I wear a BoJack Horseman quote around my wrist. “You have to do it every day,” it reads. “That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”
I initially bought the rubber bracelet to wear during marathons as running motivation, but that was two years ago, and I haven’t taken it off since. Even if I didn’t have a constant visual reminder, though, I would still think about BoJack Horseman all the time. It’s not only, somehow, the funniest and saddest show on television (or Netflix, whatever), it’s also the most poignant and emotionally relevant. So, I was either going to love or hate the new season, which premieres Friday, September 14; there’s no in-between when you care about something this deeply. It could confirm what I already believed (“BoJack: good show!”), or betray my hopeful expectations (“BoJack: bad show?”).
After watching all 12 episodes, I can safely say… BoJack: good show!
Season five opens with a synchronized fish-dance set to “Los Ageless” by St. Vincent, and if I don’t have your attention, I don’t know what to tell you. The setting looks like BoJack’s house in the Hollywoo hills, but it’s actually a scene from the former-Horsin’ Around star’s current show, Philbert, a gritty send-up of sub-True Detective procedurals. (“[It’s] confusing, which means that it’s daring and smart,” raves Princess Carolyn.) The parallels between BoJack, the self-loathing horse, and Philbert, the self-loathing detective character he plays, provide much of the season’s physiological depth; it’s also a meta-commentary on whether we should root for someone who’s done, and will continue to do, so many shitty things that he can’t remember them all. (He’s trying to drink less, at least.) There’s a past insistence of shittiness, in particular, that still haunts BoJack, but that’s too depressing to talk about. Let’s move onto something fun.
Like Todd’s sex robot.
That’s the thing about BoJack Horseman. A late-season, years-in-the-making fight between BoJack and Diane (sporting a new look for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who saw where she and Mr. Peanutbutter left things last season) is intercut with Princess Carolyn convincing feuding popsicle joke-writing magnates to sign a contract and the aforementioned sex-bot “Henry Fondle,” with its dildo-hands flailing wildly, yelling “more more give it to me.” It’s extremely silly one second, sorrowful the next, and equally effective at both.
BoJack is also very good at having standout episodes, which isn’t true for most Netflix series. As much as I love Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for instance, it’s hard to tell the episodes apart. BoJack passes the Friends test, where someone could say, “The one with Herb’s funeral,” or “The one with Sarah Lynn’s death,” or “The one with the seahorse underwater,” and you’d be able to immediately recall which episode that is. This season has episodes centered around: Diane traveling to Vietnam (creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg discussed the issues with Alison Brie voicing a Vietnamese-American character with us), BoJack’s Halloween parties through the years (if you enjoy the generic songs runner, you’ll like this one), a Mel Gibson-type character trying to resurrect his career during the #MeToo movement, and most stirringly, BoJack giving an uncomfortably vulnerable eulogy at a funeral. With the exception of the brief cold open, Will Arnett is the only voice we hear the entire episode — it’s BoJack, behind a podium and next to a closed casket, grappling with the death of an important figure in his life. It’s a brilliant bottle (bottle-of-vodka?) episode that shouldn’t be as half as entertaining as it is. How has Arnett not won an Emmy already?
(The rest of the voice cast, including Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, Amy Sedaris, and Aaron Paul, as well as guest stars Aparna Nancherla, Rami Malek, Hong Chau, Issa Rae, Stephanie Beatriz, Brian Tyree Henry, and Laura Linney, are great, too. Also, don’t worry: Character Actress Margo Martindale is back.)
Over the seasons, BoJack has increasingly become an ensemble show; there’s equal time spent on the horse and human characters alike. That’s more true than ever this season, and the shared time is mostly successful (and economical; most episodes clock in around 25 minutes). Mr. Peanutbutter, Todd (with his wacky mishaps), and Diane’s arcs work extremely well, but Princess Carolyn is still stuck in an uninspiring adoption arc. The intention is there, but the details feel like an afterthought. She also has to deal with a character who makes “Badison” from Orange Is the New Black come across as likable.
But that’s a minor quibble in an otherwise magnificent season. There’s so much I still haven’t mentioned: the sparkling wordplay, the detail paid to even most minor background characters, the continued well-handled tackling of potentially-crippling topics like grief and addiction, the close-examination is why Mr. Peanutbutter is eternally optimistic, the jabs at tortured writers through Philbert creator Flip McVicker (every one of his whiteboards is worth pausing the episode for a close read), an episode where a therapist and mediator couple can’t break confidentiality so BoJack and Princess Carolyn are turned into BoBo the Angsty Zebra and a “tangled ball of pulsating yearning in the shape of a woman.” I’m already debating which quote to put on my next bracelet.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bob-Waksberg said that one of the greatest compliments he’s ever heard about BoJack Horseman is that it’s like a “a long, sad episode of The Simpsons.” Don’t expect it to run as long as Matt Groening’s animated titan, though. There’s a real sense of growth this season, and for the first time, an end game in sight. I’m both ecstatic that the show might be coming to a satisfying and intentional conclusion in the near future, but downcast that, someday, BoJack won’t be around to hate on honeydew anymore. I’m happy and sad, right where I should be with this wonderful show.
BoJack Horseman returns to Netflix for season five on September 14.