“I never know if I can handle anything. That’s what makes my life so exciting!”
One of the more famous pieces of Breaking Bad trivia is that in Vince Gilligan’s original plan, Jesse Pinkman wasn’t supposed to survive past the first season. Walter White’s former student and entryway into the drug trade would have been killed off in a deal gone bad, the first deeply personal crisis in Walt’s descent into hell. The writers’ strike is often given credit for saving his life and forcing the writers to readjust, but the real credit lies with Aaron Paul. Paul gave unexpected life to a low-level “yo”-spewing drug dealer and turned that character into the greatest tragedy in a show that had no shortage of tragedies, winning three fully deserved Emmys in the process.
And with BoJack Horseman, Paul has succeeded twice at taking a lackadaisical stoner character and turning them into an absolutely essential part of the show. Rewatching season one of BoJack Horseman for our TV Club Classic section, I was struck by how little time it took Todd Chavez to go from being a screwball distraction into a vital member of the ensemble. He’s grown by leaps and bounds in the seasons since, reaching an apex in the Oscar “nominations” and brutally honest speech of “It’s You.” So it’s not a surprise that he’s earned his own spotlight episode, the aptly named “Hooray! Todd Episode!” It’s a full day in the life of Todd, as he unintentionally goes from political adviser to fashion icon to confidant. And while random by design, it’s further evidence that he’s a character this show needs to have.
Focusing on Todd doesn’t mean that the rest of the cast is abandoned, as they were in the previous BoJack-centric episode. Todd’s so eminently likable and friendly that all of the main cast wants his company or his help, making it entirely feasible that he can ping-pong between all of them in a single day. He gets involved with Mr. Peanutbutter’s political ventures, Princess Carolyn’s new client Courtney Portnoy (Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan), and Diane’s professional angst. And despite the randomness of his actions, it never feels scatter-shot or done for its own sake. It’s a Rube Goldberg device of misunderstandings, a forgotten pair of sunglasses eventually leading to Tim Gunn and Marc/Shark Jacobs declaring him “the look of the future,” and a subsequent public engagement.
“Hooray! Todd Episode!” is written by Elijah Jordon and Aron Young, responsible for arguably the best episodes of BoJack Horseman last year in “Fish Out Of Water” and “That’s Too Much, Man!” It’s clear that after repeatedly kicking viewers in the urethra they want to do something lighter, and the episode is rich in randomness and wordplay. Todd’s full of strange stories, allowing Aaron Paul to say the sort of lines that demand someone dub them over Breaking Bad scenes. (My personal favorite: “I can’t sign for another man’s mail! That’s how I ended up with the remains of Cornelius Vanderbilt!”) A Channing Tatum reference turns into one of those prime BoJack digressions on a random celebrity that’s always a delight, culminating in a bad impression/useful pep talk. And Courtney Portnoy’s point of existence appears to be trying to break Amy Sedaris in the recording room with tongue twisters:
“She portrayed the formerly portly consort in The Seaport Resort? Courtly roles like the formerly portly consort are Courtney Portnoy’s forte.”
“This was supposed to be Courtney’s crossover coronation. But that’s sort of been thwarted, unfortunately, ‘cause Courtney’s purportedly falling short of shoring up four-quadrant support.”
“Portnoy finds joy in hoi polloi boy toy!”
Beyond its silliness, “Hooray! Todd Episode!” also performs an important task by introducing us to a brand new character. In the closing moments of the season three finale we met a teenage girl trying to get in touch with BoJack, and now we get to meet her in person: Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack. (“I was adopted.” “Oh, of course.” “By eight men in a committed gay polyamorous relationship.” “Less of course.”) Voiced by comedian Aparna Nancherla, Hollyhock is an instantly winning addition to BoJack Horseman. There’s an honest likability to her that the show has sanded off even its sunnier characters, making her feel fresh rather than an interloper. She appears to be genuinely enjoying this search for the man she believes is her biological father, and deploys plenty of his more slovenly traits without all the attendant baggage.
Those slovenly traits are now shoved back in Todd’s face, as BoJack’s returned to Hollywoo. Aaron Paul deploys the silliness well, but he’s even better with the emotional dimensions, dropping early truths on his former best friend: “BoJack, we haven’t talked in like a year, and that’s actually been kind of working for me.” Jordan and Young adhere to BoJack’s character development and honesty, and don’t pretend a reset is a possibility after the legacy of sabotaged rock operas, neglected improv shows, and sexual liaisons with best friends.
