People are complex. This indisputable fact is oft-challenged by the many institutions of the world, which seek to impose a dichotomic view on everybody – think city versus country, happy versus sad, haves versus have-nots and so on. Television is guilty of doing much the same, with its programmes failing to recognise just how fragmented the human experience can be. Well, all but a select few.
In contrast with the chaotic, calamitous life he usually leads, the happenings of BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) have been pretty sedate of late. The one-time sitcom star recently received yet another fresh start after landing the title role in Philbert, a gritty police procedural helmed by first-time writer Flip McVicker (Rami Malek). Despite the as-yet-unreleased series being plagued with numerous production issues, BoJack is fully committed to the venture, wanting it to be a success.
As for BoJack’s friends, they continue to experience a great deal of volatility. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) is struggling with her work-life balance, particularly because of the troubles she’s having with a child adoption service; Mr Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) cannot seem to find any stable jobs as an actor, despite his recognisable name and face; and Diane (Alison Brie), having recently divorced, has arrived back in Hollywoo after holidaying in Vietnam, yet still hasn’t adjusted to her newly-single life.
It would seem that the crew behind BoJack Horseman have taken heed of the criticism levelled at their fourth season, for they have given Todd (Aaron Paul) a more prominent role on this occasion. In the first episode, he is shown to be dating an axolotl named Yolanda (Natalie Morales), both of whom are comfortable with the asexual nature of their relationship; while the amount of time they spent together is short, it’s nonetheless interesting to see how Todd and Yolanda function as a couple.
Another of the criticisms directed at Season Four was its short-shifting of Todd’s friend Emily (Abbi Jacobson), who wasn’t seen beyond the premiere. Here, she appears in a total of two episodes – a marginal improvement, but a welcome one – which explore her platonic friendship with Todd. Better still, the programme leaves their arc open-ended, suggesting that more episodes centring on their dynamic are to come in future seasons.
In addition to the return of the protagonists above, BoJack’s fifth season welcomes two new characters, the first of which is Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz), the co-star of Philbert. Being pragmatic and a realist, Gina offers a perspective that is uniquely her own, in doing so providing some interesting arguments that other characters don’t. The second character is Pickles Aplenty (Hong Chau), a pug whose mannerisms mirror those of Mr Peanutbutter; thus, it’s only natural that the two should become attracted to each other.
Between the release of this season and the last, the entertainment industry was impacted by the #MeToo movement, which sought to address Hollywood’s rampant misogyny. It’s an issue BoJack Horseman has subtly hinted at in episodes past, but hasn’t explicitly explored – this author senses that the writers were working toward a bigger sexism-related conflict, but forced to play their hand after the allegations against Weinstein et al came out. For this reason, their response feels slightly muted.
Thankfully, BoJack Horseman has a take on these events that is no less impactful. By shining a spotlight on its central character, and all the misdeeds he is responsible for, the series demonstrates how allegations of misconduct affect everybody, be they the accused, the victim, their acquaintances or their colleagues. Whereas other outlets are presenting a simplistic view of #MeToo, BoJack Horseman is adding to the conversation by acknowledging how multifaceted an issue this is.
The same could be said of how BoJack Horseman writes its characters, treating them not as heroes or villains, but as humans – complicated beings who have good and bad traits. This is reinforced by the production of Philbert, which acts as a meta-commentary on not only BoJack’s life, but the show itself, noting how efforts to make its eponymous protagonist relatable are seen as justification for his bad behaviour. To hear such a scathing critique come straight from the source is a bold move indeed.
Even so, such an assessment is what underlies the brilliance of BoJack Horseman. To craft a flawed, troubled figure and have him remain tolerable, in spite of his wrongdoings, is a testament to the creative team’s talents. Furthermore, their genius extends right to the very end of the season – as “Under the Pressure” plays over the credits, the characters are faced with a feel of uncertainty, a mood reciprocated by the viewer, who is left yearning to know what happens next.
Finally, no review of a BoJack Horseman season would be complete without the obligatory listing of exceptional episodes. Highlights include “The Dog Days are Over”, recounting Diane’s journey to Vietnam; “BoJack the Feminist”, which has the most overt references to #MeToo; “Free Churro”, taking place almost entirely in a funeral parlour; and “Head in the Clouds”, where many of the biggest issues plaguing BoJack are confronted head-on.
With its fifth season, BoJack Horseman has once more defied expectations with smart, intricate insights into both contemporary events and the human condition. But this has always been a strength of this series – what makes it even better is a willingness to be self-reflective and a refusal to typecast its characters, hence pushing it further into the upper-echelons of television greatness.