The announcement of BoJack Horseman’s season six premiere was a joy swiftly undercut by the news that it would be the final season. It was the sort of bad news most Netflix subscribers have learned to brace themselves for in recent months, with Netflix swinging its cancellation axe in an ever-widening spiral against its original series—most egregiously claiming BoJack’s magnificent sister show Tuca & Bertie after one season. And with reports that the decision was made by Netflix and not the creative team, it’s the sort of news that could send any fan of the show on a depressed BoJack-style bender.
But much like BoJack Horseman’s troubled path to find some manner of redemption and hope in his life—and BoJack Horseman’s commitment to mixing the roughest emotional journeys with some of the silliest gags ever animated—there are a few bright sides to the misery. On a narrative level, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Lisa Hanawalt and company got plenty of advance notice to finish their story, an opportunity denied to a few of their stablemates. And on a practical level, it means that viewers get a few extra helpings of the series, adding four more episodes to engage and abuse our various emotions.
The other one is a more bitter pill to swallow, but BoJack Horseman is all about bringing you to unfortunate truths, and the truth here is that there should be an ending to this story sooner rather than later. The journey of BoJack Horseman and those in his orbit isn’t one that’s designed to drag on forever, continually asking the question of how low they can take their main character and skirting the point of no return each year. If it keeps happening over and over it turns into misery porn, and if it stops happening then it takes a large part of the show’s momentum with it. Even if it’s not a happy ending—a possibility I’ve asked about time and time again and at this point given up on—there should be an ending, a sense that this journey of self-loathing and self-discovery came to a conclusion.
The form that conclusion will take is still to be determined, but “A Horse Walks Into Rehab” is an encouraging start to it. BoJack ended “The Stopped Show” with an acknowledgment that something had to change, that he couldn’t be this person anymore and poison those around him. As season six opens, the impression is that he’s not going to back down from this decision, but the efforts to realize it will be harder than he’s willing to admit.
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“A Horse Walks Into A Rehab” is a clever opener because it manages to have it both ways from the last few minutes of the finale. As BoJack walked into rehab it seemed like the writers could go one of two ways, either picking up with BoJack the day he got out and seeing how the world moved on, or dragging him through every one of those twelve steps. Writer Elijah Aron chooses to cover both, starting the action immediately after the finale and then gifting us with a rehab montage as BoJack fails and subsequently overcomes the various therapies of Pastiches. It’s encouraging to witness BoJack come back from his lowest points, and also makes sense given what we’ve seen at times like “Brand New Couch.” When he needs to do the work and has adequate motivation—here in seeing a picture of Sarah-Lynn on the Pastiches board—he’s able to do it.
Unfortunately, we’ve also seen that the work BoJack’s most willing to do is surface level, and as strenuous as oxypretsilcortizoid withdrawal and Metaphor Mountain are, they fall into that category. BoJack’s still stepping away from the work of cracking his jagged psyche, refusing to acknowledge the possibility that his addictions may have sources beyond being just addictions, and sidestepping every one of Dr. Champ’s more pointed questions. His subsequent blowup where he tears into fellow rehabbers and their backsliding is painful to witness and also completely expected. BoJack’s default reaction when he’s cornered is to deflect, and when humor doesn’t work—or when someone pushes back even harder—he switches to getting nasty. It’s an ugliness the audience needs to be reminded of early, reinforcing how deep a hole was dug over five seasons.
His comments to fellow rehab patient Jameson and subsequent attempts to fix things by giving her the Pastiches gate code—the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage—spurs his first venture into the outside world in six weeks. If there’s such a thing as a default plot for BoJack Horseman, “going on an adventure through Hollywoo” is probably the closest we get. BoJack and Jameson’s journey is in keeping with the searches for Hollyhock’s mother, Cuddlywhiskers, or a safe place for Becca, the same comfortable beats of bouncing from location to location and desperately trying to get out of trouble. And each one has its charms, be it the nightmare-inducing makeout session of Mikayla literally eating Dathan’s face or playing “spot the memorabilia” in Jameson’s father’s home.
The rehab and rehab-adjacent adventures means that the action is limited to BoJack, but thankfully Aron does find an excuse to plug in the rest of the cast in the episode’s most broadly comic beats. After Jameson takes off BoJack needs to find her address, triggering a game of telephone when he calls Diane, who then calls Todd, who then gets called by Princess Carolyn, who then gets called by Mr. Peanutbutter. While tantalizingly spare on details for the main cast—Diane’s at a hotel with knife fights/reconciliations outside, Todd’s running back-alley errands for Princess Carolyn’s newborn—the call’s dynamic is a welcome return to form. Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter offer all the latest caper details, Princess Carolyn prompts them forward, and BoJack and Diane grow increasingly frustrated/sleepy with the lack of progress, Plus, the latest effort to drive Amy Sedaris mad in the recording booth:
“Wait. You’re telling me your dumb drone downed a tower and drowned ‘Downtown’ Julie Brown’s dummy drumming ‘Dun dun dun dunnnnn,’ dousing her newly found goose down hand-me-down gown?”
