The following is a review of the fifth season of BoJack Horseman — Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg.
Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, Daredevil, GLOW, The Crown, or Stranger Things? — Over the years there have been many Netflix favorites for the streaming audience, but, in my opinion, no Netflix show has managed to be consistently great for as long as BoJack Horseman has. Though I might say The Crown is currently the best live-action Netflix show, I feel confident in saying that BoJack Horseman is the greatest show on the streaming service — and the fifth season is just as excellent as the one that came before it.
When we last saw the show, we were treated to some of the saddest twists and most impressive concept episodes. I still think about “Stupid Piece of Shit” and “Time’s Arrow,” and “Ruthie” was an unforgettable episode. These were episodes that showed us how absurd a show about an anthropomorphic horse can be, but the episodes also illustrated some painful realities of day-to-day life.
“Listen, I still have some questions about my character, and the script, and the show, and you asking me to do this show, and me saying yes […] and why we’re making a TV-show for WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com, which is a website for people who don’t know their computers already have built-in clocks at the corner of the screen.” – BoJack Horseman: “The Light Bulb Scene.”
When we meet the central character in the fifth season premiere, BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is playing the eponymous role in the detective thriller Philbert created by showrunner and director Flip McVickers (voiced by Rami Malek). While BoJack is uncomfortable with how much the eponymous character and the set resemble his life, his co-star Gina Cazador (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, who is a great new addition to the show) thinks the show is ‘male-gazey and sexist.’ Over the course of the season, some of the recurring themes are denial, depression, addiction, and sexism in the television and film industry.
That final theme is prevalent* in pretty much every episode as BoJack Horseman uses the criticism of his show to his advantage and enjoys being a feminist mouthpiece in ‘Hollywoo,’ before he realizes just how close to home the criticisms of the men in the industry hit.
“Am I Steve Carell taking a dramatic role in Little Miss Sunshine, and you are the American public that only knows him for his comedic work? Because: Surprise!” – Paul F. Tompkins in BoJack Horseman: “Planned Obsolescence.”
“Oh my God, are you the umlaut in Chloë Sevigny’s name right now, because I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m glad you are.” – Hong Chau in BoJack Horseman: “Planned Obsolescence.”
Meanwhile, Diane Nguyen (voiced by Alison Brie) is getting a divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins). Diane is trying to figure out who she really is, which includes searching through her own roots and family background. It becomes clear that Diane lacks a sense of belonging, while her ex-husband quickly finds a new girlfriend — the much younger anthropomorphic pug Pickles (voiced by Hong Chau, who is another great newcomer to the series).
“I was also the director of a Star Wars-movie, but they fired me over “creative differences”. Now, about that restroom…” – BoJack Horseman: “The Light Bulb Scene.”
Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul) is still struggling with his sexuality, while his job search takes him to a new and exciting place in his life. It is more of the same for Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris), as she is still trying to figure out how to become a parent, while she still has to take care of her clients — a balancing act that doesn’t always go well.
In going over the highlights of this season, there are four specific episodes that I want to talk about, but before I do that I want to reiterate how much I enjoyed having Stephanie Beatriz and Hong Chau as memorable voice actors this season. Beatriz’ character is integral to the overall season, and she gets some truly stunning moments in some of the season’s best episodes, and Chau was consistently hilarious as the anthropomorphic pug. But let’s now go into specifics with a few of the episodes that really made this season soar.
“This isn’t fun for me. Being a woman is not a hobby or a pet interest of mine. You get to drop in and play Joss Whedon and everybody cheers, but when you move on to your next thing I’m still here.” – BoJack Horseman: “BoJack the Feminist.”
The first episode that I need to talk about is the fourth episode of the season — “BoJack the Feminist”. That is the kind of episode title that might make you nervous for the way the story is going, but, thankfully, this is a solid attempt at critiquing the film and television industry with BoJack Horseman‘s own brand of ‘satire’.
The episode opens by introducing the notion that television has a tendency to give problematic actors second chances, and, then, award shows are grilled when a character that has a Mel Gibson-like outburst wins a We Forgive You Award, which, I think, is such a brilliant way to criticize Hollywood award shows (it was, to me, impossible not to think about Gibson at the Oscars a few years ago).
Really, this is an episode about a privileged male in Hollywood who enjoys being cheered on when he makes feminist remarks, but who, as it turns out, is blind to how his own actions hurt the protests and, indeed, his own career. Hollywoo(d) is legitimizing and normalizing abusers, and BoJack isn’t able to see where he, as a privileged actor with a troubled history, fits into the industry criticism.
This is an episode that reminds us who the central character is. The episode lulls us into a false sense of security by having BoJack presented as the dim man trying to enjoy the effects of feminist views, but then it rips the carpet out from under us to remind us that BoJack is not exactly a ‘good person,’ and we really shouldn’t forget that.
The tenth episode of the season — “Head in the Clouds” — reminds us of this yet again. I found it to be really interesting how this episode for a moment, at the very least, is about the frustration of viewers cheering on antiheroes like Philbert (or BoJack), not unlike how people cheered on Walter White in Breaking Bad. We have a tendency to root for the hero, but BoJack isn’t one — and we know that. He is a tragic character that can be relatable, but he isn’t a hero. These two episodes fit together quite well, and the overall season storyline is focused around the themes presented here.
The eleventh episode of the season — “The Showstopper” — is perhaps the most trippy episode of the season. This episode reminded me of “Stupid Piece of Shit” and “Time’s Arrow” from season four — it really is a mixture of the two. This episode is about addiction, the effect of unstable personalities on a work environment, and how, as it were, a troubled actor may have a hard time telling reality from fiction. In this brilliantly mind-bending episode, there are ominous waking dreams, a musical number, and a frighteningly uncomfortable finale that floored me. At times in this episode, it feels like you are watching someone light themselves and their career on fire.
“I see you.” – BoJack Horseman: “Free Churro.”
But the one episode that I was most blown away by is this year’s deeply emotional and surprisingly funny concept episode — episode six, “Free Churro” — that relies entirely on Will Arnett’s abilities as a voice actor. If you can look past the episode opening teaser, then this episode, from start to finish, is one long monologue in a single location. To say more about why BoJack Horseman is speaking would be to spoil an important plot point, but I will say that this episode has two twists — one of them is devastating, and the other is laugh-out-loud hilarious. As I wrote on one of my social media accounts, this is a brilliant episode that should earn Will Arnett an Emmy award.
This was another great season of BoJack Horseman. It is still the same depressing animated show that you absolutely cannot get enough of, and it has a few tricks up its sleeves this time around as well. I stand by the idea that this is the best and most consistently great show on Netflix, and it would be a real shame if we didn’t get to see what happens next for the anthropomorphic horse whose vices seem destined to ruin his relationships and his career.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.