Likewise, we slowly see Diane learn to realize that happiness cannot come from external sources or relationships. She finally leaves Los Angeles for Chicago, and we leave her starting to come to terms with her depression while trying to finish a new book. Through Diane’s story, BoJack Horseman has explored its bleakest bits of social commentary about celebrities and corporations. This season deals continues the merger-mania of past seasons but explores it from the perspective of small businesses being folded into massive new media ventures and also the psychopathy of CEOs who are apparently allowed to outright murder people in this world. Then there’s the timely issue of the overexploitation of Hollywoo assistants, who start a strike in the show in order to get some respect every once in a while. That actual assistants are starting to fight back and demanding improvements in the work place is just another point for the writers.
Though Todd once again is somewhat left behind by the bigger stories of the season, we do get another goofy mess-around as Todd breaks into the office of a giant corporation’s CEO to steal a kidney. After several writers accurately criticized BoJack Horseman for its racial blind spot when it comes to Diane and Todd, the show at long last acknowledges Todd’s background when we meet Todd’s stepfather Jorge Chavez. It’s a small scene, and it may not be enough for some people, but it is a step forward, even if it comes late in the game.
Mr. Peanutbutter doesn’t get the deepest story this season, but he gets the funniest and most inventive episode in how it tells its story. Episode 4, “Surprise,” deals with Todd having planned a surprise wedding at Mr. Peanutbutter house, and the problem that arises when Mr. Peanutbutter shows up and confesses his infidelity to Pickles just before all their friends and family are about to jump out and surprise the couple. The episode then deals with the fallout of the confession, with Pickles struggling with knowing how to move forward with her relationship while acknowledging this egregious betrayal of trust. Meanwhile, the funniest part of the episode is watching all the wedding guests having to hide and awkwardly move around the house trying to leave whenever the couple gets close to them. It serves as a goofy and fresh break between some very dark and emotional episodes, even if the audience was never fully invested in Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles.
Then comes episode 7. “The Face of Depression,” has BoJack finally make a breakthrough in his healing process and decides to get away from the toxic environment of Los Angeles and Hollywoo, get better. Along the way, he even does a couple of nice things for a chance. When he visits Diane in Chicago, he reflects how for so long, he believed that he was a thing that couldn’t be changed, but after a therapist from his rehab center told him he ruins everything, BoJack finally realized that is simply not true. He has done terrible things, but that doesn’t make him an inherently bad person, he just needs help and a support system to get him on the right track and maybe even achieve some sense of happiness if he tries to change.
What has always driven BoJack Horsemanthe show is the different between BoJack as he wants to be seen and BoJack as he actually is. Episode finally allows its protagonist to actually remake himself – changing his jacket and sweater and going as far as trading his dyed-black mane for a shorter, grayer haircut. He knows he can’t change the past, but he can start making the future a little brighter, having a nice lunch with his former roommate Todd, giving some good advice to Princess Carolyn and even giving Mr. Peanutbutter the crossover episode he always wanted.
If episode 7 made the audience imagine what a happy life would be for BoJack, then episode 8, “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” reminds us that you can’t fully escape your past and that he may not deserve a happy life after all.
To achieve this, the episode doesn’t show BoJack or any of the main characters, and instead follows all the women that BoJack has hurt in the past. First up there’s Kelsey Jannings, the director who was fired from Secretariat back in season 2 following her and BoJack breaking into the Nixon Library to film a scene for the film on Bojack’s suggestion. Jannings has been in “director’s jail” ever since, reduced to a career of shooting commercials – or “immersive product-placement journeys” – for a fast food chain. Then there’s Gina Cazador, Bojack’s former co-star on Philbert and his lover, who he cut ties with after he choked her on-set while high on opioids. Gina decided not to expose the incident in order to avoid a media frenzy, but she still suffers from PTSD following the attack. Worse yet, a director steers Jannings away from making Gina the star of her upcoming superhero blockbuster, describing Gina as difficult.
