As sharp as ever, Bojack Horseman continues to put viewers through an emotional rollercoaster that has us crying with laughter in one moment to simply crying the next.
There is an episode about midway through Bojack Horseman Season 5 that actually made me weep; a 26-minute tour de force where the camera barely moves from the talking horse giving a eulogy at his Mother’s funeral. This is quite some achievement for an animated comedy about a misanthropic horse who gained fame starring in a 90’s sitcom. Bojack Horseman is much more than simply an animated comedy full of silly puns and sight gags, and over the course of its five seasons has developed into something much deeper and more sensitive which tackles some pretty weighty subjects.
For those of you not initiated, this show could only exist on Netflix, a place where you can make a show that really can’t easily be defined. If you were being lazy you would plonk it into the “animated comedy aimed at adults” bracket that includes Family Guy and Rick and Morty (all shows I am a fan of, by the way) but that would only do half a job at explaining what this series is all about. BoJack Horseman is an animated comedy aimed at adults that aims to address very complex themes. The show combines surrealist humour along with an exploration of the titular character’s descent into depression and drug dependency. The fact it manages to do all this as well as creating well-rounded characters whose arcs you care about and simultaneously be a satire on Hollywood deserves more attention than this show is getting.
BoJack Horseman Season 5 picks up more or less where the last one ended. BoJack (voiced by the outstanding Will Arnett) is now appearing in a procedural cop drama produced by his agent, the cat Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris). As the series progresses BoJack injures himself whilst taking part in a stunt on set and predictably develops an addiction to prescription medicine. His actions under the influence become progressively more erratic as he embraces his newfound critical success and avoids dealing with the very real and painful events of the last couple of series’. This behaviour eventually escalates to a shocking climax.
Over the course of the 12-episode series, there are subplots and running jokes, winks to the camera, and the usual jibes at celebrity culture. The voice cast is as strong as ever and in addition to Arnett and Sedaris includes Paul F. Tompkins, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Patton Oswalt and Rami Malek. Each of the main characters gets an arc and range and depth and the writing is as sharp as usual.
The prevailing theme of BoJack Horseman Season 5 appears to be personal responsibility; we are given plenty of examples in the series where high-profile, powerful male characters are allowed to do terrible things again and again and never have to take responsibility for their actions because of who they are. If you want to change you have to take responsibility for yourself, because in celebrity culture no-one else will hold you to account for long.
Over the last five series’, we have seen plenty of glimmers that BoJack wants to change his ways, become a better person and overcome his demons. What is remarkable is that for a sitcom (albeit one that knowingly pokes fun at so many sitcom tropes) BoJack Horseman never guarantees that we will get such a satisfying resolution. Towards the end of the series BoJack says to his long-suffering friend Diane, “What if I get sober and I’m still the same awful person I’ve always been, only more sober?” A lesser show would give us an easy answer to this question but Diane’s response speaks to just how smart this one is: “I think that is a distinct possibility”.