The first season of the Netflix toon “BoJack Horseman” — following a sentient, and therefore perhaps inevitably self-loathing, alkie horse (voice of Will Arnett) — was a slow burn. It started off in the “Family Guy” vein (though far funnier/wittier/cleverer), with familiar potshots at Hollywood as well as copious animal-related sight gags. Then it got weirder. Then it got sadder. Then it got sadder still. But still funny! And also weirder still! By the end its 12 episodes had become a six-hour plunge into despair, not just dark but frank, with the kind of tough love insights that make one want to grab one of the stiff drinks its antihero regularly pours down his long neck. (It’s worth noting that, upon multiple revisits, the anguish is there from the get-go. It just isn’t obvious on first spin.)
The second season begins with the show’s true, miserable-funny identity already established, except for one thing: our lead is no longer so miserable. The washed-up has-been star of one of those cheesy ’80s family sitcoms, BoJack spent the first season attempting a comeback via a memoir, which, thanks to ghost writer/love interest/human Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), turned into a partly loving expose rather than a fawning paean. He wound up with success anyway, and his dream gig: playing famous equine Secretariat, who had been repurposed as a tragic figure in the Pete Rose vein, only with a far more despairing end.
When the second season starts, BoJack is in higher spirits — vertiginously higher spirits. Instead of booze and the previous night’s dinner, he’s vomiting up Successories phrases and spoken IRL hashtags. He’s even matching obliviously happy rival/dog Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) pep for pep. The crunchy vibes can’t last, but the new 12 episodes aren’t a plummet but rather hills and valleys. Good things do happen to him: He slightly sobers up, he gets a girlfriend — a TV exec/owl (Lisa Kudrow), fresh out of a 30-year coma — and stops pestering on-again-off-again f— buddy/agent/cat Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris).
He also realizes that a decade-plus of bland sitcom work may have destroyed his serious acting chops, relentlessly questions and sabotages his new, healthy relationship and still pines for The One That Got Away: a fawn from his past, voiced by Olivia Wilde, who was last seen in a drug-fueled fantasy that proved to be the last season’s most idyllic and gut-wrenching passage.