“Yes, that is exactly right.”
Despite that break, the biggest moments of “A Horse Walks Into A Rehab” still belong to BoJack, as without intoxicants in his system repressed memories are starting to bubble up. Or rather, burn through, as the film reel of BoJack’s life starts to burn and fray—a transition device perfect for a character whose connection between reality and television severed in a decisive fashion last year. Some are familiar to viewers, be it early Horsin’ Around BoJack who needs vodka for an on-screen kiss, or child BoJack walking in on his passed out parents and trying to join their stupor. And we get to see other shades of young BoJack’s life that haven’t come out before, an awkward college kid whose drinking turns house parties into a roast, or an adolescent who delivers a burned dinner to his father and walks in on his father’s office affair. The latter memories are the most interesting, great to see that even now there’s parts of BoJack’s life yet to be tapped.
All these memories form a thread into BoJack’s substance abuse, clear to the audience even if it isn’t yet to him. Throughout his life, alcohol became the thing that allowed him to get outside himself, to form connections with other people that his shyness and insecurity kept him from achieving. Drink and you’ll be loose enough to connect with the audience. Drink and your college friends will like you. Drink and you’ll actually be able to bond with your father. Drink and you’ll feel safe with your parents, maybe for the first time ever. Yet it also made him worse and worse, pushing away a classmate who seemed to like him as he was and becoming the BoJack who’d become a regular on the Hollywoo tabloids front page. If Homer Simpson once said facetiously that alcohol was the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, BoJack Horseman lived that truth.
All these assocations are painful ones, but there’s now something else to go along with it. Twice in “A Horse Walks Into A Rehab” BoJack’s confronted with the opportunity to drink, and when he sees it, all he sees now are the stars from the planetarium where Sarah-Lynn died. The biggest reveal of the premiere comes in the cold open, as we see the denouement of “That’s Too Much, Man!” and learn that BoJack lied about ever being part of it. He walked away from responsibility, promised to change “starting now,” and then backslid even faster than Barry Berkman. Even in that darkest moment, when connection via intoxication led to the death of his surrogate daughter, he crawled back into the bottle.
Now though? Now, he repeats the first minutes of the episode, signs up for another six-week stay, and even lets the groundhog receptionist put his picture on the wall of humble snapshots. BoJack Horseman has always been a world of stepping forward and stepping right back, but in “A Horse Walks Into A Rehab,” BoJack responds by taking a second step forward. We’ll have to see if this one sticks any better than the first.
- Welcome back to The A.V. Club’s coverage of BoJack Horseman’s sixth season! We’re going to ride this steed all the way to the finish line, with coverage of all eight episodes dropping over the weekend. Keep up with our reviews here, and please be considerate of the non-bingers and save your discussions/reactions of future episode events for those particular reviews.
- Achievement In Voice Acting: Kiersey Clemons of Transparent and Hearts Beat Loud leaves an impression as Jameson, energetic and enraged as she grapples with her feelings about her father, her boyfriend, and her sister/daughter. And her flippant acknowledgment of the vodka BoJack takes from her is a terrific cap to this misadventure.
- BoJack’s celebrity casting remains on point, with Cindy Crawford lending her voice to the most obvious pun on her name, and Jeanne Tripplehorn (oh, sorry, her identical twin sister Joanne) joining the ranks of celebrities willing to let the show have fun with their images.
- Also checked into Palisades is Shitshow of Alexi Brosefino’s Snatch Batch, first seen in “Love And Other Drugs.” Looks like his Gush problem became too much to handle.
- BoJack smokes an entire cigarette in one long inhale, a trick he evidently picked up from his mother.
- The reveal that Horsin’ Around makeup lady Sharona spiked BoJack’s OJ only reminds me of the hints from last season he did something to her that belongs in his pantheon of shame. Still waiting for that horseshoe to drop.
- I admit to a deep sigh of relief that when Mr. Peanutbutter joined the call, he wasn’t doing so from the other side of the motel bed with Diane. Even after the finale, that backslide still feels possible for both of them.
- Jameson’s father’s collection includes the cars from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Flintstones, the bat from The Natural, the club from The First Wives Club, the carriage from The Untouchables, posters from Citizen Crane and 2 Cats 2 Curious, the soccer ball from Castaway, the stapler from Office Space, and the window from The Graduate.
- “Just because you clean the tobacco out of your teeth doesn’t make it your wedding day, partner, if you’ll pardon the expression.” “I’m not sure that is an expression.”
- “I blame water for being vodka-colored.”
- “Prior to these events, I’d never hacked a sack in my life.”
- “Hey, give me my phone back. I’m expecting some timely feedback on an important dick pic.”
- “I could send you a swag bag from Felicity Huffman’s Booty Academy, but you should probably wash the thong before wearing it.”
- “I’m getting too old to sneak in and out of places.”
- Today in Hollywoo bottles: