Netflix’s best show returns for a fourth season, tackling such meaty issues as paternity, asexuality, and dementia – with the usual side of whiskey and amphetamines.
By Joe Frost
Four seasons in, BoJack Horseman remains Netflix’s best original TV series – perhaps their best original work, period. Equal parts hilarious, poignant and heartbreaking, the writing is matched by one of the best voice casts in animation.
It’s the kind of show that looks inherently silly – seemingly the misadventures of an anthropomorphic horse-man, who they apparently couldn’t be arsed thinking any harder about when it came to giving him a name.
However, it’s quickly apparent there’s a lot more going on with Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s comic creation.
For starters, each season has a story arc, meaning that where Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin act like buffoons and move on, BoJack – and, indeed, all the show’s characters – face consequences for their actions.
What’s more, these actions have cumulative weight, which has now developed some serious heft.
Take BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett). A former ‘90s sitcom star now in his 50s, he abandoned the cancer-suffering friend who gave him his big break in season one, almost slept with the teenage daughter of the woman he used to love in season two, and went on a substance bender that resulted in his young former co-star dying of an overdose in the season three.
Thus, by the start of this season, we’ve got a seriously damaged human (or whatever we’re going to call him), who heavily self-medicates and is questioning whether he has any redeeming qualities whatsoever that make his life worth living.
And yet… And yet, it’s still funny. Like, really funny.
What stops the show from becoming a constant lament of life’s hurdles – particularly the ones we put in front of ourselves – is that the comedic writing and delivery are just about perfect.
Bob-Waksberg and his team clearly love wordplay, and some of the alliteration and assonance-based jokes in this season, mainly based around new character Courtney Portnoy – “she portrayed the formerly portly consort in the seaport resort” – are seriously impressive.
And the fact this is a universe where animals live as and amongst people is rinsed for all its worth, but most of the best gags in this regard play out in the background, giving massive re-watchability.
The show also revels in dark humour – one line, from the albino rhino gyno (who loves wine) last seen in season three, knocked the wind out of me: “As Charles Lindbergh would say, ‘sometimes you fly an airplane, sometimes you lose a baby.’ In this case, you didn’t fly the airplane.”
But among the sadness and silliness, BoJack Horseman is ultimately a show about relationships.
In season four, we see Diane (Alison Brie) – BoJack’s former biographer – and her husband, Mr Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) – BoJack’s former nemesis (and perhaps the show’s best character) – have their marriage put to the test as the latter runs for Governor of California, with his ex-wife managing his campaign.
Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris) – BoJack’s former agent, who’s now a manager (the difference between the two being a constant source of gags) – is pressing forward in her relationship with Ralph, despite the fact she’s a cat and he’s a mouse.
Todd (Aaron Paul) – BoJack’s former housemate – bumps his way in and out of all the storylines, and we see him begin to develop his own relationships as he comes to terms with his identity as asexual.
You’ll notice all are BoJack’s ‘former’ something. His toxic behaviour over the past three seasons means he’s being given a wide berth by just about everyone who has ever cared for him.
However, this is offset by this season’s central arc: BoJack’s own family – the mother he loves to hate, Beatrice (Wendie Malick), who is slowly being claimed by dementia; and the biological daughter he has just met, Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack (who was adopted by eight men in a committed, polyamorous relationship).
Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla) has BoJack’s biting sarcasm, but without his bleak, angry worldview, and she serves to soften him, giving hope that perhaps he can be redeemed.
But the storyline that really gets you in the feels, as only this show can do, tells how Beatrice Horseman came to be the woman she is, told via a series of flashbacks and, in arguably the most heartbreaking episode yet, through her dementia-addled memories.
Clearly, it’s not a show that’s afraid to tackle the hard subjects – indeed, it goes places I’ve never known TV to go before, yet manages to handle these challenging issues with both sensitivity and a healthy lack of pity.
It’s likely because of this that a massive cast of guest stars have again lined up, including Andre Braugher, Lake Bell, Jane Krakowski and Matthew Broderick, while the likes of Jessica Biel, Zach Braff, Felicity Huffman and Sir Mix-A-Lot all turn up as fictionalised versions of themselves (Braff wandering a party with a parking ticket, screaming out for anyone to “validate me!” was not something I thought he’d have the humility to do).
While still top-shelf compared to most other shows, season three was perhaps the weakest to date. This is a massive return to form – playing out as a backward mirror of the equally strong season two – and now I’m kicking myself for bingeing it all in two days.
4 1/2 Stars
BoJack Horseman season four is available in its entirety on Netflix.