This BoJack Horseman review is completely spoiler free.
“I tell you buddy, this is going to be an exceptional season of television…”
Over the span of five seasons, BoJack Horseman has proven itself to be many things. It is of course an animated series about a self-absorbed horse actor’s struggles through life’s many hurdles, but BoJack Horseman is also a friend. BoJack Horseman is an enemy. BoJack Horseman is a therapist, and it is escapism. It is a mirror to ourselves. But BoJack Horseman is also just a television show, which is why it is so impressive when it so perfectly captures the human condition. It can also make its audience laugh and cry and want to be better. BoJack Horseman is art and its newest season continues to evolve the show and its characters in exciting and challenging ways.
BoJack Horseman season 5 begins with dialogue that feels like it could be said by BoJack at any point in the series. “Nothing’s lonelier than a party,” he muses. “Good thing I don’t need anyone, or I might feel lonesome.” For a moment it looks like BoJack has made the ultimate emotional backslide after much of the progress that happened back in season four. But then it becomes abundantly clear that this isn’t BoJack, merely his latest role, who just happens to share disturbing parallels to the actor. BoJack is forced to re-live past traumas through episodes of his new show, “Philbert.” John Philbert’s house even inexplicably looks identical to BoJack’s, as if its purpose is to intentionally get BoJack lost between real life and fiction.
This reflexive, self-referential direction for the character isn’t exactly new territory for the show. But the way in which BoJack’s new alter ego, Philbert, cuts so deeply into who he is and what he’s done—especially after all the soul searching and mistakes BoJack has made—feels particularly poignant this time. It’s a clever device for BoJack to confront his past. This is the ultimate way for BoJack to finally come to terms with who he is and it’s all too fitting for this series that BoJack requires a fictional character to reach this degree of honesty and intimacy with himself.
“Philbert,” BoJack’s new gig, is a gritty detective drama, but it’s a huge satire on “troubled men” shows as well. The series also broaches the important idea of how shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, or Ray Donovan (probably?) can make audiences feel less guilty about their own poor actions and how dangerous this is. The icing on the cake is that this conversation also applies to BoJack Horseman itself as the show wades through continually shaky territory with its own flawed protagonist. No other show knows how to get meta and poke fun at Hollywood and the television and film industries like BoJack Horseman.
BoJack Horseman season 5 explores the intricacies and dangers of relationships, whether they’re romantic, professional, or just of a friendly, platonic nature. Furthermore, while this has very much been a series that wears its cynicism on its sleeve, this season reinforces the importance of following your dreams and not giving up. However make no mistake, this is still a show where an entire cold open can be dominated by someone sobbing or characters will use trusted secrets as emotional blackmail against each other.
This has never been a series that’s afraid to dig deep and show people at their worst or most raw, and this year is no different. However, with so many characters now in reactionary places, this season deals with much more vulnerable versions of these people. BoJack Horseman gets a lot of credit for how brilliantly it eschews the entertainment industry, but it also conveys and understands heartbreak, pain, and the dangers of addiction as genuinely as any of the all-time great dramas out there.
In what can often be a BoJack-heavy series, this season isn’t afraid to share the focus and take some of the spotlight off of its titular character. There are several episodes which dig into the problems of other characters, allowing the season to cover a broader perspective than purely what plagues BoJack. In fact, a lot of this season looks back to the painful childhoods of its characters to examine how their destructive trajectories began and perhaps how to break the cycle. This has been par for the course with BoJack, but this season extends this courtesy to the rest of its characters. It’s necessary for everyone to look back and examine their roots as they head into the next stages of their lives. Everyone is lost in some old version of who they are.
On that note, the majority of BoJack Horseman’s cast finds themselves in flux this season. BoJack really tries to think about others more than himself, but as altruistic as his actions are, they still seem to hurt people. BoJack is still selfish in many of the ways he’s always been, but this points to this older version of the character getting ready to settle down to some form of normalcy. BoJack did whole lot of living and five seasons in, it feels appropriate his character would be in this calmer, more reflective place.
