“There are some people you can’t save that are just disastrous and take other people down with them.”
If you are an actor, BoJack Horseman should be required viewing.
If you are a human, BoJack Horseman should be required viewing.
Previous seasons of the series have seen advertising campaigns that capitalize on BoJack’s antihero status. The promotional material for this season however sees BoJack being compared to some of TV’s greatest devils—the likes of Tony Soprano, Frank Underwood, and Don Draper—and this is the year that finally earns that comparison. Both in terms of the devastatingly dark places that it pushes its main character, but also in the sense of the series itself hitting the same quality level of those antiheroes’ own programs.
A funny realization that I’ve come to notice the past few times that I’ve watched Robert Altman’s masterpiece, The Player, is that I couldn’t help but think of BoJack Horseman during it all. Altman’s glorious depiction of a tumultuously intertwined Hollywood is a thing of beauty, but BoJack takes all of Altman’s themes and pushes them to exciting new ground. I’ve felt it during past seasons, but this year, more than ever, is proof that in many ways BoJack Horseman is weirdly the spiritual successor to Altman’s classic.
Following the events of last season, this year’s main drive sees BoJack doing the Oscar circuit after the completion and subsequent release of his highly anticipated film, Secretariat. He’s got a new fancy publicist, a new gung ho attitude, and the high hopes that this opportunity is his chance to re-invent himself. BoJack is finally ready to show the world who he really is. A thought that comes up a lot for him this season is, “What if the only thing I’m known for is Horsin’ Around?” It’s something that used to terrify BoJack to his core, but now it’s something that’s almost comforting to him. He’s nostalgic for that time—almost as if he wasted those years and is now in the mindset to do them right. What was once a scary prison for BoJack is now the freedom that he craves.
Or it’s not.
Because BoJack is never going to be happy.
There’s always going to be something else. Getting what he wants is only part of the problem.
As much as this season looks at BoJack’s quest to receive an Oscar, it’s just as much about the idea that what if he does get one and it doesn’t make him feel any better? Maybe BoJack’s just fundamentally broken and as much as he thinks that certain milestones will give him validation, it might not be so easy to fill that void. At one point Diane offers up a chilling comment that she’s worried that if BoJack wins an Oscar then there’s nothing left to hold him back from killing himself. He’ll have hit his dreams but still feel like he’s in a nightmare. Much of this season is about exploring that idea of validation, something that’s especially prominent in a show dealing with celebrity.
BoJack really opens the discussion that everyone is essentially struggling with the idea of not only not being the person that they think they are, but also that nobody is as good as they think they are either. One of my favorite episodes this year is a flashback journey to 2007. The episode acts as a pivotal tool in providing another piece in the puzzle that is BoJack and his career, but it’s also used as a great way to juxtapose who these people were ten years ago to where they are now. BoJack might have figured out how to play a role as layered as Secretariat, but he still has no idea how to play himself.
This detour in time feels like the show is finding its voice even more this year as it confidently tackles more of these stylistic, ambitious installments. For instance, one of the biggest structural gambles comes in the form of the season’s fourth episode which takes BoJack to the underwater locale of Pacific Ocean City and due to his mouth-breathing status the episode is ostensibly done entirely without dialogue.
The results are some brilliantly efficient storytelling that truly blows me away. It legit should win the Emmy for Best Writing in an Animated Program next year. It might not be BoJack’s best episode (it’s definitely my favorite though), but it embraces its concept so thoroughly, and with such charm, it deserves infinite points for pulling this off successfully. Also, for such an internal, methodical show, this sort of entry puts you in BoJack’s tortured head in such a smart way. One scene shows him repeatedly writing letters, trying to figure out the right way to apologize to someone, with all of his emotions manifesting through writing rather than dialogue. It’s incredible.
Another episode employs an inspired structure that feels like it’s being done for no other reason than because it can, but these “dares” that the show puts itself through continually pay off. There’s one episode that’s a scathing take on essentially the dangers of being an addict, but the entire thing is told through blackouts. It’s a concept that had me thinking of one of my all-time favorite Futurama episodes, “Time Keeps On Slippin’,” where tremendous humor is being mined from the non-linear structure of the blackouts, but they’re also being justifiably incorporated due to the dark place the characters are in.
The concept of “happiness” is put under the microscope by most of the cast this season, but most pointedly by BoJack, who approaches the topic as something that’s as outlandish as anything out of some Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. Television has really nailed how to show destructive spirals well and last season had me yelling No! at BoJack plenty during the final episodes. That season ends on such an optimistic note of getting back up and not giving up, but it looks like BoJack could absolutely crumble under that pressure. This season my throat was a lot more hoarse from yelling at the screen. There’s a palpable dread that builds that I haven’t felt since some of Breaking Bad’s tenser material where you just know the other hoof is going to drop.
One of the great joys of BoJack is seeing how realistically it treats its characters. The show is not afraid to acknowledge the elephant in the room between BoJack and Diane in terms of the volatile, destructive relationship between the two of them. The season works especially hard to keep BoJack and Diane apart, with the larger focus instead going to Princess Carolyn. Her and BoJack’s journeys and indecision are very much played parallel to one another over the course of the season. Both of their stories examine the idea of slowly resenting your job and becoming aimless. Or to not just do something because you’re good at it. Carolyn more or less shifts into the second lead this season over other characters like Diane, or even Todd.
On top of all of this, the series is still saying some of the smartest, most astute things about gender, sexuality, and mental health out of any show on TV. At the least, it’s the most krill-people friendly show out there that I’ve seen. The season even chooses to cleverly put abortion in its crosshairs, managing to say a lot on privacy while also trying to de-stigmatize the topic with a very satirical, modern slant. Adversely, the inverse of this also sees discussion in regard to the idea of freedom of speech going too far and being abused. There’s a plot line that runs through the entire season that looks at an entrepreneurial upstart that’s also meant to act as a safe space for women. The talking point ends up turning into a brilliant, indicting takedown on how good intentions can become so innocently warped.
A lot of time has been spent here discussing the emotional peaks and valleys that fuel this season, and rightly so—BoJack’s surprisingly acerbic, painful outlook on life is one of the many traits that not only got people hooked on this show, but also what caused them to fall so hard for it—but behind all of the painful realizations, alcohol blackouts, and ill-guided romps in the hay, joke for joke BoJack Horseman is still one of the funniest shows on TV. It’s just also one of the saddest. The humor has never been sharper, the characters and interactions never more confident, and the series is taking the right sort of risks that pay off big and only amplify the humor. This is still the bonkers comedy where you can watch a mash-up performance of Greg Kinnear with King Lear or meet an Albino rhino gyno wino.
You just might be bawling your eyes out five minutes later.
BoJack Horseman’s entire third season is available on Netflix, July 22
Review is based on all twelve half-hour episodes of BoJack Horseman’s third season