When my friend died suddenly last summer, repetition was the only thing that kept me upright—literally. I walked the same loops every day, up Temple Street, down Sunset Boulevard. I ate the same bland toast multiple times per day. I listened to the playlist we played of his favorite songs at the funeral—the same songs over and over, a memory loop. One old song's hook became a macabre mantra for my friend's departure: "After laughter comes tears / After your laughter there will be tears."
I discovered BoJack Horseman last year, too. The show became part of my repetitive motions: I'd binge and re-binge, the crying and laughing becoming a balm for grief like nothing else was. I felt seen and entertained, the magical combo that took BoJack from a little-known weird cartoon to a crowd favorite critical sensation in the last few years.
In the past, BoJack has been about depression as much as it's been about the infuriating veneer our world puts on it: Hollywoo is a place where both cynical BoJacks and crowd-loving Mr. Peanutbutters can succeed, but only one type can truly be happy. But after BoJack's beloved co-star and bender buddy Sarah Lynn died in season three, we last saw BoJack fleeing Hollywoo for the desert. Maybe this was it: The washed-up star would give up on shining to seek real happiness elsewhere, outside the maddening fakeness of entertainment.
No such luck. If BoJack Horseman's new fourth season is successful at one thing, it's depicting how loss and grief are imperfect teachers. Of course losing Sarah Lynn changes BoJack: There's a stretch of this season that goes on without him, followed by a tragic episode that shows where he's been away—but it doesn't teach him how to be happy outside of what he knows. BoJack's temporary disappearance changes those around him too. Diane is blogging at the hilarious BuzzFeed-meets-Jezebel parody Girl Croosh and desperate to connect with anyone real, as Mr. Peanutbutter races (quite literally) for governor, leaving his marriage in the dust. Princess Carolyn focuses on her relationship with Ralph Stilton, toying with the idea of having a child with him—and building a family that doesn't involve her ex BoJack. And Todd just, well, does Todd: You can look forward to seeing him run an insane clown posse, operating a drone, walking in a fashion show, and confronting his asexuality, among other disjointed misadventures.
Family is a central theme of this season, insofar as it relates to the intergenerational trauma that stems from loss. The best parts (and maybe the only parts that rival the infamous underwater episode's inventiveness) are the ones that focus on how loss never really gets resolved. The writers dedicate stunning storytelling to a tale from Princess Carolyn's future grandchild in a distant Jetson's-like decade; another episode depicts BoJack's family history via his mother's dementia-fueled fragmented flashbacks.
But then there are gains: after laughter comes tears, and after tears, laughter again. A strange young woman joins the fray of BoJack's personal life, becoming his precious thing to lose. Aparna Nancherla voices her, doing an incredible job of mixing retorts to BoJack's sarcasm and cynicism into a teenage girl's still-pure worldview. Their relationship is the lynchpin of the season, and compared to the other characters' interpersonal relationships—which all have their merit—it's the most successful of the plotlines.
Compared to past seasons of BoJack, this one feels disjointed in how all the storylines fail to intertwine in a meaningful way. It doesn't feel like these characters know what's going on in the lives of their friends; it takes an unnatural disaster to bring them all together in one episode where everyone seems rushed to catch up, with Diane getting wasted before she even confesses to BoJack what's been happening with her. But maybe it's meant to be that way. Loss is isolating, and trying to gain something after a death (of Sarah Lynn for BoJack, and of what could've been for other characters—no spoilers here) can make you go crazy trying to preserve the purity of something else: This season, most of our heroes struggle to preserve their families.
Of course, BoJack isn't without its classic absurd send-ups of Hollywoo(d). Jessica Biel returns for one glorious episode to run a pop-up fire-based civilization underground, and Zach Braff is there to, well, you'll see. Princess Carolyn tries to get an action movie made in the wake of tragic gun violence, leading her to "thoughts and prayers" her way through disingenuous phone calls trying to keep her movie from getting shot down. There's a lot to laugh about this season, for sure.
It's less of a wildly cohesive show than it's been in the past, but I'd still say it's a smarter, better balm than ever before. My boyfriend cried at the last episode when a familial resolution gives a rare glimmer of hope, but I cried in the second, when a plunge into the depths of grief made me remember the endlessness of it all, the cycle of shit. BoJack Horseman will always be the best show at reminding you of one thing: After your laughter, there will be tears. And maybe that's a relief in itself.
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