BoJack Horseman returned for its fourth season on Friday. I offered a few overall thoughts on the season already, and now I want to get very specific — with spoilers for the entire season — as I break it all down episode by episode, coming up just as soon as I give you the number of a sandwich shop in Temecula…
EPISODE ONE: “SEE MR. PEANUTBUTTER RUN”
It’s become something of a trope for streaming shows to open seasons with an episode featuring just the main character, then catch up with the ensemble later. BoJack season four does the opposite, bringing the ensemble — Mr. Peanutbutter and Princess Carolyn in particular — to the forefront while BoJack is absent in ways that won’t be explained til episode two. It works because Mr. Peanutbutter is such an inherently silly and charming character, and because the supporting characters have become so well-defined and important that they don’t always need BoJack around, even if it means the closing credits have to be accompanied by a knockoff song about Mr. Peanutbutter, in the same way that Mr. Peanutbutter’s House was originally referred to (when Vincent D’Onfrio was the breakdancing lead) Untitled Horsin’ Around Knockoff.
I will say that I was initially queasy about the campaign for governor turning into a season-long Trump riff, but that element of it only appears on occasion, like Peanutbutter’s speech here about being a candidate for regular schmoes who went to Northwestern, and the arc in general is so dominated by absurdity — like this episode’s Schoolhouse Rock parody about the amendment to allow for the ski race, or the brief ski school movie riff — not to mention the delightful presence of Andre Braugher as Mr. Peanutbutter’s dignified rival Woodchuck Couldchuck Berkowitz, whose complete befuddlement and dismay at each turn of the campaign is the perfect deadpan counterpoint to Peanutbutter’s giddy embrace of same.
This is a really big and mostly sad season for Princess Carolyn as well, and it’s kicked off nicely here with the first of many runs of the year of Amy Sedaris reading ridiculous titles quickly (“a transgender Teddy Roosevelt Planes, Trains, and Automobiles remake: Planes, Trans, A Man, A Canal, Panama?”), and with Ralph still being so sweet with her (“Would you, could you, with a mouse?”) even as she suffers a miscarriage.
Also, Matt Seitz and I are doing a series of interviews with David Chase about The Sopranos for a 20th anniversary book, and when we spoke a few days ago, I asked him about whether he had seen the show before they asked him to play himself as the Mr. Peanutbutter’s House creator. He still hasn’t seen it, but has heard it’s very good. I decided not to tell him about the Tony/Melfi joke from last season, in the hopes he may one day decide to watch and discover it on his own.
EPISODE TWO: “THE OLD SUGARMAN PLACE”
We shift from no-BoJack to only-BoJack — or, rather, to only BoJack family, as much of the episode is flashbacks to the unhappy childhood of BoJack’s mother Beatrice, to the dysfunctional marriage of his maternal grandparents (voiced by Matthew Broderick and Jane Krakowski), how the death of Beatrice’s brother Crackerjack tore the family apart and led a lobotomized Mrs. Sugarman to tell young Beatrice, “Promise you’ll never love anyone as much as I loved Crackerjack,” and to all the other ways that events long before BoJack was born helped create the conditions for his own profound unhappiness. It’s a very effective little tragedy, particularly when past and present start to meld together so that Beatrice and BoJack’s new friend Eddie are dueting, and still has plenty of room for jokes, like Paul Giamatti playing BoJack in the new season of FX’s American Dead Girl.
EPISODE THREE: “HOORAY! TODD EPISODE!”
At times, this plays like “The Zeppo” episode of Buffy mixed with some Good Will Hunting, as we find out all the things Todd does — and all the people he helps without quite understanding what he’s doing — when he’s not around BoJack, but there’s still plenty of good material about BoJack, who returns from his travels just in time to meet the alleged daughter he never knew he had, Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack(*).
(*) Better season 4 name: Hollyhock’s full moniker, Woodchuck’s, or Princess Carolyn’s client Courtney Portnoy, whose name isn’t that absurd in and of itself, but inspires one great Sedaris tongue-twister after another, like, “Portnoy finds joy in hoi polloi boy toy”?