One of the hardest tasks I think I’ve ever had to do is recommend the Netflix Original show BoJack Horseman, a show about an alcoholic, severely depressed horse who lives in the shadow of his previous sitcom career and his many adventures with other characters including Todd, a stoner drop out voiced by Jessie from Breaking Bad and Princess Caroline, a workaholic cat and BoJack’s former agent and lover. Feeling confused? It’s a common reaction I find, what’s even more surprising is how this show about human-like animals in Hollywoo managed to become one of the most intelligent shows on modern television. By the way I’m most likely going to be spoiling a few major plot points of this season so if you haven’t watched it yet, just go ahead and run on back to your PC and start binging my friend.
The show is bizarre to say the least; an animated comedy that finds its footing not through its humour, although it is prevalent and very unique in style, but rather through its dark and realistic look at depression and how it affects BoJack and the others around him.
Each season of BoJack focuses on a different angle of depression and how it consumes one’s life. Season four continues down that bottomless rabbit hole and you will love every moment of it, as it focuses more on how BoJack’s depression might be related to his family history rather than his life choices. BoJack is both disheartening and entertaining; it’s a difficult thing to explain but I guess the best comparison I can make would be to how you feel watching Saw or a classic zombie movie- you know what you are watching is bleak, and much of the time disturbing, but you can’t quite look away. The only difference is that these movies rely on grotesque visuals whereas BoJack relies on existential depressive sucker punches that will hit you right in the feels. This is not something unique to this season- it’s true to the BoJack formula where each season starts out light-hearted, before moving into a darker and more depressing atmosphere usually caused by BoJack’s own actions, before tying the season up in a nice little bow disguised as a bittersweet ending. I knew before watching that BoJack would do something to compromise his relationship with Hollyhock, his potential daughter, and that there would be an abstract and artistic episode focusing on BoJack’s deepest desires or feelings of guilt, as these things happen in EVERY SINGLE SEASON. It feels wrong to criticize these episodes because they are always the best the seasons have to offer; however this level of predictability is starting to become a problem because if I know these things are going to happen the drama loses some of its punch. However the season does try and escape the trappings of the formula and differentiate itself from other seasons in two main ways.
The first is through a focus on the drama of the minor characters. BoJack is less of a main character and in many ways is on the same level as the other characters in this season. For example, a large focus is dedicated to Todd’s terrible business ideas and fashion model career, the political career and marriage of Mr Peanut Butter and Diane and Princess Caroline’s relationship between and family history in episodes like Ruthie and Hooray! Todd Episode!, where BoJack is barely present. Where other shows would use episodes like these as an excuse for filler, every one of them in BoJack deepens the personality of the characters in question and this is something I can really respect, it just really shows that the writers to care about the product they put out. This helps differentiate the show from other sitcoms- you wouldn’t find characters this complex on New Girl, just saying.
The second way this season escapes the BoJack formula is through non linear story-telling, flip-flopping between the present day and the 1940s to create one overarching story. Much of the focus of this season is how the depression and helplessness that BoJack feels is hereditary, as each horse to bear the name Horseman has their own trauma which they pass down to the next generation. Perhaps this is best emphasized in the episode Stupid piece of s**t where Hollyhock begins to show signs of the same self deprecating and depressive personality as BoJack. The show really embraces the style of the 40s and the writers really have fun paying homage to the time period with strong meta jokes, and many of the jokes are about sexism and people’s approach to mental health in those times- I realize it sounds dark and not particularly funny when I explain it but the writers really showcase a level of wit and intelligence that can almost make any dark plot point funny or at the very least intriguing.
I really do believe BoJack is one of those shows where each season just gets better and better. While certainly past seasons have made me feel more emotional, they have been far more inconsistent with their hits and misses. Season four feels far less surreal and has a much more consistently good story and this makes this season feel far more grounded than the others and in many ways far more relatable. That being said, the season is not all perfect; I particularly have a problem with Princess Caroline’s story line; the scene where she leaves her boyfriend over one drunken argument really irritated me as it just seems so out of character; it doesn’t seem like Princess Caroline at all, especially when you take into account they’ve been trying to get pregnant for the whole season. Of course I do believe that there has to be some serious changes to the BoJack formula if the show wants to remain fresh and unpredictable. But these minor flaws are completely outshone by the season as a whole, and this continues to be one of my favorite shows and certainly my favorite animated show on TV right now. BoJack season four is funny, intriguing and of course emotional- there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Although the season leaves me with the same question that all the other seasons did… where can the show go from here?