Overview: Bojack Horseman returns for another year and this time he’s out for Oscar glory, provided he can hold it together long enough to be nominated. Netflix, 2016; 12 episodes.
Silly/Sad: I cannot think of another show that does what Bojack Horseman does as well as Bojack Horseman does it. Over the past few weeks, as I digested season three, I tried to think of a show that mixed high drama and low humour so seamlessly and came up a blank. There are definitely episodes of the great comedies that would drift into darker territory, but it would only be for an episode or a scene and then next week, back to the punchlines.
Bojack Horseman is the only show that can take big issues like depression and abortion and present them in a way that is nuanced and interesting while also keeping the audience laughing with animal puns and dick jokes. It doesn’t skimp on either side either. The show is equal parts silly and sad, and the blend is seamless. This isn’t one of those comedy shows that out of nowhere drops big emotions on you. Bojack Horseman is like if Futurama’s episode about Fry’s dog happened every episode.
The only other culture that manages to mix this cocktail of tears and laughter so well is Shakespeare and The Smiths. Shakespeare could wrench your heart out and then drop a pun about arses without breaking a sweat, and Morrissey’s lyrics are like the funniest suicide note you’ve ever read.
Three: Bojack season three is another triumph. It doubles down on the promises of earlier seasons and continues to break Bojack open to see what’s inside. Three finds Bojack hot from the success of Secretariat and gunning for an Oscar. If he can win the Oscar he’ll be an ACTOR, not just the star of some shitty TV show. And then everything will be okay. Right? Probably not, but as Ana Spanakopita informs him, even though his life will go back to normal the next day, the night he wins will be the best of his life. Maybe that’s enough.
While Bojack is running the Oscar gauntlet, Diane has become a social media something-or-other which means she tweets for celebrities, Todd reconnects with an old friend and creates a cab company for woman, Mr Peanutbutter is Mr Peanutbutter, and Princess Carolyn deals with the rigors of running her own agency. Each plot, even Peanutbutter’s, goes to some dark places and we start to see just how broken some of the people are that Bojack surrounds himself with.
Of note is the revelation that Todd is asexual. Over the course of the show Todd had not had any romantic plotlines, which hadn’t stood out to me until the end of this season when, talking to Emily (played by the incomparable Abbi Jacobson), he denies her assertion that he’s gay and says that he isn’t anything. And that fit with the character as written from the start. Todd was always the goofy sidekick getting into mischief by himself or with Mr Peanutbutter. I just assumed they hadn’t given him a love interest because his plots were mainly B-plots, but really they were building to his coming out. A quick Google search showed only a handful of other TV shows that feature asexual characters and a lot of those of assumptions by viewers. It will be very interesting to see how future seasons of Bojack Horseman handle the character and his sexuality.
Underwater: The standout episode, and the episode that really showed the legs this show has, was episode five, Fish out of Water. The episode finds Bojack going to an underwater film festival. To survive he wears a giant diving suit helmet which prevents him from smoking, drinking, and talking. With no way to communicate he bumbles around the underwater world trying to avoid Kelsey from season two, eventually finding a lost seahorse and getting into Looney Tunes-type hijinks. The episode is presented mostly without dialogue in a brand new locale, and it is brilliant both in concept and execution. It’s gorgeous to look at, eccentric, and manages to get the same level of jokes and pathos even without any spoken dialogue. It is like Studio Ghibli hired Wes Anderson to remake Lost in Translation. The episode showed the dedication and design that goes into creating Bojack’s world and gives me some hope for future seasons showing more of this wider world and its weird ways and customs.
Overall: For me, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black (two other Netflix Originals) fell at the season three hurdle. Cards’ concept had run its course and Orange struggled to follow a masterful second season. Bojack leaps these hurdles with ease. The concept of a depressed TV actor slowly losing it does run the risk of becoming same old same old, but the writers manage to keep it fresh and interesting through smart dialogue and inventiveness. They also manage to take what was great about season two and add to it. Orange was a show that for two years managed to walk the tightrope of laugh out loud funny and incredibly moving but the tightrope snapped. Bojack continues to dangle high above us, a beacon that you can write strong, poignant, nuanced writing and have it spoken by an anthropomorphised dolphin popstar called Sextina Aquafina, and it will still work perfectly.
Featured Image: Netflix