Image: Netflix

“Oh, come on. I mean, am I attracted to her? Sure. Do my days feel better when I’m around her? Yeah. Does she get me in ways no woman ever has? Indubitably. Do I fantasize about her? Yes, but only in two positions. Look, am I the kind of guy who would try to steal someone else’s girlfriend? Sure, of course, but do I like her? The answer’s no. You have nothing to worry about.”

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BoJack Horseman sold itself at the outset as a satire of Hollywood culture, and while in the early episodes it’s been reasonably funny on that regard, its satire has been relatively limited in its focus. Even leaving aside the broadness of its animal puns and illustrations, the jokes have leaned heavily on the excess and shallowness of celebrity. The flimsy spectacle of the David Boreanaz House, the human trainwreck of Sarah-Lynn, BoJack refusing to honor dibs on a box of breakfast muffins—it’s one-note comedy, playing up the shallowness of celebrity rather than saying anything new.

“Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story” changes all of that, however—and it paradoxically does so with the show’s biggest gesture to date. BoJack drunkenly steals the “D” from the famous Hollywood Sign one night in an effort to impress Diane, and with that the entire identity of the town changes, so quickly that even BoJack sounds confused the next morning at the final mention of the town’s former name: “Holly-what?” Every mention of the town on the news calls it “Hollywoo,” every visible sign has the “D” crossed off, and not a single person appears to think this is out of the ordinary. When the “D” is recovered no one thinks to change back to the original name, and when the “D” is destroyed there’s no sign anyone thought about a replacement.

This sort of subconscious groupthink takes BoJack’s comments last episode about Los Angeles being a superficial town, and expands it to an absurd level that works dramatically well for BoJack Horseman. It stretches the superficiality to the entire universe of the series, past BoJack being deluded about how valuable his fame is, or a bus full of tourists mistaking his home for that of the star of Bones. Now characters as reasonable as Diane or as hapless as Todd refer to the town by its new name without missing a beat. One or two people acting crazy in a sane world is all well and good, but making the entire world—a world full of talking animals, mind you—even crazier than he is, and somehow making that weirdness feel grounded? That’s an achievement.

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Image: Netflix

It’s a solid joke that grounds the rest of “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story,” an episode that continues the upward swing of BoJack Horseman as we reach the halfway point of the season. From the pilot on the show’s demonstrated consistent improvement, the wordplay getting sharper and the characters growing more interesting with each episode.

“Our A-Story” continues the trend of expanding the tent, giving Mr. Peanutbutter some time in the spotlight after Todd and Diane’s respective stints. His good-natured cheer sees its first cracks as he becomes uneasy by how close BoJack and Diane have become following their East Coast trip. It’s the sort of suspicion that could be in the back of anyone’s mind if their girlfriend went off with another person for an extended time, but to see that from Mr. Peanutbutter—so chipper to date it’s almost to the character’s detriment—is surprising. Diane adds fuel to the emotional fires, exposing that Mr. Peanutbutter’s desire to be BoJack’s friend borders on the desperate.

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The two of them being friends seems like a long shot though, as their respective connections to Diane turn into a frenzy of outbidding each other and hours of competition in local restaurant Elefante. When Mr. Peanutbutter gains the upper paw by being the one to take Diane home, BoJack’s absinthe-powered theft of the “D” pushes the two into detente as Mr. Peanutbutter offers his assistance in returning it to the mountain. Both the rival and reluctant ally sections of the episode work well, as BoJack and Mr. Peanutbutter make interesting foils for each other. Much as they play each other to a draw in their “offensive display of extravagant wealth,” there’s a balance to their interactions, Will Arnett’s gravelly timber the bitter yin to the cheerful yang of Paul F. Tompkins’s indefatigable pluck. And it’s a pleasant surprise to see Mr. Peanutbutter comes out ahead in the most unlikely of ways—outflanking BoJack by claiming the grand gesture as his own.

Image: Netflix

It’s a move that makes Mr. Peanutbutter a more intelligent character than he was given credit for at first, but the way the gesture plays out also goes a long way to strengthen him emotionally. After BoJack and Princess Carolyn both put it into the bucket of “a Mr. Peanutbutter thing,” he turns right around and sets up a quieter evening that’s the “Diane thing” she wanted. Wayne’s introduction felt like forcing a split between them, while this is an explanation for why the two work as a couple, with enough lightness to keep it from feeling too earnest: (“That was so much better than what I was gonna say. I was gonna say carrots!”) Knowing what we know about their unit at, it makes sense that Mr. Peanutbutter would propose to Diane and it makes sense that she’d say yes. And it makes sense that immediately after he’d trigger a big party, because while he’s showing dimensions, he’s still him.

