'BoJack Horseman': Season 3
5 (out of 5) Globes
Fair warning: This piece contains vague-ish spoilers and is intended to be read by people who plowed through the new season in one miserable binge session.
In the third season of “BoJack Horseman,” it’s not funny anymore. By “it,” we don’t mean the show. It’s as loopy and gonzo as ever. The continuing adventures of a depressed, alcoholic, anthropomorphized talking horse (voice of Will Arnett) include an entire episode underwater, a live (but “tasteful”) abortion TV special, a Ryan Murphy show about Harriet Tubman and a whale-staffed strip club for the whole family. Wordplay and dumb puns still abound, including a bat mitzvah for a bat, a cab company called “Cabracadabra” and Colin Firth in the film “First Things Firth.” There’s mention of a poem about Lena Horne’s nipples and Character Actress Margo Martindale returns, this time with a bazooka.
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What’s not funny is BoJack himself — or, to be more specific, his problems. In the first two seasons we watched as he grappled with his epic First World Problems. A serious actor who spent ten years on a cheesy ’80s/’90s family sitcom, he’s spent the proceeding two decades in washed-up mode, comforted only by his endless wealth and his yen for booze and drugs. He had high hills and deep valleys. He fell in love with his ghost writer, sarcastic-sad human Diane (Alison Brie), only to watch as she married his boneheaded canine frenemy Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). He scored his dream role, playing racer Secretariat, only for it to suffer through a turbulent production. In the new season, the film is a hit, and there’s serious Oscars talk (along with talk of the 48 other awards ceremonies in this alternative universe hellscape). But if you know “BoJack Horseman,” you know that won’t go well either.
And how. By now the show has hit a groove: the first half will be deceptively light and silly, with notes of sadness that will take over in the final stretch. The penultimate episode will get darker than it ever has. Sure enough, the 11th episode — another madcap drinks-and-drugs binge a la the Season 1 peak “Downer Ending” — is the most stiff-drink-causing episode yet. But the whole season is in an even more morose mood than usual. BoJack has let his melancholy and self-destruction ruin himself and, more importantly, others too many times. The show has run long enough that his feel-bad buddies — agent/cat Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris) and roommate/human Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) — have more or less finally gotten their shit together. As such, they’ve officially grown tired of his vicious circle, which goes like this: period of brooding, possibility of success, ego tripping, bitter fall-out, substance abuse jag, burned bridges, period of brooding, repeat.
“BoJack Horseman” is both the funniest and saddest show on television right now, or whatever we call serialized narratives uploaded to a streaming service in one fell swoop. It’s a precarious balance the show gets just right. The jokes fly fast — so fast we might periodically forget about how insightful it is about depression and self-destruction. That’s by design. Even this season’s deepest valley, “That’s Too Much, Man!”, is a hoot. As BoJack coaxes now sober Lohan-esque child star Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) into an epic and, this time, fatal bender, their blackouts are punctuated with the funniest narrative leaps since the “Futurama” episode “Time Keeps on Slippin’.” But the laughs stick in one’s throat. We know that our out-of-control anti-hero is ruining everything that wasn’t already ruined. The show wants us to laugh so we don’t think of the consequences, just as BoJack himself is a pro at convincing himself that if he feels bad about doing something terrible that makes it OK to do something terrible. He’s the kind of person/horse who constantly says he’s sorry and never gets any better.
This is the season where BoJack is finally called out on that line of BS. His only solution is to disappear — to go off to some far-flung nowhere and feel bad about himself. Though “BoJack Horseman” started as another goofy L.A. satire about the rich and famous, it evolved, fairly quickly, into a stark and brutally honest dissection of self-loathing. Deep down BoJack likes to feel bad about himself because that’s easier than self-improvement. At the same time, any time he tries to improve himself he fails — or, in the case of his Oscar race in this season, thinks he failed more than he really did.
It’s a bleak show because it recognizes that the world does not revolve around any of us. Even if we want to be happy or successful or both, there are always forces outside our control that will defeat us. And sometimes the force outside our control is our own deeply-seated nature. It’s typical of the show’s stark worldview that the final moment of the season’s final episode can be read two ways: Upon seeing that his “Secretariat” movie has inspired legions of horses to take up racing, he could either feel like he did something truly good for the betterment of society — or he could let that go to his head. As Blur once said, no matter how low there's always somewhere to go.
All that said, we feel compelled to point out this show is super funny, too — un-Jessica Biel-ievably funny!
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge