Image Credits: Netflix. Description: the poster for BoJack Horseman season 5.
“How do you make something right when you’ve made it so wrong you can never go back?”
This is a recurring line in the new season five of BoJack Horseman, an animated adult comedy show about a washed-up actor who struggles with addiction, childhood trauma, and self-destruction. BoJack Horseman doesn’t make excuses for it’s titular character, but it does strive to portray the complexity of human experience, zooming in on dark places rather than shying away. Recovery, rather than redemption, is the distant carrot the show holds out in front of us — the belief that changing for the better is still possible.
In BoJack’s fifth season, we being to see the start of that change. BoJack himself is in a better place, down to drinking one bottle of vodka a day, building a relationship with his half-sister Hollyhock, and trying to be a more positive presence on set. He even (briefly) becomes a feminist icon, albeit in an attempt to discredit his co-star.
He’s not the only character who seems to be pulling his life together. Princess Carolyn is trying to adopt while Todd, in typical clumsy Todd fashion, becomes the President of Ad Sales for Philbert’s network sponsor, WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com. In fact, at the beginning of the season it seems Mr. Peanut Butter and Diane, two of the show’s more stable characters, are the ones struggling. Recently divorced, Diane takes a soul-searching trip to Vietnam, while Mr. Peanut Butter jumps into a new relationship with the much younger and very endearing waitress Pickles.
… it’s the combination of emotional vulnerability and humour that makes BoJack so absorbing.
Of course, being BoJack, the positive changes can’t last for long. Watching BoJack slip back into unhealthy patterns is rather like watching someone reverse a car into a highway; the pain seems so imminent and so avoidable. And yet repeating destructive routines is part of human nature, something that the creators of BoJack understand all too well. Jokes and serious social commentary alike play upon the human tendency to overlook inconvenient truths.
Much of the central plot revolves around the similarities between BoJack’s own life and Philbert, the fictional TV show where BoJack plays a detective haunted by his past. What originally began as a glamorised crime-fest becomes a show about regret and redemption under Diane’s influence, mirroring the narrative arc of BoJack itself. Throughout the episodes we can see BoJack becoming more absorbed by the role, culminating in a trippy, drug-induced episode where the fictional TV show and BoJack’s reality blur together. The subplots are more lighthearted, one featuring a sex robot CEO who’s running gag is blurting out stilted ‘erotic’ phrases. Another introduces Mr. Peanutbutter’s new girlfriend, Pickles, a character who’s Todd-like charm and naivety provides some much needed relief amongst the otherwise angst-ridden cast of characters.
That being said, it’s the combination of emotional vulnerability and humour that makes BoJack so absorbing. The show’s artfulness lies in finding punchlines during even the most serious of moments, balancing the light and the dark. The season’s sixth episode, Free Churro, does this perfectly. During an episode-long running eulogy at his mother’s funeral, BoJack alternates between thoughtful reflection, resentment towards his mother’s lifelong abuse, and a self-effacing shtick where he turns to his mother’s coffin with lines like, “Knock once if you’re proud of me, Ma.” The episode is BoJack at it’s best, playing with episodic structure and weaving comedy, misery and existentialism into a complex emotional portrait.