This BoJack Horseman review does not contain spoilers.
BoJack Horseman Season 4
The marketing for this most recent season of BoJack Horseman has centered around the question of “Where’s BoJack?” However, the question that this season is really exploring is “Who’s BoJack?” Granted, every season of this increasingly deep series has posed this question, but never before like this. Previous years have shaken the branches of BoJack’s family tree, but this year forcefully yanks out its roots and digs deep. This is the season that examines whether the entire Horseman crop is rotten or if it’s still capable of healthy fruit.
Fourth seasons are tricky. They can be when shows begin to spin their wheels or when they start to examine aspects of their characters that are too complex for earlier seasons. BoJack unsurprisingly falls into the latter and, as much as this new season is about BoJack Horseman, it’s more so about the entire Horseman lineage and this crushing generational cycle of abuse.
There are a lot of television shows that create the atmosphere of their characters being a part of a family, whether they are in the literal sense or not. BoJack Horseman is a lot of things, but it’s definitely not that sort of show. Its characters are distant from one another, moving in disparate directions, and by and large they don’t feel like a collective. The closest thing that this show has to a family is the fictional sitcom family from Horsin’ Around and even there BoJack would eventually enable his “daughter” to overdose. That’s why it’s so exciting that this season of BoJack inexplicably finds that idea of family and barrels down on it so damn hard. It’s a dimension that’s new and scary for the show, but it’s a step that’s absolutely necessary for BoJack’s evolution, in terms of both the character and the series.
Last season of BoJack Horseman ended on a downer, and I found myself not only disappointed in BoJack’s regressive actions, but also rather convinced that it might be impossible for this guy to find happiness. BoJack himself has hissed out enough monologues about how he is poison or undeserving of love that the audience is well aware of how broken this horseman is. In order to get past all of that, BoJack has to re-examine where he comes from. The season’s premiere deals with BoJack trying to rebuild this old home from his youth, but it’s an image that’s emblematic of the season as a whole. The rest of the world continues to move on around BoJack, but he can’t do the same until he fixes his shit. This theme of repairing your foundation is explored in a lot of different ways this season.
The biggest change to BoJack’s status quo is the appearance of Hollyhawk, a young horse who may or may not be his daughter. Not long after Hollyhawk’s arrival, fate would have it that BoJack also finds himself back in the orbit of his mother, a character who has only been a mild presence via flashbacks up until now. These two characters simultaneously represent BoJack’s past and future, so to speak. They’re physical embodiments of the psychological issues that BoJack is trying to work through. Both Hollyhawk and BoJack’s mother are constant highlights throughout the season, with this largely having to do with the strong performances coming from Aparna Nancherla and Wendie Malick, the latter of which is given an entire episode to showcase her talents.
With BoJack suddenly finding himself in the role of a parental figure this year, a lot of this season deals with him trying to do the right thing because Hollyhawk is present. However, due to the pressure of doing the right thing being higher than ever now, BoJack inevitably screws up. It becomes a vicious cycle where BoJack’s wins are all the sweeter, but when he crashes and burns it’s a real disaster. All the while his mother is breathing down the back of his neck. This trial by fire is the right way to get BoJack to grow up. Or rather, it’s the only way to get him to grow up. Literally everything else has unsuccessfully prompted maturity in him. All of the trauma from previous seasons is actually helping him change when he needs to the most. Furthermore, one of the most enjoyable things about this season is how realistic and flawed this journey is for BoJack. He’s not just infallible all of a sudden, but the bonding and opening of his heart is a shaky, believable process. He is consistently inches away from doing the right thing.
This season essentially sees BoJack segregating himself with Hollyhawk and his mother while the rest of his support systems are gone. As BoJack doubles down on family, the rest of the characters move on without him. It’s shocking how little interaction BoJack has with the rest of the core cast this season and how so much of it takes place via phone calls. He’s isolated himself and now he’s dealing with these consequences, for better or worse. It’s cathartic to see BoJack beginning to realize that others need him less, while he’s beginning to need them more.
The topic of family and the theme of repairing your foundation are also rampant through everyone else’s stories this season. Perhaps taking up the most focus are the antics of Mr. Peanut Butter who finds himself running for governor. I’m not sure if BoJack needs to become yet another show that inevitably puts the latest election in its crosshairs, but it’s a series that’s so damn smart and thoughtful with everything that they do that I’m willing to trust their instincts. It also ends up acting as a useful lesson in Mr. Peanut Butter’s life where he understands that there are limits to his likability.
It’s good to see the show pushing Mr. Peanut Butter towards this sort of emotional maturity and asking these questions, especially four seasons in. It’s time to get dirty. On that note, Diane and Mr. Peanut Butter appear to look strong and supportive of each other, but the increasing cracks in their foundation are beginning to show. There’s a really painful, honest story going on between them about a marriage that’s been kept alive due to a constant set of distractions.
This season’s look at Todd is equally nuanced and it does a lot with his discovery last season that he’s asexual. The show handles this territory in a deeply respectful way and it ends up becoming a really sweet story of self-discovery. At the same time, Todd’s character doesn’t revolve around his recent realization. It’s a component of who he is, but it by no means dominates what he’s up to this year. There’s still plenty of harebrained nonsense like clown dentists (and dentist clowns) coming out of this ridiculous character. There’s also plenty of Todd and Mr. Peanut Butter together, which is always just sheer bliss. The way in which these two fools encourage each other and bolster one another’s nonsense with such confidence is beautiful.
BoJack Horseman is no stranger to featuring bold, stylistic departures in storytelling, like in last season’s silent “Fish Out of Water.” This year is no exception as one episode spends a good deal of time in BoJack’s head, running through his interior monologue. The episode underscores just how vulnerable and full of doubt BoJack is in what’s an extremely honest depiction of stream of consciousness.
Another incredible episode that centers around BoJack’s mother ends up working as a stunning visualization of mental illness and old age. The episode is full of faceless extras, blurred details, and a hazy filter that worsens as the entry goes on. There’s also a biting episode all about gun violence and its portrayal in the media, which is definitely the most socially loaded episode of the year, much like last season’s sexual harassment episode. Any show that can have the line, “You always hear about mass shootings affecting movie openings, but you never think it will be your movie’s opening,” is doing something right.
BoJack Horseman has felt bold and different ever since it began, but this newest season certainly feels like a turning point for the series in a lot of ways. This year, without a doubt, sees the entire cast tackling their biggest obstacles yet, it’s more satisfying than ever to watch them change and grow. On top of the exceptional character development and effortless Hollywoo(d) satire, the show is still full of some of the quickest, smartest wordplay you’ll find in animation, while also being capable of reminding everyone that it can be the most emotionally destructive show on television when it wants to be. BoJack Horseman’s latest season continues to prove that it’s one of the most daring programs on television and is not to be missed.
And if nothing else, by the end of the season, you’ll know what the difference is between an agent and a manager.
BoJack Horseman’s entire fourth season begins streaming September 8 on Netflix. This review was based on all twelve episodes of BoJack Horseman’s fourth season.