The main story is also supplemented by the addition of two fast-talking His Girl Friday-style reporters looking for the real story of Sarah Lynn’s death, threatening to completely destroy everything BoJack is just starting to build. It’s a phenomenal, if emotionally devastating way to end the first half of the season.
For a long time, we have seen BoJack made mistake after mistake without any sort of consequence besides the bridges he’s burned with the people around him. But season 6 focused on repairing Bojack’s psyche and closest relationships, convincing the audience that he has actually changed. But is it fair of him to move one and just wipe all the collateral damage he’s done? “A Quick One, While He’s Away” seems to say, no. He may be happy, but he’s not free just yet.
BoJack Horseman continues to prove it is one of the best American animated series in decades, and as it nears its ending, it promises an emotionally devastating, and maybe hopeful ending.
The Netflix animated series Bojack Horseman is coming to an end with the show’s sixth season. The first eight episodes of the final season just dropped on October 25 solidifying its place as one of the best animated shows ever, and the second half of the season will arrive sometime in 2020. If you’re sad to see the series go, you can blame Netflix, who chose to cancel the series. Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has confirmed that the show could have continued for a couple more years before wrapping things up, but the streaming serviced decided it was time to end.
Speaking with Vulture, Bob-Waksberg confirmed that it wasn’t his decision to end the show this season. However, while some might be bitter about that kind of development, he was actually rather grateful, especially since they gave him the warning going into this season:
“They don’t have to do that, obviously. But I said I would appreciate it if I could have the forewarning to give the show a proper finale, and not set up some cliffhangers that will never pay off. So when they picked up season six, they said, ‘Hey, remember how you asked for that heads-up? We think that this is your heads-up.’ So I’m very grateful that we got that notice.”
There have been so many instances when a series doesn’t know that it will end up being canceled before getting a chance to do a season that wraps up the story they were hoping to tell, especially at Netflix. So it’s nice that the streaming service was able and willing to give the Bojack Horseman writers some time to finish their story.
Though fans may not be pleased that the series is coming to a close before the creator would have finished the show, Bob-Waksberg knows how this industry works. He added:
“You know, it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s right for them, and six years is a very healthy run for a TV show. Frankly, I’m amazed we got this far. So I can’t complain. I think if we premiered on any other network, or even on Netflix on any other time than when we did, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten the second season…A lot of things on Netflix don’t get second seasons. I think it’s a very busy landscape. It’s hard to make an impression. I think we just got very lucky when we premiered.”
Granted, it’s a little harder to understand the streaming side of the TV business when Netflix doesn’t make their viewership numbers so readily available. That changed somewhat slightly with some information that was brought to light on how Netflix calculates and classifies viewers, but more transparency would be useful for both fans and the industry at large.
So this is the end for Bojack Horseman right now, and while there’s always a chance the show could make some kind of return in the future, Bob-Waksberg doesn’t seem interested in making that happen:
“I don’t want to rule anything out, but I will say, I am very happy with where we leave all the characters at the end of the show. Right now, I’m not itching to tell more stories in this universe, even though there were more stories that I would’ve been happy to tell.”
Catch up on Bojack Horseman on Netflix now before the final episodes of season six arrive next year.
On the October 31, 2019 episode of /Film Daily, /Film editor-in-chief Peter Sciretta is joined by /Film managing editor Jacob Hall, weekend editor Brad Oman, senior writer Ben Pearson and writers Hoai-Tran Bui and Chris Evangelista to discuss what they’ve been up to at the Water Cooler.
