This Season of 'BoJack Horseman' Is the Show's Darkest Yet
Here's why you should tune in to season five of the critically-acclaimed Netflix series. Very light spoilers ahead.
BoJack is back on his bullshit on Friday, and you know what that means:
Netflix's Bojack Horseman is simultaneously the funniest and most emotionally-draining animated series on the market. A spoonful of absurdist world-building helps the deeply troubling story of middle-aged former sitcom star (and literal humanoid horse) BoJack Horseman go down. In the satirical alternate reality of Hollywoo, anthropomorphic animal versions of celebrities coexist with fully human ones. That's the stage for some of television's most diverse and nuanced portrayals of shitty human behavior, despite many of the characters being cats and dogs and turtles and, well, horses. BoJack's thing is making viewers empathize with an objectively awful man-horse , and he’s back on it harder than ever in the latest soul-crushing arc from creators Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt.
When we first met him in 2014, BoJack had wealth and ghostly fame as the former star of the Full House-like sitcom Horsin' Around. His charmed life was meaningless, he didn't have any real friends, he was an out-of-control alcoholic, and he was suffering from severe depression. By the beginning of the new season, he's starred in a popular biopic about his hero, the racehorse Secretariat, and is helming a gritty, True Detective-esque prestige series called Philbert. His career is finally being revitalized, but his problems are mostly the same: loneliness, self-sabotage, addiction, bad communication, and worse judgment.
He's an idiot savant at finding the worst possible outcome in good situations. Season four extensively explained the environment that impacted his bad behavior through the heartbreaking story of his mother, Beatrice Horseman. There's no doubt that BoJack is one link in a chain of abuse that stretches back generations. But season five makes it clear that those factors don't excuse the abuse he passes on to others. It's Will Arnet's finest and most complicated portrayal of the anti-hero yet. (One particular funeral scene is blisteringly raw. If you see a casket, make sure you have a box of tissues nearby. )
The writers also continue to heap modest professional success and crippling unhappiness onto the actor's menagerie of self-involved, selfish, and self-sabotaging—yet mostly lovable—cohorts. Last season set up Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter's divorce, Todd's struggle to find normalcy in his asexuality, and Princess Carolyn's drive to become a mother. They all try to muddle their way through romantic isolation, divorce, death, drugs, forgiveness, and betrayal, and the process is messy and imperfect. This show has made a habit of avoiding easy morals and lessons, and it doesn't start in season five.
Yet there is plenty of joy and laughter to be had in between the ugly crying. While it's BoJack Horseman's darkest season, it's also the most hilariously meta. Philbert's self-proclaimed auteur creator Flip McVicker, broodingly deadpanned by Rami Malek, practically looks at the proverbial camera in the first episode as he delivers the line, “This is going to be a sensational season of television.” The whole show-within-a-show takes place on a set that’s identical to BoJack's house. A later episode is framed as a lesbian couple telling each other intertwined stories about the main characters with their names changed to protect their identities, to hysterical effect.
Even meta-er is this season's approach to feminist discourse. A string of devastating one-liners from Diane offer biting commentary on institutional misogyny. But the moment you laugh, she points out the dark subtext of the joke. “This isn’t fun for me! Being a woman is not a hobby or a pet interest of mine," she tells BoJack after he begins to dabble in performative wokeness. "You get to drop in and play Joss Whedon and everybody cheers. But when you move on to your next thing, I’m still here." Scenes like this would be funny if they weren't so damn real—or maybe vice-versa?
Of course, it wouldn't be BoJack without an incredible roster of celebrity guest stars. In addition to Malek, there's Whoopi Goldberg, Issa Rae, Laura Linney, John Leguizamo, Eva Longoria, David Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, Stephanie Beatriz, Brian Tyree Henry, Hong Chau, Randall Park, Daveed Diggs—suffice to say, there's a ton, and Bob-Waksberg knows how to use them.
BoJack Horseman is a whole show made of those multicolored emotional mixtures visualized in Inside Out. Bob-Waksberg and Hanawalt’s molotov cocktail of numbingly depraved personalities and fiery meta humor consumes the audience with nervous joy, sad anger, reluctant disgust, and ambivalent empathy.
Both the new episodes and the tears begin streaming on September 14.
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