BoJack Horseman, the animated dark comedy about a Hollywoo horse trying to relieve his glory days, has continued for five seasons, and we’re still surprised by how damn good this series is. It quietly subverts tropes, breaks barriers, offers thoughtful commentary mixed with truly ridiculous action, and it’s got a running gag involving character actress Margo Martindale. It may just be the most fascinatingly relevant show on TV right now — a label that BoJack would no-doubt love.
All this said, picking the best episodes of this series is like picking the best Hollywood Chris. We all have our favorites, but there really are no bad choices. Still, because a bit of BoJack’s self-inflicted misery has rubbed off on us, we’re gonna give it a shot.
Here are the 10 best episodes of BoJack Horseman, ranked.
10. “Downer Ending” (Season 1, Episode 11)
The Story: Unhappy with Diane’s version, Bojack sets out to write his own memoir with the help of Sarah Lynn, Todd, and a pile of drugs.
Why It’s On This List: BoJack Horseman is a show that regularly deals in drug and alcohol abuse. Both are crutches BoJack uses to avoid responsibility and check out of his own life. Even so, “Downer Ending” felt memorable, not for its drug use necessarily, but for how the writers visualized his trip, using it to fuel a depressing epiphany for its main star. Yes, this harshes the vibe, but before the episode deals out its expected grim comeuppance, we’re treated a visually-stunning, bonkers ride, one with Peanut references and body swaps, stick-figures, tar pits and an unrealized future with Charlotte, one that might’ve led to a happier life were BoJack not so self-absorbed and obsessed with fame.
9. “The Amelia Earhart Story” (Season 5, Episode 5)
The Story: Continuing on her path to adoption, Princess Carolyn returns home and is confronted by painful memories of her teenage self.
Why It’s On This List: Look, most of the episodes in this ranking are BoJack-centered. That’s not a bad thing. He’s the star of the show and the character with the kind of flaws just aching to be exploited. Todd, Diane, Mr. Peanutbutter, they all have their moments, episodes or scenes dedicated to sorting their own sh*t out, but none feel as visceral as the Princess Carolyn-focused segment, “The Amelia Earhart Story.” Up until now, we’ve been given the tiniest glimpses of Princess Carolyn’s character on this show. She’s driven, she endured a rough childhood, and she continues to have a strained relationship with BoJack. “The Amelia Earhart Story” takes this character we’ve become familiar with over the past five seasons and adds a layer to her that not only strengthens her arc, it explains much of her past behavior. We see a teenage Princess Carolyn caring for her drunken mother, dreaming of a life far away from her small town, hooking up with a boy, bearing the consequences of that decision, and then suffering a miscarriage that leaves her feeling like a failure. It’s a wrenching look at female adolescence, but it’s also an opportunity to connect with a character we thought we knew in a more meaningful way.
8. “The Old Sugarman Place” (Season 4, Episode 2)
The Story: Still reeling from Sarah Lynn’s overdose, BoJack goes off the grid, camping out in his family’s run-down summer home.
Why It’s On This List: “The Old Sugarman Place” is a strangely beautiful piece of storytelling, one that manages to connect the inherited suffering of a diseased family through generations. As BoJack returns to his grandparents’ summer house, flashbacks fuse his own self-made problems with those of his grandparents. We finally understand a bit more about Beatrice Horseman. We see her childhood plagued by war, death, grief, depression, and a shocking callousness from her own father that undoubtedly scarred the poor woman, explaining her own treatment of BoJack and, in turn, his treatment of those closest to him. It’s a cautionary tale of nurture, nature, and the sad truth that history often repeats itself.
7. “Escape from L.A.” (Season 2, Episode 11)
The Story: BoJack flees his life in L.A. to visit an old friend but the trip ends on a sour note.
Why It’s On This List: Some of BoJack’s best moments have come when the show forces its characters to leave the comfortable confines of Hollywoo and adapt to a world where they can’t trade on the currency of fame. In “Escape from L.A.,” BoJack escapes his life in California and the responsibilities of his career to visit Charlotte, a girl he knew thirty years ago. For BoJack, the trip is a nostalgia-fueled attempt to connect with someone, an idealized image of a person he thought he knew. Charlotte however has moved on from her life in L.A., with a family of her own. BoJack begins the trip with good intentions, but misunderstandings, bad decisions, and copious amounts of alcohol result in him burning bridges in the ugliest of ways. It’s yet another episode that ends badly, but “Escape from L.A.” sticks with you in a way few T.V. episodes can by trading in that universal hope of second-chances and do-overs that plague our later years.
6. “That Went Well” (Season 3, Episode 12)
The Story: Sarah Lynn’s overdose hits BoJack hard, especially when he’s paired with a young new co-star who brings up memories of his once-protege.
