Bojack Horseman isn’t the easiest show to recommend to people. After all, we’re talking about an animated dramedy that follows a talking horse (Will Arnett in the performance of his career) who used to be on a Full House-esque sitcom and is now struggling to move past his former glory and find happiness. You could go on for hours about how clever and funny and relentlessly brilliant it is, but, ultimately, gags such as ‘Fall Out Koi’ and Matthew Fox voicing himself as an actual fox still drench every episode.
Yet it is a show that everyone should watch, and not just because of the comedy. When Bojack Horseman first appeared on Netflix critics were fairly dismissive, with many saying it paled in comparison to other animated comedies (and they had a point). Somewhere in the middle of its first season, however, the show found its footing. Not only is it now a dark satire on Hollywood and celebrity culture, but it’s also a tear-inducing philosophical reflection on inner demons, addiction, toxic relationships and mental health issues. Don’t worry, though; the puns still remain.
Loneliness and a need for love and validation have always been at the core of Bojack’s actions and season three pretty much pushes this into overdrive. After getting his dream role as Secretariat he’s now campaigning for an Oscar – something he believes will finally bring him happiness and reverence in the eyes of his peers. He’s also really trying to improve upon himself. He makes a deliberate effort to apologise after insulting someone, for example, and also attempts to make connections and amends with the people in his life, be it his new campaign manager Ana Spanakopita (Angela Bassett) or his former Secretariat director Kelsey (Maria Bamford), the latter of which is shown through a breathtaking silent episode that takes place almost entirely underwater.
The show’s secondary characters are done just as much emotional justice. While Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) struggles with running her own agency as well as her longstanding ache of wanting a family, we’re given a bottle episode near the season’s end that gives more insight into her heavy relationship with Bojack. Todd (Aaron Paul) is still living on Bojack’s couch and coming up with endless business ideas that lead to nowhere, yet the development he’s given is subtle, surprising, and also kind of beautiful. Diane and Mr Peanutbutter (Alison Brie and Paul F. Tompkins, respectively), meanwhile, are now working to repair their fragile marriage – a marriage which is given an astonishing amount of emotional maturity given that, you know, Mr Peanutbutter is literally an anthropomorphic labrador.
Visually the show is a feast of humour and colour; perhaps that’s why much of its storytelling is so bleak. The shock-factor foreshadowing, for example, can venture into the Breaking Bad territory of good, and with this season Bojack‘s found itself to be just as grim (or about as grim a show about an animated talking horse can get). Sure, the dialogue has always been impressively frank since the beginning, but these episodes are simply one gut punch after another to the point where you’re genuinely grateful when it retreats back to its inane silliness. Case in point: there’s a slow-burning subplot involving pasta strainers and Margo Martindale. The punchline isn’t until episode twelve, but it culminates in one of the most bafflingly enjoyable pay-offs you’ll ever see on television.
It’s no coincidence that one of the first moments we ever saw of Bojack was him defending his old sitcom, rationalising its dire hamminess with the basis that “sometimes when you get home from a long day of getting kicked in the urethra, you just want to watch a show about good, likable people who love each other, where no matter what happens, at the end of thirty minutes, everything’s gonna turn out okay”. That escapist rationale is evident here more than ever. Yes, there’s growth – Bojack is trying desperately to get better – but, as the last few episodes prove, sometimes that’s not enough. It’s a depressing cycle and the harshness of it all can get exhausting, for those around him as much as us. Then again, that’s addiction.
Words by Samantha King