BoJack Horseman returns for its fourth season tomorrow on Netflix. At this stage of a series as consistent in terms of quality and content and tone as BoJack has been for most of its three seasons(*), I don’t have a ton of new things to say before the season premieres, so look for my usual episode-by-episode spoiler breakdown sometime over the weekend or on Monday.
(*) I remain amazed at how much my feelings for this show transformed over the course of its first season, from dismissing it as a clever but familiar mash-up of Seth MacFarlane and Adult Swim tropes to realizing how emotionally rich and sad the series could be.
In the meantime, I feel comfortable telling you a few things:
1. It’s more of an ensemble than ever.
BoJack himself isn’t even in the first episode, which is a way for creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and company to make clear how much the show has expanded beyond its title character. There are meaty season-long arcs for all five of the main group: Mr. Peanutbutter runs for office, and Diane has to grapple with her feelings about that; Todd, having realized he’s asexual, explores what exactly that means; and Princess Carolyn tries to have a baby with her boyfriend Ralph while expanding her new business as a talent manager. There’s even a new significant player, a teenage horse named Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack (somehow not the silliest character name of the season, she’s voiced by Aparna Nancherla), who fits in seamlessly, rather than feeling like a late-stage Cousin Oliver-style interloper.
2. The guest stars remain outstanding.
I remain amazed to check the credits at the end of each episode to realize how many of the ridiculous celebrity cameos are voiced by the actual celebrities. The most striking of those last year was Jessica Biel doing a lacerating bit of self-parody by playing herself as Mr. Peanutbutter’s ex-wife (“Biel with it!”), and she proves herself even more of a good sport this time around as she becomes part of the political campaign arc. Excellent as she is on The Sinner, this may be the highlight of her TV year.
Even better, though, is Andre Braugher as Mr. Peanutbutter’s political rival, who is essentially an animated woodchuck version of Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Braugher’s unflappable dignity and stentorian delivery makes a hilarious contrast to the overall ridiculousness of this series, and of Mr. Peanutbutter in particular.
3. BoJack himself has changed. A little.
At the end of season three, Bob-Waksberg told me, “I do think that this is the end for a certain chapter for BoJack Horseman. I’m not sure how long the show goes, but I think we’ve played the card of ‘BoJack’s a terrible person, and he knows it, and people start to forgive him and he fucks them up all over again.’ I feel like we had to tell that story completely.”
He is true to his word. BoJack isn’t suddenly a saint, but he’s more self-aware, and makes more of a genuine effort to be there for Todd, Diane, Princess Carolyn, and even his cruel mother. (Who is herself given tremendous new depth in a series of flashbacks strung across the season.) BoJack’s attempt at reformation in no way undercuts the show’s comedy, and at times makes the dramatic material hit even harder.
4. It’s still one of the best shows on television.
But then, you knew that already, right?