Raphael Bob-Waksberg- BoJack Horseman
Watch the series on Netflix now.
DISCLAIMER: I am absolutely going to avoid “actual” spoilers at all costs. However, there will be moments where I spoil themes of the season, so if this bothers you, please watch the season before diving into this review.
BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) is more horse than man. Or is he more man than horse? Either way, he’s the star of his titular show, which is not only one of Netflix’s first original series, but also Netflix’s first original cartoon. Back in 2014, this cartoon was a trojan horse (no pun intended) masquerading as your typical adult animated sitcom like Family Guy or Rick and Morty. But a few episodes in, BoJack reveals its secret: it’s actually a dark, serious drama sprinkled with moments of humor to keep the tone from getting too cynical. Essentially, every character in the show has some sort of fatal flaw that makes them relatably human, even if their character isn’t human. As the show goes on, it gets darker and darker, leading to the heartbreaking finale of season three. Season four restores a little hope, and I guess after all the doom and gloom season three left us, it was due for a change of pace. It worked beautifully. Some characters ended the season on a sour note, but the overall future seemed much more promising than in any other season; even the credits song was changed to the upbeat “Wake Up” by singer-songwriter Jenny Owens Young, way more positive than Nina Simone’s rendition of “Stars” at the end of season 3. The fifth season of the Netflix original series comes with a big question: can BoJack Horseman remain fresh?
BoJack never ceases to amaze in character development. There’s been a time where Diane Nyugen’s (Alison Brie) character development showed us a character just as self-destructive as BoJack, such as in the latter half of season 2 and a good chunk of season 4. In the second episode of the season, “The Dog Days Are Over,” we see how Diane tackles the current obstacle in her life, and how she re-defines herself in the process, which in turn makes her more of the “voice-of-reason” character we saw in season 1. Of course, she does have her lapses, especially at the ending of “INT. SUB,” but overall she is much more reasonable this season. It’s actually Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) who takes over the role Diane fulfilled in previous seasons. Of course, he is the happy go-lucky character who hides his darker private life away from public, but his character has much more destructive tendencies in this season, especially towards the newly-introduced character, the pug waitress Pickles (Hong Chau), whose character is set up much like Mr. Peanutbutter in season 1. This comes out very clearly in “Planned Obsolescence” and “Mr. Peanutbutter's Boos,” where we really see Pickles and Mr. Peanutbutter put to the test. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedrais) finally gets her own episode in “The Amelia Earhart Story,” where we get a look at her teenage life of teen pregnancy and stillbirth, paralleling the current year’s preoccupation with adoption and the responsibilities of motherhood.
Since season 3’s finale, Todd Chavez’ (Aaron Paul) character development has been beautiful to watch. When he was introduced in season one, he was shown to be the generic wacky best-friend archetype that these animated sitcoms shows have. The end of season three, however, brings new light to Todd’s character that has quickly turned his storyline into one of the show’s most intriguing, with its themes of sexuality, the lack of it, and how to understand both. This is explored in this season with his girlfriend Yolanada (Natalie Morales) in “Planned Obsolescence” and with his childhood friend and ex-girlfriend Emily (Abbi Jacobson) in “Ancient History.” Seasons four and season five do an excellent job of exploring the concept of asexuality, something rarely, if ever, represented in television. Every character, regardless of differences, is crafted with utmost respect to their sexuality and gender. It’s not shoved in your face as it is in other forms of media that shoehorn in characters for the sake of diversity: if the sexuality of a BoJack character is supposed to be a big deal, then they will make sure it is, but most of these characters are not “set apart.” They just happen to be queer. As a queer myself, I am so relieved someone is writing our representation correctly.
