“You’re BoJack Horseman, and there’s no cure for that.”
One of the first things that we hear in the second season of BoJack Horseman is the mantra, “I can change. I will change.” Sure enough, the first season ended with the cantankerous BoJack (Will Arnett) seeming to have turned a new leaf. And this season begins with BoJack poised to unburden himself of all of his baggage and seize the world with a fancy BNA–brand new attitude.
Things seem pretty idyllic for BoJack, with him appearing to be so optimistic he could even give Mr. Peanut Butter a run for his money, but naturally all that glitters is not gold. Just because we want change, doesn’t mean we can change necessarily. And sometimes the pressure of forcing such a transformation can put you in an even worse place than before. A running message that BoJack repeats is that everything is a metaphor in life. Everything. While it might be a touch self-aware, it really becomes the perfect antithesis of what BoJack Horseman is all about, and by bringing that theme so front and center to BoJack the character, the series clicks in a very comfortable way this year.
While the “possibility of change” might be the mantra of the season, this is very much the same BoJack Horseman that you hopefully unabashedly loved last season. There are some cosmetic differences in the form of BoJack working on the “Secretariat” film rather than his book, and Diane acting as a character consultant rather than a ghostwriter, but the same relationship dynamics remain. This storyline manages to intensify things in a new way too, with Secretariat’s story mirroring much of his own. Without BoJack being able to tap into that inspiration, he has the potential to lose the most he’s ever had and ruin his career just as it’s getting back in shape. Much of this season is concerned with BoJack struggling not to blow his take at legitimacy while still trying to convince himself that he is a brand new horse.
Personally, I’m a fan of all that, and I like my BoJack flawed, and I like my BoJack vulnerable, and there’s plenty of that getting explored here in spite of the strong metaphor front he puts up. Topics like BoJack’s childhood and his parents are fleshed out, and the premiere episode even has the poignancy and generational trauma of a Sopranos entry.
The series again is interested in questions BoJack has struggled with before, like whether he’s a good actor or not, but also the idea if there’s even a second layer to him at all. He brings up things like his job, his parents, and his new girlfriend as beacons that make him want to be a better BoJack, and yet he continues to sabotage himself and the relationships around him. Are these things not just being used to fill his life because he’s broken and there’s nothing deeper inside of him, or does he genuinely care? These are issues that we all struggle with, and by BoJack getting even more thoroughly entwined with the topics of depression and fulfillment, it manages to become an even more important, responsible show… that has talking animals.
The fear of not being remembered or leaving a legacy behind is also a prominent one this year. BoJack finds himself with even less of an identity this season with how seemingly everyone has read his book and collectively appropriated his stories and Todd barbs until he has nothing left. BoJack has to cling to his dysfunctional sitcom family because he has no actual family that will have him. Is BoJack embracing this new version of himself so hard because he doesn’t have an old version to fall back on to anymore? Early on, BoJack is instructed to look towards the future, as we’re shown a movie backdrop of a horizon instead of anything real. Everything is a metaphor, remember.
If there’s anything to complain about regarding this subject matter this season, it’s that the surprise of learning how deep this show is isn’t felt as hard this year. The moments of soul bearing honesty are still plentiful though. The season acts as a very nice extension of the themes brought up in the first one, but it still feels like it pales a little in comparison this time around, simply because of how strong the premiere season was. This season has attempted to fill the holes felt from the first year by doubling down with thematic resonance, which isn’t the worst idea, but it’s only so much.
While BoJack’s journey is largely the focus here, the show’s phenomenal supporting cast is still very present and in prime form. Aaron Paul’s Todd is still the same Mountain Dew-substituting-for-milk-in-cereal slacker savant that we fell in love with last season, with Paul falling into the role even more comfortably this year. Diane (Alison Brie) also gets some weightier subject matter with her being worried about falling into a rut and losing sense of who she is, concerned that she’s maybe “settled down.” This is accentuated perfectly in the form of the cold Kelsey, “Secretariat’s” director, who eerily resembles a future Diane (right down to the wardrobe), if she can’t change her ways.
Now that the series has better defined its characters, this season sees less of a need to tent pole them up, with a more natural feel to their stories this time, too. BoJack’s cast is hardly unruly but the series isn’t afraid to let some characters take a break, not wanting to force story to simply facilitate characters, especially since we no longer need to get introduced to these beasts. Each character is faced with some fairly earth-shattering truths that they must overcome, a lot of them being put through the wringer, so nobody is being left stagnant either (not even Vincent Adultman).
If this all sounds fairly dour and introspective—it is—but the vintage BoJack insanity is also far from absent. There are some truly absurd plotlines this season that out-crazy much of the first year (Boreanaz House withstanding), including a wickedly delightful Her homage and the forensic equivalent of “Why did the chicken cross the road?” A lot of this also stems from the beautiful PB LIVIN relationship that has formed between Mr. Peanut Butter (Paul F. Tompkins) and Todd, like the advent of West Dakota, for instance. However, the show is largely stolen by newcomer Lisa Kudrow as Wanda Pierce, the new head of programming who’s just gotten out of a thirty year-long coma, and is also BoJack’s new squeeze. Kudrow is usually solid, but her wide-eyed naivety as Wanda fits in perfectly with the BoJack universe.
All of this amounts to a very sprawling package that doesn’t feel like it’s completely found itself, but for a show that’s so thoroughly concerned with change and, well—finding itself—that’s more than okay. It’s still the frustratingly witty, intelligent, laser-sharp piece of comedy with one of the finest voice casts assembled, it’s just going through some growing pains; like we all do. Watching BoJack, both the character and the series evolve, is a marvelous, honest experience, and its second season is a worthy addition to the show’s library.
Don’t be surprised if you end up watching them all this ‘kend.
Editor’s Note: This review is based on the first six twenty-five minute episodes of BoJack’s second season. All twelve episodes of BoJack Horseman’s second season begin streaming on Netflix, July 17th.