Chickens are coming home to roost in the final season of BoJack Horseman, Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated series that centers an anthropomorphized horse who may be more human—certainly more flawed—than most TV characters. An unrepentant fuck-up for most of the series, BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) seemed finally poised for real, positive change at the end of season five, as he prepared to check into substance abuse rehab with some help from his friend/enabler Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie). You’d be forgiven for thinking that this ending wouldn’t stick, that season six would open not with BoJack undergoing horse, art, and group therapy but with the washed-up, briefly revitalized, now-flailing-again actor attempting to fix his life while in thrall to its patterns. But time’s arrow marches forward in the first eight episodes of season six, toward more revealing truths and, maybe, finally, some consequences for our melancholy protagonist.
What’s immediately striking about season six—aside from the fact that it’s been split in two, with the back half arriving on January 31, 2020—is how subdued it seems compared to its predecessors. Lisa Hanawalt’s inspired designs continue to bring Hollywoo to whimsical life, and eagle-eyed viewers will be rewarded with reliably great visual gags, especially during a mid-half-season jaunt to Chicago. The cast is great across the board, making the approaching end of the show seem all the sadder; Amy Sedaris’ crisp diction as Princess Carolyn is hilarious, when it’s not breaking our hearts, while the bright delivery of Paul F. Tompkins (as Mr. Peanutbutter) and Aaron Paul (as Todd Chavez) once again belies their characters’ dim wits. As BoJack and Diane, Arnett and Brie take turns reminding each other of the good they have within them in performances so soulful that they transcend the two-dimensional medium.
But the tone of the show is more meditative, almost somber at times; after catching up with BoJack in the opener, the spotlight moves to Princess Carolyn and Diane, who have also struggled to define happiness for themselves. Princess Carolyn quickly learns that having it all means doing it all—including throwing a ball to celebrate hypercompetent working mothers like herself—which may for once be too much even for her. Diane’s series of hard-hitting exposés for GirlCroosh allow her to wallow in self-righteousness instead of self-pity, but only for so long. Even the flighty Todd, who always manages to fail upward, has to contend with family matters he’s studiously (for him) avoided.
This may be the weightiest season of BoJack, but introspection has never dulled the show’s humor or sense of fun before, and it doesn’t start now. Princess Carolyn’s multi-tasking ethos gets a stunning visual treatment in episode two, while Diane’s investigative journalism leads to some incisive digs at the merger mania sweeping across industries. Todd’s relationship with his stepfather and his last name is explored with the help of an anesthesia windfall. Episode four doesn’t just catch up with Mr. Peanutbutter and his girlfriend Pickles (voiced by Julia Chan this season), who are trying to figure out if their relationship can withstand his infidelity. It also offers some of the best animated farce, complete with wayward guests, a “sentient” house, and enough instances of inadvertent eye-opening confessions to ruin every seemingly stable relationship on this show. Stephen Root voices a megalomaniacal billionaire, Sleepless In Seattle is merged with King Kong, and media—with its franchise ubiquity, resistance to unionization efforts, and devaluing of everyone except those hidden at the top of shiny skyscrapers—is sent up with typical aplomb.
Despite its oligopolistic new targets, BoJack Horseman’s final season mostly reckons with its central characters and whether they can find some measure of contentment—and, for BoJack, forgiveness. The answers to those questions begin to take shape in these eight episodes, as the last six years catch up with everyone. Some of these trajectories are more complex and rewarding than others; maybe it’s just because we can’t really see where it’s going yet, but the story of Mr. Peanutbutter’s sudden status as the face of depression doesn’t come together as well as Todd’s maturation or Diane’s realization that, no matter how much good her reportage may do, she is still telling someone else’s story to the exclusion of her own.
Facing up to the past is a much thornier prospect for BoJack, whose failings couldn’t be restricted to a single memoir, and whose comeuppance—which is certainly where this appears to be headed—couldn’t be contained to the usual 12-episode season. We get several flashbacks, a few of which take place on the old Horsin’ Around set, but the harm that BoJack has endured and done permeates every aspect of the show. A litany of wrongdoings fills the opening credits, and the projection of the cosmos, which was the last thing that Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) saw before she died of an overdose, pops up in unexpected places. It creates a sense of dread that culminates in the eighth episode, which, despite its homage to screwball comedies and Howard Hawksian women, seems to point to the beginning of the end of BoJack’s rehabilitation.
That potential outcome may be tough to reconcile with the show’s pun-filled, brightly colored aesthetic, but with each season, it feels inevitable. BoJack Horseman has handled the discussion around high-profile abusers, reform, and redemption with great tact and empathy; the only thing surprising is how little other media has managed to do the same. Everything counts on BoJack Horseman—just as a stray remark can yield a great punchline 10 episodes later, opportunities that have been squandered are lost forever. As it enters the final leg, BoJack Horseman takes stock of the good and the bad, and prepares to hand down judgment, proving that it’s braver and funnier than just about anything else on TV.
Reviews by Les Chappell will run daily from October 25 through October 27.