Back in 2014, Netflix premiered a very bizarre TV show: BoJack Horseman. Despite a mixed response to the early part of the first season, the show quickly won over many of the detractors who made it through to the season finale. What started out seeming like a goofy show set in an over-the-top Hollywood setting populated by anthropomorphic animals quickly revealed itself to be an incisive look at the depression suffered by its main character.
It was a surprising turn, and one that made BoJack (Will Arnett) one of the most fascinating characters on TV. The second season furthered that exploration, making for an even better season that had a solid handle on both the lead character and the supporting cast, as well as what made them all tick. Season three’s task, then, was to continue pushing the characters to new places and furthering the messed-up ties between them. I’m happy to say the show succeeded; BoJack Horseman gave us its strongest season yet this year, mining great material from its broken characters and delivering plenty of great laughs and storylines.
Season three picks up with BoJack ready to campaign for an Oscar following the release of Secretariat. Despite his personal frustrations with how production went – changes to the script, Kelsey’s firing – and the fact that his entire performance was computer generated, BoJack is willing to do whatever it takes to finally take home that little gold statue. From the outside, it seems like business as usual in the Hollywood system, but after two seasons following this character, it’s clear he’s seeking that validation in an attempt to fill the void he has inside of him.
The problem, as multiple characters tell BoJack throughout the season, is that an Oscar isn’t going to be enough to fix him. He only ever half-admits to his depression and feelings of inadequacy, instead choosing to lash out at those closest to him because he can’t stand how well they know him; he’d rather live in denial, surrounded by the adulation he once had on Horsin’ Around.
What this season does right for the character, however, is deny him any form of happiness or escape in the end. Whereas the first two seasons concluded with BoJack hopeful that Secretariat would bring him out of his depression, season doesn’t give him that out. He’s pushed away all of his friends, people he’s abused or mistreated time and again, and he’s left with nothing. Watching BoJack fall to rock bottom was rough, but hopefully can be the start to some form of genuine recovery in season four.
What inspires that hope is that BoJack ends the season fully removed from Hollywoo, which has shown time and again what a depressing, destructive place it is. That force has extended to the other characters several times throughout the series, but it felt particularly large and looming this year. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) was able to open her own agency, but success alluded her in spite of all the lows she was willing to sink to. Diane (Alison Brie), meanwhile, also struggled with her own sense of self. She’s always wanted to believe she’s a righteous person, but this season saw her compromising her values in her social media management job.
Even the show’s most carefree pair of characters, Todd (Aaron Paul) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) were put through the wringer. For Mr. Peanutbutter, this meant learning that his brother Captain Peanutbutter might die, which put him in a bit of an existential crisis towards the end of the season. Todd, meanwhile, reconnected with an old flame, only for BoJack, in one of his self-destructive moods, to sleep with her and drive them apart. This led to a tragic breakdown of the friendship between the two, with Todd expressing a desire to no longer forgive BoJack if he refuses to change.
It’s impossible to discuss every part of the show’s story in this short review, but one last narrative element worth mentioning was the marriage between Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter. A lot of season two suggested that these two were doomed to fail. However, for all her other shortcomings, Diane truly seems invested in making things work. They’re constantly struggling, but at the end of the day, they’re happy to have each other, and that was one of the few constants in an otherwise chaotic season.
I’ve talked a lot about the main characters and their struggles, but the show wouldn’t be half of what it is if not for the strength of its comedy, and this season delivered some of the best humor yet. From the insanity of Sextina Aquafina’s pro-life anthem “Get Dat Fetus Kill Dat Fetus” to the insane excess of era-defining pop culture references in the 2007-set flashback episode, this season was all about taking its comic beats to insane extremes. What other show would fill a character’s mansion with spaghetti strainers all season – and constantly comment on their odd presence – for such a ridiculous payoff (that I dare not spoil here)?
Perhaps the best argument for the strength of this season of BoJack Horseman is how much it was able to accomplish while barely saying a word. In the fourth episode, “Fish Out of Water,” BoJack travels underwater to Pacific Ocean City in order to promote his movie. Unable to speak from within his breathing bubble, BoJack proceeds on a wordless adventure at the bottom of the sea. What follows is an astonishing half-hour, one that features tons of physical comedy, amazing visuals, and a surprising amount of heart.
The highlight, though, is the way this episode offers some of the most devastating illustrations of what a broken character BoJack is, both in terms of his depression and how he fails the people around him. It’s an episode all about making literal BoJack’s inability to communicate with those around him. It captures not only one of the themes of this season, but the entire show, and it helps cement BoJack Horseman as one of the best animated series currently on TV.
Final Score: 9 out of 10