You say you want to get better, and you don’t know how.
As one tends to do when a new Netflix series drops, I watched all 12 episodes of BoJack Horseman within about 24 hours of each other. The satirical black comedy about an anthropomorphic depressed horse, who back in the 90’s was the star of a very famous TV show, is one of the hallmarks of Netflix’s original series. It’s also probably one of my favorite animated shows still running. But my god, every episode is a particular type of emotional journey through the convoluted lives of BoJack, Diane, Todd, Princess Carolyn, and Mr. Peanutbutter that takes it tolls as the show willing tackles a wide gambit of topics with deft hands and poignant voices. Plus, it’s got enough pop culture references to make your head spin.
To briefly recap the various shenanigans of last season: Diane (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Thompkins) are getting divorce, Todd (Aaron Paul) has discovered his asexuality, and Princess Carolyn (Amy Sadaris) is producing a new prestige drama, Philbert, starring BoJack (Will Arnett) who reluctantly agreed to take on the roll as a favor to his friend. At the end of season 4, things almost felt hopeful for the cast. They were growing as characters, actively trying to become better people or at the very least better versions of themselves. But as BoJack Horseman constantly reminds us, the journey to self-improvement is not an easy road to undertake especially when compounded with tragic, traumatic backstories and a constantly shifting environment of pop culture berating our own images of self. The emotional authenticity remains the main draw of the show, and the scathing societal critique a very close second.
BoJack as the eponymous character expectedly gets the most screen-time throughout the 12 episodes, but the first half of season 5 utilizes the entire ensemble and gives each of the major characters a day in the limelight. We saw Mr. Peanutbutter start dating again, and Princess Carolyn continue the adoption process. One episode focused on Diane going to visit Vietnam in an attempt to find herself post-divorce. This episode also highlights one of the flaws of the show because while Brie is a fantastic voice actress, she is still in fact white and it felt weird hearing her talk about the Asian American experience and dysphoria, even if the writing was poignant. Conversely, Todd’s asexuality continues to be an exceedingly honest and open depiction, and the show dissects the spectrum of asexual and aromantic with a nuance that I’m not accustomed to seeing.
Meanwhile, BoJack gets to interact with his costar, Gina (Stephanie Beatriz), and the Philbert creator, Flip (Rami Malek), in what I can only imagine to be a fairly accurate representation of how prestige television gets made. And this deserves to be reiterated: BoJack is not a good person. BoJack has done many terrible things, and the show does not shy away from the fact. The show constantly reminds us of his past and qualifies his action. It does not justify. It does not explain. It merely presents the information so that we, the audience, have this information. There are times where we sympathize with him, but the show never asks us to forgive him.
Forgiveness is one of the big thematic elements of this season. Whether it’s Hollywood’s take on the #MeToo movement or each individual character learning to recognize the toxicity of their own behaviors and unrealistic standards and try to slowly work past them. The concept of perception and memory is also revisited repeatedly, which highlights one of the greatest strengths of BoJack Horseman: the animation. It is a visually engaging show, and animation allows the series to do things with storytelling that simply can’t be to the same effect with traditional live action. The creative team crafted brilliantly innovative episodes that even when viewed in a vacuum are a mastercraft of audiovisual storytelling. This is a series that prides itself on its wit, its willingness to look into the darkness, and somehow find a tiniest glimpse of hope throughout the entire mess.
I personally recommend that if you’ve enjoyed the previous seasons of BoJack Horseman that you should catch up on the latest entry. And I’ll also recommended that you take it slowly. It is emotionally devastating in the best way possible, but emotional devastation is in fact still devastating.
BoJack Horseman Season 5 is available now on Netflix.
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