“That’s the thing. I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kind of think all you are is just the things that you do.”
BoJack Horseman could have been content to be a stupid animated series about life in Hollywood. It could have spent its first season throwing barbs at the vapidity of celebrities, mocking them for their paper-thin commitments to real life and the ultra-shallow nature of the news that covered them. It could have leaned on the silliness of its environment, humanoid animals using their animal qualities to perform various humanoid tasks. The joke writing and the animation was all sturdy enough that if it had settled on being a simpler type of comedy, that would be enough to keep it watchable.
And the first season did all of those things—and did them well—but it also tried to be something more than that. In BoJack Horseman, a stand-in for every washed-up TV star who thinks the next project is going to be the next thing to make them popular again, Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his creative team unlocked something special. It discovered the pathos that existed behind the glitz and glamor, the truth that all of BoJack’s wealth and noise was there to cover up the fact that he felt there was nothing else inside him. And it radiated that emotion out to the rest of the series, giving its secondary characters their own hopes and dreams, and then working to subvert their efforts to reach said dreams. It was a tricky balance to strike, particularly in the early episodes, but by the time of episodes like “The Telescope” and “Downer Ending” it tapped into something special.
After the highs of those episodes, “Later” is a bit of a comedown. However, as the finale to what’s been an occasionally shaky first season, it’s encouraging because it’s taken its unspoken goal—trying to do something more—and made it part of the text. Some of it’s as stupid as Todd and Mr. Peantubutter constantly churning out new business ideas and losing track of them as soon as the flicker of a new idea enters their head. Some of it’s as incongruous as Princess Carolyn wanting more out of her relationship with Vincent Adultman, while at the same time she still can’t tell he’s a trio. And some of it’s as poignant as BoJack and Diane looking ahead to what their next projects are, trying to decide if the course they’re on is going to be the one where everything’s going to work out.
“Later” features another time jump, picking up three months after the downer ending of “Downer Ending.” Diane’s prediction that the book would show people another side of BoJack turned out to be prophetic, as he’s rocketed back into the public eye and even wins a Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical. The show’s satire, already barbed, gets even more so as BoJack has to point out that his book is neither of those things and hasn’t even been made into a movie yet: “Do you guys actually watch the movies you give awards to?” BoJack’s getting the accolades and the easy hookups he wanted, yet he still seems discontented, none of it filling in the holes that producing the book exposed were there.
In the process of one of those hookups, he finds something that may. His broken bed finally gives up the ghost, putting the Secretariat biography (which he never returned to Pinky) right in front of him. And when Princess Carolyn drops a list of potential projects, the one thing he asks her for is to resurrect the Secretariat film he sacrificed Herb’s friendship for. It’s a gesture that’s simultaneously what we’d expect from BoJack and the last thing we’d expect. On one hand, he hasn’t felt better after his book was published, so he’s simply going onto the next project, thinking he can fill the hole with the next big goal as opposed to addressing why the hole’s even there in the first place. And you could take that for a completely unhealthy gesture, but in many ways it’s also the healthiest thing he’s done since the series started. He began the series incapable of trying anything, and now he’s willing to do the work: asking for help, learning lines, putting himself out there for rejection. Even if it’s sidestepping the major issue, it’s still a step forward.
And most surprisingly, it turns out he might actually be good at it. Regardless of any complaints that could be leveled at the series, none of them are directed at Will Arnett, whose weathered tones completely brought BoJack’s anger and sadness to life. If he dismissed Secretariat’s flaws in the tense meeting with Diane last week, he embraces them as he parallels his own efforts to run away from the nothingness. It’s convincing enough that that he stuns a cynical Lenny Turtletaub and director Kelsey Jannings (Maria Bamford in perfect deadpan), and is the first person to get the call after first choice Andrew Garfield meets an unfortunate accident. It’s an encouraging move for the series, one that promises to enforce more structure as we move on from shaggy beginnings.
BoJack’s involvement dovetails with Diane’s own search for a new project, as her own fame’s grown from One Trick Pony’s publication. She’s got an offer from “famed billionaire philanthropist adventurer” Sebastian St. Clair (a perfectly pompous Keegan Michael-Key) to follow him around war-torn nations and recount his daring exploits, and at the same time Princess Carolyn’s secured her an easy job as script supervisor on Secretariat. With so much of the action of the season about BoJack’s book and BoJack’s feelings, Diane receded as a character, and this dilemma helps to bring her dimensions back into focus. Writing BoJack’s book wasn’t the end-all-be-all for her career that it was for BoJack, it was just another job. In, what we’re now getting the implication, is a string of similarly limited jobs.
It also restores the two of them to speaking terms, which they haven’t truly been on since the events of “The Telescope.” The token romantic trappings that were introduced early and complicated the story have now developed into something more, a form of shared understanding of how rough things can be. BoJack’s told her more than he’s ever told anyone, Diane’s let him get closer than anyone save her husband—and as Mr. Peanutbutter’s speech about distractions before death told us, even he doesn’t fully get it. That final conversation on the roof, as they revisit beats of their first meeting and acknowledge that nothing turned out the way either of them first thought, is BoJack’s beating heart personified. Life’s a tough thing to go through, and all they can reach is a point of weary understanding.
