The last time I wrote about BoJack Horseman the main point I wanted to get across was how refreshing it felt for a western, adult cartoon show to have a serious continuity running through the season. That goes double for the back half of the series. There are no more standalone episodes here. In fact, some of the standalone episodes from the first half of the series are revisited and lose their standalone status.
We pick up after the mid-season twist where Mr. Peanutbutter proposes to Diane and she accepts. This has rather put BoJack out somewhat, so he goes on a two week long bender where he kills “John Stamos.” Funnily enough, this episode focuses not on BoJack, but on Princess Caroline.
I like these kinds of episodes; the episodes where the writers have enough confidence in their supporting characters to give their leads a back seat. It shows their cast has depth, and that their writers have faith that their stories can be just as interesting as the main arc.
Their beliefs are well placed. The Princess Caroline story provides a change of pace that differentiates her character from the usual hardnosed Hollywood talent agents and humanises her. Also, as she has the most intimate history with BoJack, you get a better insight into his character as well as hers.
Unfortunately, by the time the next episode is done, you might wish that you didn’t. You might wish that you had no insight into a man for whom you do not want to feel sympathy. From here BoJack gets dark and BoJack gets low. Really low. One episode is all about a massive drug binge and – while still humorous, with some really inventive and imaginative visual dynamics – it also examines the downward spiral of depression and the destructive enabling of class A drugs. It constantly blurs the line between fantasy and reality; one sequence is so sinister and viscerally disturbing it almost qualifies as surrealist horror.
The episode that kicks off this downward spiral revolves around BoJack reminiscing about the Horse he used to be. He remembers the early days when his best friend invited him to be part of the sitcom that made him the Horse of the 90’s; a friend who is now dying of cancer. Flashbacks reveal that BoJack betrayed him at his lowest moment and he now refuses to give BoJack forgiveness.
It makes you realise that BoJack’s actions aren’t just antics created to make an audience laugh, like they would be in so many other shows. But in this world, they’ve affected these characters in real ways. BoJack expects the standard reconciliation you’d expect from the kind of sitcoms he used to star in and his friend used to write. His cynical ploy is seen through immediately and he is ejected from the house.
Another episode sees BoJack’s best friend Todd realise that BoJack sabotaged his one shot at success in the first half of the season. After this you realise that the writers grand plan was in motion long before you realised what the show would turn into. Even when you think you know where the series is going, you are constantly surprised by how far they take it in that direction. The series doesn’t end happily. In the end, the one character you think is going to provide BoJack with his redemption gives him his harshest condemnation. Diane can’t even bring herself to like BoJack, let alone love him.
However, even with all this maudlin activity, the show still finds time to be hilariously funny – even though it still suffers from the notion that the series should be a laugh a minute. There were several scenes of emotional outpouring that should have been allowed to stand on their own. The jokes artificially injected into them do nothing other than ruin the tone.
The jokes that do work though are plentiful. There are still plenty of background gags to ensure multiple viewings, there’s a mental cameo from Naomi Watts that borders on genius, and there’s a running gag involving Princess Carolyn’s new boyfriend that is almost too stupid to work, but once again, they go so far with it you just can’t help but to revel in the absurdity.
BoJack is a series of surprising depth and is seriously funny. It has some character issues and difficulties with tonal shifts, but it is one of the most original comedies around, one that has the maturity to realise that the flat nature of cartoons doesn’t have to stop the characters being three dimensional.