BoJack Horseman: Season Four

This post contains spoilers for the first three seasons of the Netflix series BoJack Horseman. Read on at your own discretion.

BoJack Season 4 poster

Perfection is an ideal that everybody strives towards but finds difficult to achieve, and harder still to maintain. Even the luckiest of people will the eventual setback in their professional or personal life, which can be hard to overcome; for a television series, this struggle is even greater – when it suffers the inevitable slump, it takes great difficulty to ignore it.

When the third season of BoJack Horseman ended, its eponymous protagonist (Will Arnett) had suffered his own slump – after failing to secure an Academy Award nomination for his turn in the film Secretariat, BoJack sunk into a state of self-loathing, and sought to overcome it by going on drug-fuelled bender with his former Horsin’ Around co-star, Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal). This resulted in Sarah Lynn dying of an overdose, which left BoJack even more depressed. The final moments of that season see BoJack driving his Tesla through the desert plains, wondering whether his life has any meaning.

With an ending like this, it would seem only natural for BoJack’s fourth season to begin by continuing with his journey; instead, the first episode focuses on Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) and his run for Governor of California. While Peanutbutter has the enthusiasm to lead and the support of his wife Diane (Alison Brie), his lack of political experience and policies (sound familiar?) means he stands little chance of beating the incumbent, Woodchuck Coodchuck-Burkowitz (Andre Braugher). The same episode also examines Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) and her relationship with a mouse named Ralph Stilton (Raul Esparza) with whom she wishes to start a family.

It’s not until the second episode that the audience sees the titular character – in that episode, it is learned that BoJack has retreated to his mother’s summer home in Michigan, there living in relative anonymity. After months of soul-searching and reflection, he decides to make a return to his hillside mansion in Hollywoo, where he meets a teenage horse named Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla) who claims to be his daughter. Having finally found purpose in his life, BoJack spends time bonding with his supposed daughter, and assists Hollyhock in finding her biological mother.

Continuing with the family theme, Season Four also focuses on BoJack’s mother Beatrice (Wendie Malick), detailing her struggle with dementia, troubled upbringing and complex relationship with her husband, Butterscotch (voiced by Arnett). Flashbacks involving a very young Beatrice are the highlights of this season, helping viewers to understand why BoJack is so troubled, and why his mother is so bitter – much of the blame is placed on her father Joseph (Matthew Broderick) and his conservative values. In doing so, the writers have transformed a one-dimensional antagonist into a troubled, complex individual.

BoJack with Beatrice
BoJack squares off with his mother, Beatrice in the fourth season of BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman’s ability to generate sympathy for the most unpleasant characters is one of the many reasons why the series is so compelling; another is its social and political commentary. In the latest season, this is best exemplified by the episode “Thoughts and Prayers”, which explores America’s gun culture through the prism of feminism – basically, it sees anti-gun Diane become and advocate for gun ownership after discovering how empowering it is to carry and use a firearm. With hilarious observations and cool imagery, it’s among the best episodes the series has produced.

Yet another great episode is the third in the season, “Hooray, Todd Episode!” As the title suggests, it follows the adventures of BoJack’s ex-housemate Todd (Aaron Paul) as he attempts to complete one day’s worth of tasks in his usual oddball manner. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few instances where Todd gets the limelight, with his presence barely recognised in the rest of the season. And that’s a pity, because Todd would have to be the series’ most loveable character – his enthusiasm and Paul’s vocal performance make him a delight to watch in every scenario.

BoJack with Todd
Come on BoJack, where’s the love for Todd?

It’s also disappointing that the series doesn’t further explore his relationship with Emily (Abbi Jacobson) – after the revelation that Todd is asexual in the season opener, she isn’t seen again. Had Emily remained a supporting character, it would have allowed BoJack to discuss how Todd’s asexuality affected their friendship, but it chooses not to. Such an issue is not uncommon to Season Four of BoJack, with many of the story-arcs and narratives concluding rather abruptly – they are either resolved long before the season’s conclusion, or forgotten about within the space of an episode.

As irritating as this is, it doesn’t dampen brilliance of BoJack Horseman. The series continues to show the difficulties of fame and fortune in a way which few programmes are capable of emulating, with both sympathy and brutal honesty. The illustrations remain imaginative, the stories compelling and the characters interesting to follow – their mundane activities are surprisingly enthralling viewing. Most importantly, it appears the series has enough material left to sustain an equally-good fifth season, which this reviewer is already anticipating.

While it is less astonishing than previous seasons, and certainly not perfect, the fourth season of BoJack Horseman is nothing to be shameful of. Its two rather significant flaws do not outweigh the show’s merits, and its ability to be simultaneously funny and poignant remains intact.

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