>Opening Banter: Anyone have any interesting plans for Halloween? Jacob is going to sit on his friend’s driveway and drink while handing out candy. Brad might go see a movie with his girlfriend. Ben is doing absolutely nothing HT might do laundry, idk. Chris is doing nothing but wishes he was. Peter is going to West Hollywood’s Halloween Carnival
At The Water Cooler:
What we’ve been Doing: Peter went to the Magic Castle twice this week for the special Halloween week theming of Cursed Temple. He experienced the Reign of Terror haunted house in a mall in Thousand Oaks and experienced the LA Haunted Hayride for the first time. Jacob has started using the MapMyRun app. Brad went to Pixar. Hoai-Tran visited Sleepy Hollow, did a nighttime tour of the cemetery and went to The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. What we’ve been Reading: Jacob read The Outsider by Stephen King. Ben read Game of Thrones: The Costumes. What we’ve been Watching: Chris, Jacob, and Ben saw Doctor Sleep. Chris and Jacob watched the new episodes of BoJack Horseman. Peter watched a few of the new Apple TV+ shows including The Morning Show and For All Mankind. He also watched some new Disney+ shows but is embargoed until next week. Jacob saw Jojo Rabbit, finished Undone, watched the first two episodes of Watchmen, Eli, Dracula 2000, and rewatched The Silence of the Lambs. Brad watched Dolemite Is My Name, and the first episode of The Imagineering Story, but he also can’t talk about it yet. Ben watched The Shining, Knives Out, Arsenic and Old Lace, Hocus Pocus, The Addams Family, and The Addams Family Values Hoai-Tran saw Harriet, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, did a double Guillermo del Toro feature of Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, and saw Parasite again. What we’ve been Eating: Brad discovered chocolate-dipped Biscoff cookies, tried Mystery Oreos, Hershey’s Whoppers Bar, Milky Way Salted Caramel, Sparkling Caramel Apple Juice. Hoai-Tran made Vietnamese beef stew in her instant pot, which was easier than she thought it would be! What we’ve been Playing: Peter played the board game The Expanse with designer Geoff Engelstein and Jeff Cannata
All the other stuff you need to know:
You can find more about all the stories we mentioned on today’s show at slashfilm.com, and linked inside the show notes. /Film Daily is published every weekday, bringing you the most exciting news from the world of movies and television as well as deeper dives into the great features from slashfilm.com. You can subscribe to /Film Daily on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify and all the popular podcast apps RSS. Send your feedback, questions, comments and concerns to us at [email protected] Please leave your name and general geographic location in case we mention the e-mail on the air. Please rate and review the podcast on iTunes, tell your friends and spread the word! Thanks to Sam Hume for our logo.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “BoJack Horseman” Season 6, Part 1.]
Through five outstanding seasons, “BoJack Horseman” has spurred a disproportionate number of conversations about its dark storylines; an inevitable result of pairing its medium — historically, animation has been reserved for cartoons and comedy — with a plot about depression, addiction, and looking for help in all the wrong places. In Season 6, BoJack voiced by Will Arnett starts looking in the right places — namely, a rehabilitation center called Pastiches — and his eight-episode trek is a shade lighter, still extremely funny, and largely positive. BoJack is going through the steps to recovery, and creator, writer, and executive producer Raphael Bob-Waksberg builds a staircase from clever and uplifting baseboards.
But it would be wrong to claim “BoJack” is suddenly a fun show, or even that there’s a tonal shift in its swan song. First, it’s always been exceptionally, unquantifiably funny — those elements are just harder to talk or write about. Second, and more relevant when describing this final season, we’ve only seen half of the journey. Netflix’s decision to break “BoJack” Season 6 into two parts one now, the second in January 2020 didn’t alter the structure of the show, just its release. While Part 1 ends on a cliffhanger that certainly works as a stopping point, typically the rush of episodes would continue, and whatever peace BoJack has found would be upended by what always throws him back into a spiral: life itself.
For a show eager to address a lot of relevant topics, Season 6 has a steady, startling throughline: BoJack is trying. And he’s not just talking about trying, or trying when he feels like it, or trying to try — he’s actually doing the work. In the opening montage, Bob-Waksberg & Co. speed through the dejected stage of BoJack’s early treatment, showing him sleeping through a group yoga class or getting carried to the start of a hike and falling over as soon as the nurses let go. But then he sees a photograph of Sarah Lynn, the innocent child actor-turned-troubled pop star who worked with BoJack on “Horsin’ Around” and later died from a heroin overdose while on a bender with her former co-star. OK, yes, the show does get very dark.
