Bojack Horseman Season 4 is as bleakly funny as ever
Is there another show on television quite like Bojack Horseman? An existential, painfully funny, dark animation about a washed-up sitcom actor who ruins the life of everyone he meets (and happens to an anthropomorphic talking horse), Ralphael Bob-Waksberg’s black comedy has been one of the best shows on television for a while now. Unafraid of scathing political satire, gut-punching drama, or endless animal puns, Bojack Horseman makes audiences laugh and cry hysterically (often at the same time), and its latest season is no exception. It’s possibly the darkest season yet, but it might also be the most heartfelt.
After three years following the titular character’s downward spiral into drink, drugs, and depression, Bojack Horseman’s latest season feels like a conscious attempt to allow the supporting cast into the spotlight. Opening with Bojack missing and life in Hollywoo going on, Season 4 gives every character a major arc; Mr. Peanutbutter is running for governor to Diane’s disapproval, Todd is dealing with his newly-discovered asexuality, and Princess Carolyn is desperate for a baby before it’s too late. Each of these characters originally started as one note jokes or clichés, so it’s a testament to the writing team that four seasons in, any one of them could comfortably headline their own episode.
However, most people watch Bojack Horseman to see the titular character, and his story arc feels both more hopeful and more devastating than ever before. Though still voiced to world-weary perfection by Will Arnett, the Bojack of season 4 feels different. Still reeling from the death of Sara Lynn, Bojack may be as angry and self-loathing as ever, but there’s a notable theme of recognising your own mistakes and trying to correct them (mostly unsuccessfully). Finding out he might be the father of sparky teenager Hollyhock, Bojack attempts to step up and help her find her birth mother, with mostly poor results. Though seeing Bojack delibaretly damage the lives of his friends is hard enough, watching him try to be helpful and still messing up is even worse. The question of why Bojack Horseman would be such a terrible parent repeatedly comes up, and it becomes clear once Bojack confronts his elderly, dementia-ridden mother Beatrice.
In the show’s most upsetting story to date, Bojack agrees to take Beatrice in after she has a breakdown at her nursing home. While we’ve seen plenty of Beatrice being a monster in flashbacks, it’s still sad to see her barely aware of her surroundings, tormented by her vengeful son. Extended flashbacks throughout season 4 reveal her origins; her brother Crackerjack was killed in World War 2, her mother lost her mind with grief, and her father sent her mother for a lobotomy. It’s a terrifyingly cold twist to Beatrice’s story, and goes some way to explaining her callous behaviour towards her son and her potential granddaughter Hollyhock. It also leads us to the best episode of Bojack Horseman to date; ‘Time’s Arrow’, which focuses entirely on Beatrice’s life and relationship with Bojack. A disturbing, bewildering, hypnotic masterpiece, it shows the effects of losing one’s mind and the troubling past that led Beatrice to where she is today, as well as turning what we know about one character entirely upside down.
If it isn’t quite as funny or as poignant as previous seasons, Bojack Horseman season 4 certainly feels the most confident. Every character is fleshed out and sympathetic, every story wonderfully mixes genuine drama with big laughs, and the writers still know how to write crushing drama (Bojack-narrated episode ‘Stupid Piece of Shit’) and silly, over-the-top gags (‘Underground’, in which Jessica Biel becomes a cannibal and Zack Braff gets sacrificed). The Beatrice story arc is as emotionally draining as ever, but for the first time in the history of the show, you might leave the final episode feeling somewhat hopeful for Bojack Horseman and his friends.
By Harry J. Ford
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