'BoJack Horseman' Is Haunted By The Past In Brilliant Season Four
Over the course of three seasons filled with improv comedy cults and pasta-induced environmental catastrophes, BoJack Horseman has unexpectedly turned into the spiritual successor to The Sopranos—an ambitious, engrossing, bittersweet rumination on people's ability (or inability) to change—albeit with far more anthropomorphic hijinks. The show is as interested in exploring the inner lives of its characters, and their struggles to live with depression in all its various forms, as it is in painstakingly set-up visual gags and puns. It is a challenging show, one that uses its Hollywoo satire sheen and animated tomfoolery as the sugar to get audiences to gulp down a deeply-felt meditation on depression and self-sabotage.
The Sopranos comparison seems especially apt as we begin the fourth season of BoJack—all 12 episodes of the new season will be ceremonially dumped onto Netflix this Friday—with a flashback to the origins of Mr. Peanutbutter's House, which includes a cameo from Sopranos creator David Chase, who happens to also be the co-creator of Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) family-friendly show from 1992. And just as Chase interrogated Tony Soprano's past for insights into his present behavior, so too does BoJack dive into BoJack's (Will Arnett) family history this season and really soak up all the pathos.
Did I mention BoJack is also ridiculously hilarious, dependably witty, and drunk on alliteration? BoJack packs as many jokes per minute as 30 Rock did in its heyday, which means it's the kind of show you will want to watch twice to make sure you catch everything. I'm certainly ready for a re-watch after blowing through the entire fourth season of the show in less than 24 hours. I wouldn't recommend anyone ingest any TV show that way, let alone one that turns the volume way up on the existential cries of its main characters. As BoJack puts it midway through the new season, "Everyone gives me everything I want all the time—it is an existential curse, but a huge day-to-day convenience."
The new season begins (as the advertising and first trailer imply) with BoJack removed from the lives of most of his closest friends and loved ones after he did everything he could to blow up his life in season three. The show dives into BoJack's past, weaving parallel narratives about his family (especially his mother Beatrice, voiced by Wendie Malick) throughout the season, culminating in a devastating flashback episode that is the emotional anchor of the season, and one that will stand up with "That's Too Much, Man!" "Downer Ending" and "Out At Sea" as the most devastating episodes of the series.
And with BoJack somewhat sidelined, there is more opportunity to explore the lives of the other four main characters. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) is balancing her new role as a manager with her increasingly serious relationship with Ralph the mouse (Raul Esparza); Mr. Peanutbutter is running for governor of California ("I'm mainly running for the people and for the future"); Diane (Alison Brie) is working at a feminist blog, grappling with Mr. Peanutbutter's sudden political ambitions, and ignoring her own anxieties; and Todd (Aaron Paul) is coming to terms with his asexuality while getting caught up in many hilarious schemes.
While some have already lamented the fact that this season is a bit lighter on the Hollywoo satire as previous years, one thing that is remarkable about BoJack is its ability to avoid any of the so-called 'Netflix bloat'—the unfortunate feeling that episodes of shows on Netflix all blend together without any clear delineations, often worsened by there being too many episodes to fill and not enough story to pad it out. Each individual episode of the fourth season of BoJack is tighter than ever, with a clear overarching story/theme giving it focus.
"I think one of the central tenets of the show is everybody has a story and everybody is the protagonist of their own story, and we see the hints and glimpses and glimmers of it," creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg told LAist (check for our spoiler-filled interview with him on Monday). To that end, there are spotlight showcases for Todd (the most giving man in the world), Mr. Peanutbutter and Princess Carolyn (which has a particularly brilliant framing device); episodes that showcase BoJack's inner monologue; and other episodes dealing with gun violence, fracking and miscarriages.
Jessica Biel, as one of Mr. Peanutbutter's ex-wives, takes on an even larger role this season; other standout supporting and guest voice actors include Jane Krakowski, Matthew Broderick, Felicity Huffman, Aparna Nancherla (in a particularly critical role), Lin Manuel-Miranda, RuPaul, and Paul Giamatti (at least I hope that was really him). Andre Braugher, who plays Mr. Peanutbutter's political rival Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz, and Zach Braff, who completely steals the show in episode seven, deserve special recognition for their voice work this season.
And while so many classic BoJack characters sadly don't reappear this season—no Vince Adultman, no Character Actress Margo Martindale, and no JD Salinger and his game show Hollywoo Stars: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let's Find Out!—it's remarkable how the show is able to come up with new classics again and again. I don't want to spoil anything, but since they do make an appearance in the trailer, I think I am safe in saying that you will never think of clowns or dentists the same way again after being introduced to "clown dentists."
Whether you're a self-loathing horse making his latest comeback or a clown dentist just trying to provide a service to children, BoJack knows that everyone needs to cope with the unexpected tragedies and mundane disappointments of everyday life that are thrown at them, and still find reasons to keep going. Or as one character puts it, "Sometimes life is like the second season of Friday Night Lights: you just have to push through and hope there's better stuff ahead."