BoJack Horseman continues humourous take on dark topics

October 6, 2017
Season 4 of 'Bojack Horseman' deals with depression, dementia and mental illness.

BoJack Horseman Season 4
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Starring Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris & Alison Brie
Now on Netflix

The award-winning Netflix animated black comedy show BoJack Horseman follows the misadventures of BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett), an anthromorphic horse and washed-up former TV star trying to remain relevant in Hollywoo (formerly Hollywood, until the “D” on the famous sign gets stolen).

In the first three seasons, we follow BoJack and his friends as his self-destructive antics put tremendous strain on his relationships.

Season 4 starts after the failure of his film "Secretariat", to secure an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, with BoJack, having left Hollywoo in response, nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile Mr Peanutbutter (Paul Tompkins) is running for California governor in a campaign managed by his ex-wife Katrina Peanutbutter (Lake Bell), who is revealed as being employed by lobbyists on behalf of the private prison industry.

The campaign raises tensions with Diane (Alison Brie), Mr Peanutbutter's current wife who is now working for a feminist blog called GirlCroosh, especially after Mr Peanutbutter comes out in support of fracking.

“Time’s arrow neither stands still nor reverses,” say BoJack’s mother Beatrice Sugarman. Beatrice, an heiress to the Sugarman fortune and her husband Butterscotch (also played by Arnett) live in a toxic marriage that has led Beatrice to be emotionally abusive towards BoJack.

In the season’s second episode, “The Old Sugarman Place”, we finally see Bojack start to get a glimpse of Beatrice’s life, enabling us to feel some empathy towards her. In an episode where past and present meld together, we find out that Beatrice’s mother Honey (Jane Krakowski) suffered from PTSD after it was revealed her son Cracker-Jack was killed in World War II. In response, her husband Joseph (Mathew Broderick), head of the Sugarman corporation, has her lobotomised.

In the penultimate episode, “Times Arrow”, we get a further glimpse into Beatrice’s traumatic past, suffering her father’s emotional abuse. At her debutant ball in 1963, he planned to marry her off to the heir of the Creamerman fortune in a business alliance. However, Beatrice finds herself attracted to Butterscotch, then an aspiring beatnik writer.

Pregnant with BoJack, Beatrice moves with Butterscotch to San Francisco to get married. A year later, though, it is clear their marriage has started to sour, only to grow evermore toxic.

The disjointed feeling of this episode, with Beatrice suffering from dementia, is shown the way it flashes between past and present. One of my favourite quotes in this episode is when a young, socially conscious Beatrice says in response to the murder a civil rights activist “at least no one else will be assassinated this year, 1963.”.

When BoJack returns to Hollywoo, he meets a 17-year girl, Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla) who may be his biological daughter. Through their relationship, we see Bojack try harder to become a better person (as much as a horse can be).

Meanwhile, we also see the further development of Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), who has now come out as one of the first openly asexual characters on TV. This helps him develop as a character whose life is more than just a series of random misadventures, although we still see a few misadventures such as teaming up with Mr Peanutbutter to run a clown dentist venture.

Standalone episode “Ruthie” can be considered one of the best episodes of season 4. It features one of Princess Caroline’s (Amy Sedaris) future descendants, Ruthie (Kristen Bell) making a presentation to her class in the year 2121 about the worst day in the life of Pricess Caroline as her personal and professional life collapse around her.

Season 4 of Bojack Horseman balances many great comedic moments while dealing with serious issues such as depression, dementia, mental illness, gun control, fracking, and media and corporate control of elections.

It is this approach that has won the show several awards, such as the 2017 Annecy International Animated Film Festival Special Distinction for a TV Series, the 2017 Writers Guild of America Awards for best Television Animation and the Gold Derby Awards Best Animated Program.

Although still heavy, season 4 is nowhere near as dark as season 3 and offers us hope for the redemption of the titular character. It is for these reasons that I greatly enjoyed season 4 and am glad to hear it has been renewed for a deserved fifth season.

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