Remembering Sarah Lynn focuses BoJack and, in that same montage, he starts putting in the effort. He climbs to the top of the mountain, stretches skyward for morning yoga, and even takes a selfie with the pushy check-in clerk. After the first episode explores BoJack’s long-term relationship with alcohol — from using it to dispel nerves on set to being drugged by his own father as abusive bribery — BoJack continues his recovery as a peripheral part of other characters’ stories. He calls Princess Carolyn Amy Sedaris to apologize for being such a problem, but although Episode 2, “The New Client,” tracks BoJack’s development through a few phone calls, Carolyn is the focus as she tries to add her single parent duties to a growing list of work responsibilities.
Always attentive to its strong ensemble, Episode 3, “Feel Good Story,” shifts to Diane Alison Brie, who’s traveling across the midwest with her new cameraman-boyfriend Guy Lakeith Stanfield, producing videos for Girl Croosh on everything from the migrant sex trade to corporate oligopolies. BoJack appears only in narration, talking over Diane’s struggle to justify her own happiness via letters he’s writing from rehab. Episode 4, “Surprise!”, sees BoJack give Mr. PeanutButter good, selfless advice without even being asked, and by then it’s clearer than ever: This is what “BoJack Horseman” would’ve looked like all along if its star wasn’t an alcoholic asshole.
Getting to this point required going through the prior darkness, but these eight surprisingly enjoyable episodes are particularly moving because it feels like lasting change is possible. BoJack has sought out the right tools and started using them — finally — and it’s such a relief to live in his upward recovery for once instead of a downward spiral. All the bumpy, intermittent growth over the past five hard years smooths out as BoJack removes himself from his friends’ daily lives until he’s safe to reengage. Therein lies the rub, the shoe about to drop, the cliffhanger ending that will drive the back-half of Season 6: BoJack still has to take responsibility for his mistakes and admit he was wrong.
Sarah Lynn represents one of his most damaging transgressions, while getting caught in bed with Penny, his ex-girlfriend Charlotte’s teenage daughter, is another. Both are brought to the forefront in the final episode of Part 1, and both are brought up without BoJack around. It’s especially important to hear the latter story from another perspective, not because the Season 2 episode wasn’t hard enough on BoJack it was but because the reminder, years later, needs to come from the victim — aka Hollyhock’s new party friend, Peter, who turns out to be the same Peter who went to prom on a double date with his girlfriend, Maggie, alongside Penny and BoJack. To hear him tell it, some old guy took a group of teens to their seminal high school dance, got them drunk, and abandoned two of them at the hospital. Peter doesn’t even know what happened later, but the beginning is bad enough: BoJack is the unnamed man in Peter’s story, the one who screwed him up for years after, and Hollyhock is about to find out.
Once she finds out, BoJack will find out, and he’ll have to hold himself accountable… or go spiraling down a booze-filled hole yet again. Worse yet, it appears that he’ll have to account for his role in Sarah Lynn’s death, as two old-timey and thus very dedicated reporters are intent on tracking down the actress’ drinking buddy from the night of her death. These two stories set the table for a turbulent, traumatic, and confrontational last set of episodes, as we wait to see how BoJack will respond to how his past actions hurt people he supposedly cares about.
Episode 6, “The Kidney Stays in the Picture,” offers a small-picture preview of the demons BoJack will face. After accidentally exposing his sober therapist, Doctor Champ voiced by Sam Richardson, whose contributions to Season 6 are as plentiful as they are excellent, to a water bottle full of vodka, BoJack takes care of the man meant to take care of him. First, he stays with him overnight to make sure no one from the center knows one of their doctors fell off the wagon. Next, he puts Doctor which is apparently Champ’s first name into another rehab facility, when it’s clear he won’t quit on his own. Side note: If co-executive producer and horse enthusiast Lisa Hanawalt didn’t come up with the Equine Therapy puns, I’ll eat some hay.
That’s when his former aid turns on him. “Of course you did this to me — because I cared about you and you ruin people who care about you,” Doctor Champ says. “I want you to remember this, BoJack. I want you to remember what you did to me.” “I remember everything,” BoJack says. “I’m sober now.”