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It also makes sense that BoJack would be unable to keep his disclosure of his feelings on the record. Building a love connection between BoJack and Diane—and by extension a love triangle with Mr. Peanutbutter—isn’t the most innovative thing the writers could do in these circumstances, but prior episodes have successfully conveyed the sense that she’s been the first person in a long time to get him to say or do things beyond his own ego. Arnett continues to make BoJack’s vulnerable moments more interesting than his rants and grumbles, and the writers are leaning into it as they ramp up the character’s clear damage. (Case in point, the “Nothing on the outside, nothing on the inside” cutaway is almost jaw-dropping in its tragicomedy.) Hopefully the writers have more in mind than his attraction to her pushing him to be a better person.

Image: Netflix

Todd’s activity this episode is lightweight by contrast, though it does emphasize two important details in the larger BoJack Horseman picture. First, it demonstrates the show’s focus on continuity, as Todd’s still in prison after the fall of the House of Boreanaz—a plot they could have easily abandoned after the comic twist at the end of “Live Fast, Diane Nguyen” and chose to stick with instead. And second, it’s further evidence of BoJack Horseman’s willingness to take the sort of sitcom tropes either Horsin’ Around or Mr. Peanutbutter’s House would revel in, and ramp them up to the nth degree. A “two dates to the prom” scenario? Let’s use it, but the twist is that they’re rival prison gangs, and replace the resolution with a race war. Once again, it’s a plot kept afloat by its ridiculousness and Aaron Paul’s goofy deliveries, particularly as he tries to shepherd things to a peaceful resolution.

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“Who says there are no new stories in Hollywoo?” Todd says cheerfully as he walks out of the hole left by the crashed helicopter. We may have said that about BoJack Horseman when it started, but the lengths that “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story” goes to proves that we were wrong. With one letter dropped, things are getting a lot more interesting.


Stray observations

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: Horatio Sanz as the Latin Kings’ goat leader provides an earnestness that’s appealing to both Todd and the viewer. Todd: “Hey, I got to go, uh, do a prison thing.” Latin King: “That sounds legitimate. We are in prison, after all.”
  • Best non-D-related joke of the episode goes to BoJack’s attempt to get the attention of the news media by throwing dollar bills off the roof of Foie Gras and only succeeding when a passing Beyoncé (Yvette Nicole Brown) trips on all the single dollars. (“All the single dollars?” “All the single dollars.” “All the single dollars?” “All the single dollars.”)
  • I don’t mean to deviate, as writer Scott Marder does have a field day with D-related jokes early on. Tom Jumbo-Grumbo lists off possible suspects (“David Duchovny, Dick Van Dyke, DMX, and of course Dane Cook, who we all know is a thief”), Princess Carolyn’s having struggles with her Dean clients (Cain, Norris, Winters, and Koontz), and there’s plenty of other scattered wordplay instances.
  • Where was Klaus keeping that card?
  • BoJack’s spectrum of beverages to forget his problems: Cyanide (too strong), vodka (too breakfast), and absinthe (just right).
  • The drug cartel leader and his rhino goon from “BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story: Chapter One” are seen escaping in the wake of the prison breakout.
  • “This is the sweetest choking hazard anyone’s ever given me.”
  • “I had to carpool home from the airport like a goddamned environmentalist.”
  • “Yeah, I don’t know. The D might be for David, because apparently when I was drunk, I printed out a bunch of pictures of David Boreanaz.” “... Yeah. You did that.”
  • “The day they make love a crime is the day I turn in my badge.”
  • “And that’s why Eva Braun was like the fifth Beatle of the Third Reich.”
  • “She’s not gonna call. Get out the consolation Scotch.” [Phone rings] “It’s her! Make that celebration Scotch.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Image: Netflix

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Horsin’ Around DVD Commentary:

  • Hollywoo remains BoJack Horseman’s best running gag: Three seasons and counting, and no one’s bothered to replace the D on that sign.
  • While “Our A-Story” sets things up for a romantic direction of BoJack and Diane, that idea wil be dismissed in short order to get to the much more satisfying direction of the two as soulmates in depression, understanding better than anyone else the lows you can sink to, how to support someone in those lows, and just how deeply you can use those lows to hurt each other.

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Tomorrow: Princess Carolyn struggles with a merger, a rival, and a client who’s burned every bridge in Hollywoo, as she proves she’ll “Say Anything” to keep herself afloat.