Diane struggles with her existence as a divorcee and how her life functions without Mr. Peanut Butter and if can find a casual balance with him still in it. Diane has often been positioned as a mirror to BoJack’s character, even if they find themselves increasingly further away from each other. Diane’s story really rises to the forefront of this season and she feels more like BoJack Horseman’s second lead than she has in years.
Alternatively, much of Princess Carolyn’s material is consumed with her adoption efforts and fluctuating feelings on the matter. She still wants to further her life and spread her love, and the series doesn’t shy away from the complexities. This year really digs into the character’s constant workaholic tendencies and the difficulty of seeing if a family can fit into that lifestyle.
Some of the season’s best work comes from what it does with Todd. He continues to navigate life as an asexual, but begins to enter more areas of responsibility and growth, albeit in very Todd ways. It’s nice to see him get fleshed into less of a caricature. In spite of Todd tackling more adult tasks this season, his storylines are in no danger of losing any of their absurd nature and they still fall together in a chaotic, happenstance way. One particularly ridiculous situation places Todd in a cartoonish sexual comedy of errors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Frasier episode, but it uses this absurd veneer to say something deeper on asexuality.
BoJack Horseman season 5 embraces important discussions on relevant social topics like sexual harassment and the male gaze. It’s not as if this hasn’t been previously critiqued by the show, but it really attempts to have a conversation about it now, and for good reason. There’s an entire episode on celebrity apology tours and their precarious reputation with the cyclical PR machine. It exposes the dangerous nature of overanalyzing and creating stories where there are none. The show handles the topic as adeptly as anything else that it’s put in its crosshairs. It manages to say some very insightful things about responsibility while still operating with a precise, razor sharp wit. What makes this even more powerful is that it holds this paradigm up to BoJack himself and attempts to answer if he can probably atone for all of his mistakes.
BoJack Horseman also has a remarkable knack for presenting its season in a non-linear order that beautifully reframes events and characters in new and inventive ways. The series truly understands how to tell a story and the most powerful way to present its information to the audience. Another episode seamlessly splits its storyline into four variations on the same idea in order to show how much these characters have evolved and changed (or haven’t) over the course of 25 years. BoJack Horseman naturalizes inventive story structures like this that would otherwise be daunting in a less seasoned series.
One remarkable episode is basically a darkly comic one-man show from Will Arnett where he delivers a staggering monologue about grief for the entire installment. It’s an astonishing display of stream of consciousness and how humans process bad news. It’s one of the best performances of Arnett’s career and both his work and the script deserve Emmys. It’s perhaps the most moving, emotional thing the show has ever done and it’s episodes like this that are so purely, thoroughly BoJack Horseman. As good or intelligent as other shows may be, this is the only show that pulls off risks like this.
BoJack Horseman season 5 does not disappoint and moves its show and characters forward in a way that most shows aren’t willing to explore. Some of the best work from the entire series is in this season and there are episodes as powerful as last season’s dementia entry or the silent underwater installment. Furthermore, BoJack Horseman season 5 contains no lull or period that drags in the middle, which is honestly a rarity with Netflix shows. This remains one of the few series that has more than enough content to fill their entire season.
Even though BoJack Horseman season 5 is as fresh as ever, it feels like the character is finally taking the steps that are necessary to give him some peace. The end of the season perfectly crystalizes not only the themes of this year, but also the larger lessons of the series as a whole, with startling clarity. It’s one of the strongest conclusions the show has done and it really sets things up for a powerful sixth season, which could very well be the end for the show. BoJack Horseman season 5 proves it has plenty of life left, but much like one of Mr. Peanut Butter’s wives, it’ll surely want to leave the party early before it’s worn out its welcome.
Oh, and Diane gets a boss new haircut this season. Seriously.
The entire fifth season of BoJack Horseman will be available to stream on Netflix on September 14th.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic. Read more of his work here. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.