In the past, BoJack has spiraled when he starts blaming himself for everything; when he believes, no matter what his intentions or efforts, that he’ll only end up hurting people. He spiraled after Penny, after Sarah Lynn, after “Horsin’ Around” creator Herb Kazzaz, after so many other mistakes with Diane and Todd and others. But what this episode illustrates is that accidents happen. BoJack was trying to do the right thing when he threw that vodka bottle out the window, and then he tried to stop anyone from drinking it — but he was too late. Doctor Champ drank it before BoJack could warn him. BoJack immediately admitted he was wrong and took responsibility for his mistake.
And yet… he can walk away from Doctor Champ, not Hollyhock. And what about his reputation? Can he give up the adoration of innumerable faceless fans that he’s been chasing his entire career? To survive these final eight episodes, he might have to — hard times lie ahead, so savor this particular chunk of good times. The road to recovery never ends, but “BoJack’s” exit is coming up.
“BoJack Horseman” Season 6, Part 1 is streaming now on Netflix.
Bojack Horseman Friday, Netflix series — The final half of the final season of everyone's favorite failed legendary '90s TV comedy star has arrived. Now, he's really pushing for a comeback, but will all that self-loathing and alcohol stand in the way? Probably, but Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, and Amy Sedaris will carry us to the finish line.
Dolemite Is My Name Friday, Netflix film — Eddie Murphy is officially back, y'all. And he's streaming on Netflix as struggling comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who assumes a new persona, Dolemite, a pimp with a vividly obscene mouth and the air of 1970s LA around him. Keegan-Michael Key also stars as a writer enlisted by Moore to pen a movie filled with kung fu and car chases, which leads to box-office glory.
Daybreak Friday, Netflix series — Matthew Broderick portrays a high school principal in this post-apocalyptic, genre-bending series where all the cliques are fighting for survival amid nuclear fallout. Netflix describes this one as “part samurai saga, part endearing coming-of-age story, and part Battle Royale.” Alright!
The Kominsky Method Friday, Netflix series — The second season of this critically acclaimed Netflix comedy series starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin has arrived. The two pals continue to tackle life's curveballs in LA, the city that loves young folk, while confronting the harsh realities of aging. Paul Reiser will guest star.
Here's the rest of this weekend's notable programming:
Charmed Friday, CW 8:00 p.m. — The demon-adventures never seem to end, especially because Macy's now struggling against her inner demon. Meanwhile, a new and terrified witch named Abigael is on the scene.
Dynasty Friday, CW 9:00 p.m. — Everyone hates Adam, Sam receives an unexpected guest, and Fallon and Blake dig out of their ditch in very different ways.
Room 104 Friday, HBO 11:00 p.m. — The Duplass Brothers are still doing their thing in a nondescript motel room, this time with a pair of father-and-son artists getting, well, artsy and discovering truths about each other in the process.
Real Time with Bill Maher Friday, HBO 10:00 p.m. — Chris Cuomo and Zach Galifianakis are interview guests, while Dan Carlin, Donny Deutsch and Elissa Slotkin fill out the roundtable.
Batwoman Sunday, CW 8:00 p.m. — A villain who loves the good things in life arrives in Gotham while Kate struggles to find time for her personal life amid her Bat-duties.
Watchmen Sunday, HBO 9:00 p.m. — Damon Lindelof's continuation of Alan Moore's graphic novel continues with Angela digging into who committed an atrocious recent murder.
Supergirl Sunday, CW 9:00 p.m. — Kara digs into William Dey's actions and emerges with a shocking revelation. Yep, he's not who people believe he is.
The Walking Dead Sunday, AMC 9:00 p.m. — The Alexandrians are still paranoid and taking things out on Negan while trying to rally against the Whisperers.
The Affair Sunday, Showtime 9:00 p.m. — LA wildfires become the launching point for Helen and Noah to not only fear for their lives but reckon with old wounds in their relationship.
Silicon Valley Sunday, HBO 9:00 p.m. — Season 6 arrives with Richard's promise of protecting user data going up in smoke while Gilfoyle must find new ways to deal with Dinesh.
