Netflix’s Animated Hit Continues To Peer Into The Existential Abyss–Plus Animal Puns!
Over four seasons, we’ve seen the titular washed-up-and-rebounded TV star BoJack Horseman engage in terrible behavior in between attempts at tiny, incremental redemption. He helped a former child star go on a bender that led to her death, left a trail of chaos from his drinking and self-absorption, derailed a promising filmmaker’s career, and nearly slept with the teen daughter of a former flame, a dicey situation that returns to haunt him in a new set of 12 episodes.
As Diane Nguyen says to our antihero toward the end of Bojack Horseman’s 5th season on Netflix: “There’s no such thing as bad guys and good guys. You’re never going to be good because you’re not bad.”
Season 5 finds the morally ambiguous Bojack starring in a pretentiously edgy streaming procedural called Philbert, cohabitating with a new love interest and on a semi-sober equilibrium before everything falls apart in violent fashion. There’s death, several resonant #MeToo storylines that combine to crushing effect by season’s end, divorce, familial abuse, an episode-length and drug-fueled identity crisis, and a jaw-dropping eulogy episode (the sixth, “Free Churro”). That one, every bit as form-breaking and remarkable as “Fish Out of Water” from Season 3 and “Stupid Piece of Shit” from Season 4, transcends its gimmick – an episode-length monologue – to encapsulate nearly everything writer/creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has been saying since the show began about grief, fractured psyches and the corrosive, enabling effect of Hollywood, or as it’s called in this goofball universe, “Hollywoo.”
But even as it’s emerged as Netflix’s most consistently excellent and critically acclaimed show while House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have fallen out of favor, there’s still: a dildo-wielding sex robot named “Henry Fondle,” dozens of dumb-reference-jokes-made-great by Paul F. Tompkins as Mr. Peanutbutter, strings and strings of tongue-twisty wordplay jokes from Amy Sedaris’s Princess Caroline, and a density of visual puns and human/animal jokes that make latter-day Simpsons and South Park look dehydrated by comparison. Alison Brie and Will Arnett continue to do next-level voice work as their characters question everything; each other, themselves, the nature of the industry in which they work, the work itself, even their own show. The metacommentary suggests the show is as culpable in middle-aged-male bad-boy worship and absolution as every other problematic TV series.
Which is to say that BoJack is deeply heartbreaking and pulls no punches as it takes on the timely topic of abuse in entertainment. It’s never homework or boring however; still funny, still on point, still not above an extended series of jokes about personal lubricant.