Last season introduced us to Flip McVicker (Rami Malek), who didn’t have much background. He was a kind of awkward guy with a dream to make his show Philbert. In season five, we see he’s an insane asshole when in power right off the bat in the first episode, “The Light Bulb Scene,” when he forces his actors and actresses into doing things they obviously aren’t comfortable doing. This progresses in episodes like “BoJack the Feminist,” when he takes advantage of social movements to target a demographic for profit. And in “The Showstopper,” he asks his camera crew to film a scene that embodies just how little Hollywood cares about the safety of its actors and actresses. Also this season are Gina (Stephanie Beatriz), Philbert’s sassy cop partner in the show, and a BoJack’s "love interest" for the season; and the return of Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), who reminds BoJack that there is still a kernel of good inside of him, despite all the waste that covers it. Other notable names with minor roles include Whoopi Goldberg and Daveed Diggs (clipping.), who do their part to keep BoJack Horseman rolling bleakly onward.
There are moments of levity throughout the season, the most light-hearted being the episode “Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos,” which shows how Mr. Peanutbutter and his partners have used their time during BoJack’s “annual” Halloween party. This is one of the more “fun” episodes of the series in general, but it still makes important points and develops Mr. Peanutbutter’s character. We also have an entire Todd plot point that goes on for the latter half of this season that’s just as wacky and silly as Todd’s plots tend to be. Even episodes like “BoJack the Feminist,” that deal with the serious topic of women’s rights, trend a little more “comedic” for the series, bringing humor to the show’s sociopolitical anxieties. Of course, BoJack Horseman likes to throw in its little animal references to show that these characters, despite their humanoid depiction, are still animals.
How could we talk about this series without talking about BoJack Horseman himself, the sympathetic asshole at the center of it all? We hate his every action and what he does, but we relate to his reasons all the same. There are episodes that remind us of his humanity and his vulnerability in episodes like “Free Churros,” but we also have to see his character deal with addiction in a way no other adult animated character has presented before. It’s typical for these animated shows to glorify alcoholism, which is present to some extent in BoJack, but there’s a new type of addiction on the show’s mind this season. This addiction becomes more and more of a problem throughout until it climaxes in the worst way possible on “The Showstopper.” BoJack Horseman’s team always made sure shit hits the fan by episode 11, and this season is no different. This episode explores all of BoJack’s worst tendencies amplified to a hundred, the sum of all his troubles and mistakes from previous seasons (especially season two). Hell, some of his actions in this episode even call back to his persona back in “BoJack the Feminist,” exposing how fake BoJack actually is. The series has gone to great lengths to show that BoJack treats his life like a television program, but I don’t think it’s ever rung more true than in this episode.
This all leads up to the eventual use of the word “fuck.” Netflix originals aren’t restricted from profanity like cable network TV, but they opted to have this word said only once per season (with the exception of two jokes in the previous seasons, but those “don’t count.”) This word became very symbolic in the BoJack Horseman universe. It’s meant to signify that the bond between BoJack and a character has broken beyond the point of repair. For some characters, it just means their relationship with Bojack will never be as strong as it once was, but for the most part, it’s used to show that the character has turned on BoJack and wants nothing more to do with him. This season’s use of the word is really powerful, coming in right after we see our horse doing, arguably, the most fucked up thing he has done in his five seasons on Netflix--which is saying a lot after the shit he’s pulled for 61 episodes, and especially after the partial redemption of season four. This brings us to the finale of this season, “The Show Stopped,” which delivers all the depression we can take in with a side dish of hope to make sure we aren’t totally destroyed by the end.
For five seasons now, BoJack Horseman has brought light to serious issues in the most respectful of ways. There’s a reason people always contrast this Netflix Original and its depiction of depression against 13 Reasons Why. Every season reorients itself around a different issue, and you can tell the writers put effort into making these topics as relatable as possible. In its fifth season, BoJack tackles one of the hardest hitting topics of all: addiction. What it does to the victim’s mental state and how it affects those around them. I truly thought I had seen it all with BoJack, and that season four was the absolute peak of the series. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I am so eager to see what happens next on my favorite series.
VERDICT: BoJack Horseman continues to live up to its masterpiece status with its darkest, most intimate season yet.
- Alex Brown
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.