The first half of “BoJack Horseman’s” final season premiered on Netflix this past week. The episodes are sincere, funny and surprisingly hopeful.
“BoJack Horseman” is an animated show created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, which follows BoJack Horseman, an aging man/horse actor, and the wacky (read: sad) cast of characters that fall in and out of his orbit. “BoJack Horseman’s” clearest rumination is on mental health, but the show is also keen to comment on sexuality, love, adulthood, disillusionment, family, friendship, politics and power, among other themes. The series largely deals with BoJack’s attempt to come to terms with his current life and grow beyond his stagnation and expands to create a deep network of richly defined characters. Many adventures and heartfelt emotions fill every minute of this groundbreaking and innovative piece of art. An average cartoon this is not.
The new season builds on recurring themes but feels like it is moving forward. It spends time getting to the root of these characters, finally “understanding” as much as there is to understand. It is also simply beautiful, the animation as strong as ever. As the season veers towards another dark time, it feels even more important to appreciate the first half for what it gives us: a brief respite.
“BoJack Horseman” presents a particularly realistic portrayal of growth—the cycle of two steps forward, and one, two, or sometimes even three steps back. The show never lets BoJack—nor the viewer—off the hook. Every time we want to brand him as a simple anti-hero, we quickly realize that “BoJack Horseman” makes that impossible. Instead, the show forces us to reckon with the harm BoJack has done and the weight of his individual decisions, not redeemable through his relatable sarcasm (itself a front to hide his deep well of pain and sadness).
But BoJack Horseman isn’t the only character on “BoJack Horseman,” and the other characters are another important aspect of a secret ensemble program. Returning voice actors Will Arnett (BoJack), Amy Sedaris (Princess Carolyn), Alison Brie (Diane), Aaron Paul (Todd) and Paul F. Tompkins (Mr. Peanutbutter) turn in compelling performances, imbibing their 2D animated figures with surprising humanity.
Upon rewatching, I realized that the sadness and struggle represented in “BoJack” faded—in my memory—behind the hilarity that often ensues, the lovable one-liners fired off by my favorite characters. I also forgot how, if consumed too quickly, I can begin to feel the same depression that permeates much of the show (pace yourself, fellow depressives).
This season, though, gets to the heart of that hope. No, BoJack isn’t a “good” person. Many people aren’t. And just because many people aren’t “good,” that doesn’t excuse their bad decisions. But that doesn’t mean they can’t ever change. But they, and we, do have to want to. This idea also leaves us with a question that has somehow become increasingly clear and complex recently: When you or people in your community do unforgivable things, what comes after? “BoJack Horseman” does not offer easy answers, but its exploration of the false “good” vs “bad” binary offers a good place to start.
“BoJack Horseman” is definitely one of the best shows I have ever seen—sardonic, insightful, tragicomic and even magical—and my excitement for the next half of the season is neutralized only by my sadness at the show’s end. Aptly, that mix is the perfect description of the feelings that “BoJack” provokes.
(P.S. If you like “BoJack Horseman” and don’t yet know about “Tuca and Bertie,” Lisa Hanawalt’s unfairly cancelled combination of “BoJack” and “Broad City,” I highly recommend checking it out. “Tuca and Bertie” feels like the exact media our world needs right now, following two incredible women (well, birds) as they navigate their lives and friendship. Hey, if “Fleabag” could come back after three years, who is to say “Tuca and Bertie” can’t have its own resurgence?)