Why It Makes This List: “That Went Well” is a showcase for what the series does best: mixing truly poignant moments with absolute absurdity. Not only are we gifted another shtick involving character actress Margo Martindale and a sea-full of threatening noodles, that moment of hilarity balances out the darker bits of the episode. Bits like a depressed, guilt-ridden BoJack driving at break-neck speed with suicidal intentions before happening upon a pack of wild horses running to Nina Simone’s cover of “Stars.” Just when you think you’ve got this show pegged, it surprises you with an episode, and an ending, that makes you marvel at the possibilities of great television.
5. “The Telescope” (Season 1, Episode 8)
The Story: BoJack sets off for Malibu, intent on apologizing to his old friend, Herb Kazzaz, for betraying him decades earlier.
Why It’s On This List: “The Telescope” felt like a turning point for BoJack Horseman, in more ways than one. It gave us a deeper understanding of the show’s main character, a fame-obsessed former TV star with an entitlement problem and a penchant for self-destruction. It also elevated BoJack from an animated comedy enjoyed in the background, one you’d turn on for noise and fun before forgetting about it just as quickly, to a show with something to say, and the ability to make us listen. Watching BoJack reckon with the damage he’s done to someone once so important in his life is almost as brutal as watching him spiral further after his apology is understandably rejected and the worst of his character flaws are brought to light.
4. “That’s Too Much Man” (Season 3, Episode 11)
The Story: BoJack convinces a recently-sober Sarah Lynn to go on a drug fueled bender that ends with a shocking tragedy.
Why It’s On This List: There are plenty of darkly comedic episodes of BoJack Horseman but “That’s Too Much Man” is just plain dark. It begins with BoJack convincing Sarah Lynn to give up her hard-earned sobriety and ends with one of the most painfully sad deaths we’ve seen from this show. As terrible a lesson as Sarah Lynn turns out to be, what really sets this episode apart is the method of storytelling the show-runners use to convey addiction and the toll it takes on a person’s life. We’re left struggling to piece together BoJack’s life amidst liquor-fueled blackouts and heroin binges. Two hours, two weeks, flashbacks to decades earlier, time is not linear here, and this only adds to the confusion and eventual heartache that the episode ends with.
3. “Fish Out of Water” (Season 3, Episode 4)
The Story: BoJack heads to an underwater film festival to promote his new movie, Secretariat, and make amends with Kelsey Jannings, the director he had a hand in firing.
Why It’s On This List: Our own Brian Grubb gave us just one ominous piece of advice when assembling this list: “Fish Out of Water” makes it into the Top 5 or this entire thing is invalid. Fair enough, Grubb. After all, any episode that can manage to convey grand themes like connection and isolation with just three minutes worth of dialogue demands some kind of recognition. “Fish Out of Water” marked a turning point, at least in terms of style, for the show. BoJack attends an underwater film festival and braces for an awkward confrontation. Before BoJack can make amends, he finds himself assisting in a seahorse birth and attempting to return one of the newborns to his father. The strange, perilous journey forces BoJack to confront his own feelings of loneliness without the aid of his usual defense mechanisms: booze and drugs. And, in true BoJack fashion, it ends with the star trying his best to make amends before realizing he’s made the entire experience unnecessarily difficult.
2. “Free Churro” (Season 5, Episode 6)
The Story: BoJack is charged with giving a eulogy at his mother’s funeral.
Why It’s On This List: There are concept episodes and then there’s “Free Churro.” Funerals are a television staple, a chance to bring characters together, tie up story lines, revisit the past, and push the plot forward. “Free Churro” does none of that. Instead, it’s a one-horse showcase, an intimate character portrait, an episode dedicated entirely to the monologue of a grief-stricken BoJack who has no idea how to cope with the death of his mother, a woman who so bitterly disappointed him, he has trouble even verbalizing his feelings towards her now that she’s gone. “Free Churro” takes the nastiest aspects of death and holds them up to the light — the performativity, the selfishness, the search for meaning in the meaningless, it’s all on full display here. And because the show focuses solely on BoJack, there’s no escaping it.
1. “Stupid Piece of Shit” (Season 4, Episode 6)
The Story: BoJack is filled with self-loathing, even as he’s surrounded by people that love him while Todd must decide whether he’s suited for marriage.
Why It’s On This List: It’s strange to think that an animated comedy about a washed-up celebrity horse is the thing that’s given us the most uncomfortably honest portrayal of mental illness on television, but there it is. I’ve yet to see any piece of art tackle the truth of depression and anxiety the way “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” does. Not only are we treated to an outsider’s view of BoJack’s illness — how he escapes from what should be happy moments in his life by drowning his sorrows in booze and bad decisions — we’re also gifted with the character’s inner-monologue. Well, maybe “gifted” isn’t the right word. It’s hard as hell to sit through this episode, listening to BoJack perform outwardly for people while berating and crucifying himself in his head, but it’s necessary viewing. More than that, it’s a desperately-needed enlightening bit of television that doesn’t seem to know that it’s breaking all sorts of barriers in the best way possible.