The fourth season of the Netflix’s critically acclaimed comedy, “BoJack Horseman,” is most captivating not in how the characters grow, but in how they shrink. For every step forward, there always seems to be a couple of steps back. Like in real life, the characters of “BoJack” have no easy solutions to their problems, and watching their worries multiply is the basis of the show’s drama.
The primary story thread centers on BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), an alcoholic horse-man who lives in Los Angeles. He achieved fame and fortune after starring in a 90’s sitcom, but has since started falling into obscurity. While he is living in the lap of luxury, he is also a self-destructive, self-loathing bundle of insecurity whose only fleeting moments of comfort often involve dragging the people in his life down with him. For context, in the prior season BoJack almost had sex with a teenage girl who was the daughter of a love interest from his past. It was a gross and morally questionable moment in Horseman’s life, but it also spoke volumes about his damaging addiction to nostalgia and longing for a time before he became washed-up.
Where season four really shines is not in what it does differently from prior seasons, but how it continues to follow the trials and tribulations of its characters to inevitable conclusions. The characters don’t always rise to meet the challenges ahead of them, rather, their roads to happiness are constantly cluttered with internal and external emotional obstacles.
Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) finds a new purpose as he runs for governor of California, but ends up putting strain on his relationship with his wife Diane in the process. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), a Hollywoo agent and cat, is getting married to a mouse despite his family having a culturally ingrained bias against felines. Todd comes out as being asexual. BoJack responds with “sometimes I wish I was asexual, maybe then I wouldn’t have ‘a-strand’ of herpes.”
The show is constantly evolving from episode to episode, and the dynamic between two characters can turn on its head at any moment. This is something that even acclaimed live-action series have a difficult time pulling off, so when a cartoon about talking animals executes it so effortlessly, it is quite astounding.
Where “BoJack” has always been the weakest and continues to be is in its attempts at absurdist comedy. Scenes dedicated to Todd’s shenanigans involving drones, celebrity dating and a dentistry business are all low points of this season. Constant references to Hollywood film and television culture are sprinkled throughout every episode, but frequently feel at odds with the more serious tone of the heavy character drama. A story arc that turns into a “Lord of the Flies”- style fight for survival is nowhere as riveting as BoJack dealing with his mother’s dementia.
It is difficult to say where this season measures up next to the quality of the previous years. Each season has built on the themes and events of the last, meaning it grows in terms of complexity, even though the writing and direction has been remarkably consistent. However, for new viewers, an understanding of where the characters have been before season four is necessary to fully appreciate this new slate of episodes.
“BoJack” is willing to discuss and dissect parts of the human experience that are often left out of mainstream media, both live-action and animated. Not only does it do this well, it does it better than any other animated program currently on television.
Other shows should take note from the guy with the horse head and the humanoid body. Imperfect characters are what sells drama, even if said characters are anthropomorphic animals with silly names. Watching these people make poor life decisions, only to pick themselves back up again, is the heart of “BoJack.” It always feels human, even when it doesn’t land every joke.