Mrs. Fletcher Sunday, Showtime 10:30 p.m. — The series debut arrives with Catherine O'Hara playing a divorced empty-nester who launches a sexy new persona.
BoJack Horseman is a comedy built on incongruity. It’s an inexplicable mashup of genres and styles that absolutely should not work. As the show’s final season begins its portioned-out arrival, it’s worth celebrating how BoJack Horseman gradually became not just the best show on Netflix, but arguably one of the most incisive, emotionally raw, and darkly funny shows of the new century. Here’s a show that could’ve died on the vine in its first season, yet has become one of the very best in all of television.
Back in the 90s
The title of the program, for the uninitiated, might be enough of a non-starter, because it just sounds so odd. BoJack depicts a universe almost exactly like ours, just with anthropomorphized animals and insects thrown into the mix. It’s an inside-baseball story about the entertainment industry, highlighting a bevy of current issues within the media landscape. It just happens to be animated, and focusing as much on walking, talking cats, horses including the title character, dogs, and more, as well as human characters too. BoJack, as the new episodes emphasize, is the central figure of what’s wound up as a vast ensemble program that’s as capable of dimensionalizing those who get sucked in BoJack’s orbit as BoJack himself.
The first season’s premise was ostensibly a redemption story: BoJack voiced marvelously by Will Arnett, as the closing-credits theme song always intones, was once the star of a very famous TV show called Horsin’ Around. Imagine what a Full House-style show would look like if Bob Saget was…well, a horseman. BoJack is desperate to stay relevant, and make sure people haven’t forgotten him. In the early episodes, he tries to write a memoir, working with a sharp young ghostwriter named Diane Alison Brie to do so. But BoJack’s redemption story is just being written in real life; the entire show’s journey documents it better than the written word could.
Throughout the show’s five-plus seasons — the first half of Season Six premieres on Friday, October 25, and I’ve seen all eight episodes — BoJack vacillates between wanting the help he needs and pushing it away as viciously as possible. BoJack, created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and driven by the visual design of artist Lisa Hanawalt, works in spite of its seemingly ridiculous setup by treating itself matter-of-factly. Here is a show that can have rhyming wordplay that works best for Hollywood obsessives — “Courtly roles like the formerly portly consort are Courtney Portnoy’s forte!” — and incorporate an intentionally uncomfortable, heartbreaking depiction of dementia as filtered through the persona of an elderly hybrid horse-human.
Part of the show’s success has been its willingness to dive into ripped-from-the-headline topics that somehow manage to seem current, in spite of being in production months before something winds up in the headlines. Take, for instance, a season-two storyline about Diane — always exemplified by her unbending progressive political views even when her rigidity causes trouble — bringing to light sexual-assault allegations against a beloved older television personality, Hank Hippopopalous Philip Baker Hall. The obvious connection point, in the early fall of 2015, were similarly horrific allegations against Bill Cosby, revived when comedian Hannibal Buress brought them up in a standup set that subsequently went viral. But the scenes have gained further, darker resonance in light of the last couple years and the vast amount of powerful men in Hollywood whose own disturbing pasts have been rightfully unearthed.
BoJack Horseman has also thrived by treating its characters humanely and honestly. In the early going, one of the goofier relationships was between BoJack and his good-natured but idiotic roommate Todd Aaron Paul. Paul’s vocal presence allows an odd comparison, in which the BoJack-Todd relationship sometimes had a weird vibe recalling that of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. Though BoJack’s crimes are often more personal, the way they further seem to damn the character — as when BoJack comes awfully close to sleeping with the underage daughter of an old friend of his, or goes on a bender with the adult woman who used to be his child co-star that ends up killing her — are shockingly similar.
And Todd, still the easiest source of silly laughs on the show, was gradually given more depth, too, in unexpected ways. Throughout the series, Todd’s been an easy go-to for ridiculous schemes that manage to allow him to fail upwards without ever really trying. In season 5, he winds up as the CEO of an inexplicably popular website dedicated to telling people what time it is right now, before being supplanted as the top executive by Henry Fondle, a chintzy sex robot he built who people mistake for a real person. It’s…a whole thing. Eventually, Todd comes to a personal conclusion: that he’s asexual. In a different show, this realization either would’ve been treated as a punchline or it wouldn’t have been brought up at all. Instead, Todd thanks both to Paul and the insightful writing gets to embrace his personality in ways that feel honest and true.