By focusing so heavily on BoJack and Diane, the other characters get something of a short shrift in the finale. Both Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter had interesting beats in prior episodes, but in “Later” they’re solely deployed for comedic relief, constantly pitching BoJack on their latest business ideas. To their credit, those ideas are hilarious, and both of the show’s Pauls make an appealing double act as they explain the appeal of January Halloween and drinking moods like smoothies. “When your powers combine you are somehow even more stupid than the sum of your stupids,” BoJack observes in a moment of peak frustration. While the skewing random is appreciated, it’s missing the counterbalance that BoJack Horseman is usually better at deploying in its sillier moments.
Similarly trapped in a plot that’s entertainingly goofy but personally limiting is Princess Carolyn. Looking back on season one, Princess Carolyn feels the least well-served of the main cast, despite being the only non-BoJack character to get her own (excellent) spotlight episode in “Say Anything.” While her relationship with Vincent Adultman remains one of the best gags of the series, from a narrative standpoint it’s intrinsically limited. Her breakup and reunion with Vincent is good for some more laughs at the smoodie launch party, but it also doesn’t do a thing to address any of the concerns that she raised over the episode. It’s punting the resolution, when it could in theory tie the story off here and start her off in a new relationship in season two.
Though admittedly, delaying that resolution does give us the sight gag of Vincent’s multicolored coat as they pack for vacation, in part of a truly wonderful closing montage. It’s exactly the right note to close the season on, a mix of the melancholy and the bizarre. The comedic images remind you you’re watching an oft-ridiculous cartoon—Character Actress Margo Martindale earning some Netflix synergy amidst the Orange Is The New Black crew, Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter working to merge the falafel and the waffle—and then the remorseful lyrics of “Wild Horses” cut those images with the vibe of something missed. BoJack Horseman may not have had its act together in the first few episodes, but it didn’t stop trying to be better than it was. And while that effort may not have paid off for its characters—that last silent stare of BoJack’s is interpretable any number of ways—it paid off by turning BoJack Horseman into one of the most fascinating shows on television.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: The Office’s John Krasinski brings BoJack’s childhood idol Secretariat to life during an interview on Dick Cavett. He’s got all the grace and poise that makes you believe a young BoJack would look up to him as an icon—and is good enough at masking pain and controversy that you can see why BoJack would follow him into adulthood.
- I cannot believe I’ve only now realized the potential significance of the fact that the two main characters are named BoJack and Diane. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but if you needed one line that illustrates how simpatico these two are, “Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone” is damn effective.
- BoJack’s letter to Secretariat when he was nine proves he wasn’t just desperate to get the punchline across in his standup days.
- Hollywoo celebrities in the Golden Globes audience include Cate Blanchett and Cameron Crowe, Naomi Watts and Wallace Shawn, and Beyonce and Jay-Z. Or, as we are clearly led to conclude, Jay-Zebra.
- BoJack almost never lets go of his Golden Globe the instant he wins it, in a great running character detail.
- “I mean, can you imagine this body in a swimsuit?” “I literally cannot.”
- “If you want to poop in a bucket, we can get you a bucket.”
- “Fires aren’t called things!” “What about the Chicago fire?” “Or Fire Island.” “Or Gabe.” “Who’s Gabe?” “Just a fire I met once. Named him Gabe.” “He sounds delightful.”
- “Now, the pills will give you nightmares—I mean, just horrifying—but the malaria will give you death, so you’re going to want to take the pills.”
- “Hooray! And you know I don’t throw that word around lightly.”
- “I’m gonna tell you now, not gonna put up with any woe-is-me bullshit or diva histrionics. I get enough of that from my ex-wife along with newspaper clippings about gluten. God, we get it, Marla. Gluten.”
- “I really wanted you to like me, Diane.” “I know.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs:
Horsin’ Around DVD Commentary:
- We learned that BoJack hasn’t been to the Golden Globes since 1992, when he was “forcibly ejected” after an incident with Paul McCartney. It’s probably a good thing that he left Diane’s birthday party in “After The Party” before Sir Paul made his dramatic entrance.
- Princess Carolyn’s relationship with Vincent Adultman isn’t long for this world, though it will end in a much different way than expected. (Spoiler alert: she never completely puts together that he’s three boys in a trench coat.)
- Diane will eventually follow Sebastian St. Clair on his journeys in “The Shot,” and the results will drive her even further on a parallel track to BoJack by sinking her into existential depression.
- This will be the last time that Princess Carolyn forgets who Diane is after multiple meetings, which is a smart move. The running joke will give way to a friendship and more meaningful interactions like the end of “Braap Braap Pew Pew.”
Tomorrow: That’s a wrap on season one coverage! Thanks everyone for joining me on this trip. We’ve gone back to where it all began, now let’s see where it goes next. Season four drops tomorrow, and our daily coverage will continue right along with it.