Premise: BoJack Horseman is an anthropomorphic horse who starred in a hit family sitcom back in the ’80s and ’90s called Horsin’ Around. Twenty years later, he’s got all the fame and fortune he could want, but also a sometimes-crippling case of depression. Season 3 loosely revolves around BoJack’s goal of winning an Oscar for his recent role as Secretariat – if he can just win that Oscar, he’ll never be forgotten, the thinking goes, and that’ll be enough to snap him out of this deepening existential crisis. (But will it really?)
Details: Twelve episodes. BoJack Horseman was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who’s only got a few other writing and producing credits to his name. The eponymous horse is voiced by Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Todd Margaret). He lives in a posh Hollywoo penthouse with Todd (Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad), a good-hearted slacker who serves primarily as a sidekick and B-story extraordinaire. Bojack’s agent is his former romantic partner, a pink cat named Princess Carolyn voiced by Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy). Rounding out the main cast are Diane (Alison Brie, Community), a journalist-turned-publicist, and her husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins, of various podcast fame), an excitable yellow lab.
Discussion: After a middling first season, BoJack Horseman came out of the gate on fire in year two and hasn’t looked back. It’s so trite to praise a story for being both hilarious and touching (“I laughed! I Cried!”) but that’s simply the case here, as BoJack manages to be both one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in years and also one of the most poignant. How can an animated half-hour make me care as much about a washed up horse actor as I did about Don Draper or Tony Soprano? And how can a show that looks so honestly at loneliness and apathy still send me into laughing fits with animal-based gags and show business satire? This should feel like a show in conflict with itself. These elements should not all mix together so well. BoJack Horseman is an impossibly good show.
The season picks up with BoJack beginning his Oscar campaign, enduring monotonous interview after mundane awards show and regretting a very specific low point from the end of Season 2. Ironically, BoJack isn’t even in the movie he’s been nominated for. The studio replaced him in every scene with a CGI composite – something not lost on BoJack, a fact that only strengthens the idea that any recognition he earns for his “performance” is particularly hollow. Of course, he’s not the only one chasing happiness and coming up empty. Princess Carolyn continues to find more misery than fulfillment in her job as an agent, always helping her clients and never taking any time for herself. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are seeing a marriage therapist and doing alright – but only alright. And even Todd, who’s barely had a care in the world for two seasons prior to this one, finds himself incapable of reconnecting to an old high school crush. So, yeah, BoJack Horseman is basically The Great Gatsby, where fulfillment is always a flickering green light just out of reach.
The overarching theme in Season 3 is more or less what it was in Season 2. BoJack is sad and lonely, but also bad and selfish, so maybe he doesn’t deserve to be happy. If anything, this year felt darker than the last. By thepenultimate episode, BoJack has burnt all of his bridges – even with Todd! – and, failing to even get nominated for the Oscar he so desperately needed, goes on a months-long bender with his Horsin’ Around costar Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal, Bob’s Burgers) that ends rather predictably in her death. Rock bottom!
It’s easier to discuss the dramatic beats of BoJack Horseman than the comedic ones; doing the latter would consist of just rattling off a list of great jokes and gags, which isn’t really a qualitative analysis of any kind. Suffice it for me to point out a few episodes as humor highlights. First, there was an episode set entirely in 2007 that made hay out of nine-year-old fads, technologies, and pop culture references. Second, of course, how about that underwater episode? What a strangely effective mix of SpongeBob SquarePants and Lost in Translation. And that Sextina Aquafina aboriton episode – “Get dat fetus, kill dat fetus!” – was something to behold. And then lastly, the way the final episode pulled all kinds of narrative loose ends – nay, dead ends – together to both create and solve an apocalyptic crisis in a matter of three minutes was just perfect BoJack Horseman insanity.
If I’ve got any complaints about this season – and really, I don’t – I just don’t think it was an improvement over last season. Perhaps this is simply an issue of going into that season with no expectations versus coming into this one hoping for the greatest show of the year. But while Season 2 just kept getting better with gut punch after gut punch, particularly when it came to Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, Season 3 felt entirely focused on BoJack’s continuing fall at the expense of everyone else, save maybe for Princess Carolyn. Even Todd, who has never really had much to do, just had so little to do here in Season 3 – but if the show takes his realization that he’s asexual and treats it sincerely, that could pay big emotional dividends down the line. In an era where all sorts of stories are being told both from and about the LGBT experience, I don’t think I’ve seen that particular orientation explored yet in a meaningful way.
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Verdict: The third season of BoJack Horseman was just plain excellent and once again I’d give the show a blanket recommendation to just about anyone. Newcomers, have patience! The first season is fine, but it’s tepid and tame compared to what follows. You can sense the gas getting turned up late in Season 1, and then Seasons 2 and 3 are just wire-to-wire excellence.
Outlook: The show was officially renewed for a fourth season on the day its third season was released. That much was never really in question, but what Season 4 will have in store absolutely is. Bob-Waksberg has said in interviews that he’s wary of treading the same old ground season after season, and he acknowledges that if BoJack has truly hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere left to bring him but back up. After two phenomenal seasons of gut punches and melancholy, can BoJack Horseman pivot into a redemption arc in Season 4 without losing anything off of its fastball? Time will tell.
Streaming: You can find BoJack Horseman exclusively on Netflix.