Those last three words are, in effect, what makes BoJack Horseman stand out throughout its six-season run. The new episodes lean very hard into the notion of being honest and true both to its characters, and the world as a whole. After the conclusion of season 5, BoJack begins the new season in rehab at a facility called Pastiches. The ebullient dogman actor Mr. Peanutbutter Paul F. Tompkins, always delightful is trying to quell the guilt he feels for sleeping with Diane, his ex, while dating Pickles, a social-media-obsessed dog/human hybrid voiced by Hong Chau. The episode in which Mr. Peanutbutter forces himself to admit his infidelity is one of the most delightfully zany farces since the days of Frasier.
Diane, in the subplot that’s always going to have a bit more painful, satiric resonance for anyone writing online, is pushing back against the massive media conglomerate that’s gobbling up even the female-driven website she works for. And BoJack’s agent and ex Princess Caroline Amy Sedaris struggles with her role as an adoptive mother. With each character, the past weighs heavily on their present, none more so than BoJack himself.
Even in the sixth season, BoJack’s past continues to be mined for weighty, gut-wrenching emotion. In the first episode, which goes as far as eschewing a title sequence, we learn even more about the past of the scared little kid who’s still at the core of BoJack’s personality. Arnett has long been one of the strongest assets the show has — his breakout role as G.O.B. Bluth on Arrested Development made his transition into playing the fame-obsessed BoJack a natural fit. But throughout the series, he’s proven as adept at the darker, more confessional moments to the point where the fifth season featured one episode, “Free Churro”, in which only Arnett spoke. It’s framed primarily as a eulogy BoJack gives at his mother’s funeral. His mother, voiced by Wendie Malick, served as the focal point of a Season 4 episode, “Time’s Arrow”, that is equally one of the show’s greatest half-hours.
Arnett gets similar showcases in the new season, as we see more of how BoJack was set up for failure from his youth, with a mother who could only respond with vodka-soaked jibes and a father who hated his life. BoJack spends much of the season in rehab, to a point where he becomes so dependent on the facility that he doesn’t want to leave. With only a handful of episodes left, who knows if Arnett can finally get the Emmy he so richly deserves; his voice work as BoJack goes down as the finest performance of his career.
Don’t Act Like You Don’t Know
Thus, what makes the show work, from its antiheroic lead to the rest of the vast ensemble, is that willingness to be honest and true. Of course, in 2019, being honest and true also means being more than a bit depressing. In a Diane-centric episode, she’s informed blithely by the billionaire whale gobbling up companies like the one she works at that billionaires can legally commit murder now. Diane, in rapid succession, is horrified to find that he’s telling the truth. It’s not that BoJack Horseman wasn’t a multi-dimensional program of surprising emotional depth before, but the sixth season implies that Bob-Waksberg and the writers haven’t lost their ability to go as dark and deep as possible.
As frank as BoJack can be, it’s to the credit of the writers and cast that each of these characters deserves a kind of upbeat catharsis. With only eight episodes to come at the end of January, BoJack’s redemption now feels more earned than it did before. But there’s a palpable sense of concern seeping through the last two episodes available to watch now – many of our leads seem to have reached their happy ending, before a final installment that notably doesn’t feature any of them despite hinting at further darkness to come.
And it’s all on a show where all sorts of creatures talk, and all sorts of very famous people lend their voices for both real characters and self-mocking portraitures. Jessica Biel has been a recurring character on the show, and fair is fair: Biel, who portrays herself, has a very good sense of humor. BoJack Horseman should not have ever worked, and it could have easily been scuttled after its more uneven first season. But the show has survived to deliver one of the most profound, heartfelt depictions of depression in modern popular culture. When the show arrives at its finale in January, it’ll mark the end of Netflix’s very best program, and one that’s next to impossible to top.