But to BoJack’s credit, he doesn’t pretend that’s a possibility either. The events of the past few years have changed him incrementally, in a way that’s pushed him to admit his faults and needs. BoJack’s apology isn’t delivered with any of the scheming or ulterior motives he would have delivered before, or even the self-hating deflection that led Todd to explode at him in their last meeting. It’s an honest apology and a genuine understanding of how good of a person Todd is in general, and Todd accepts it with both the grace and the caution we’ve come to expect. Things can never be the same between them, but maybe they can work on something new. Though with Hollyhock walking in the door as soon as Todd leaves, it looks like BoJack’s got some more important work to do first.
And Todd has his own work to do, as he takes the next step on his self-discovery journey: openly admitting that he’s asexual. BoJack Horseman’s done a great job developing this storyline since season three, treating both Todd’s emotions and the natural of asexual orientation with respect. Even when BoJack makes a joke about it, he backs off immediately when Todd says neither he nor their friendship are at a place where they can do that. They’ve treated his coming out as a journey rather than an immediate realization, and his attendance at the ace get-together at the end of the episode is the next step on that journey. The writers aren’t forcing anything on Todd or the viewers, helping both understand what it means to be this way.
“Hooray! Todd Episode!” is a slighter episode than the last two, heavier on the jokes than the emotional swings. Most of its developments—the introduction of Hollyhock, Mr. Peanutbutter’s forced stance on fracking, Diane’s reawoken activist spirit, Courtney Portnoy’s engagement—are usual first act set up activities. Yet when the vehicle for those developments is Todd, that slightness doesn’t matter as much. Whether or not he intends it, good things tend to happen around him.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: I’ve had one of these saved up for Keith David’s inevitable first appearance, as that voice demands respect from the first syllable. And the BoJack team gives him some material worthy of his talents, as a lion clarinet player with an epic (and well-animated) story of Todd saving his daughter from a shipwreck and subsequently having a spirited but respectful debate about circumcision. And his Good Will Hunting-like belief that Todd’s destined for better things than triangle player (or rather, a one-note joke) puts the perfect close on the episode. Good for him, indeed.
- Les’ Srant (Damn it Randy, this is on you): Last night the Creative Emmys were awarded, and Kristen Schaal lost to Seth McFarlane for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance. I get that the Emmys aren’t something to get worked up about and McFarlane is so popular in the industry that he can even get the most ill-conceived of sci-fi TV shows made, but come on. How do you watch “That’s Too Much, Man!” and not give that all the awards?!
- Fun background details about Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign include campaign posters in the style of Mr. Peanutbutter’s House and a campaign bus called the Peanutbusser.
- We should all be so lucky to have a friend who carries around weird pocket cheeses.
- Surprising no one, BoJack keeps a shoebox full of bad reviews of other people’s TV shows.
- Todd does sign for Mr. Peanutbutter like he was told... eventually.
- Double helix for the price of one!
- Tim Gunn almost throws a sewing machine at Todd. Having watched enough Project Runway, I buy he’d do that if someone wasn’t making it work.
- Stories told by the orchestra about Todd: “I heard before he played triangle he was in a prison gang!” “I heard he was a tech millionaire!” “There is a rumor he was a foreign prince.”
- “Are you a fan of charming but inessential Will Smith movies? Because, slight hitch...”
- “I do like getting my picture taken. It’s proof that I exist!”
- “BoJack used to say his penis is like sun-dried tomatoes. Back in the nineties, it got into everything.”
- “Obviously I’ve never heard of your family and/or law firm.”
- “The gubernatorial hopeful has until now played coy on the controversial issue of fraaaaaaaaaaa... What happened? Randy pass out on his keyboard? Oh, he did? Oh, my God, is he okay? Well, did someone call Cynthia?! No one called Cynthia?! For Christ’s sake, this isn’t just a newsroom, this is a family!”
- “I don’t mind if someone’s in the house when I choke on pills or have a funny take on current events that demands an audience.”
- “Nobody knows I’m back except you. And Channing Tatum, and my pills guy, and my booze guy, my weed guy, my coke guy, some smartass at Pizza Hut who deserved an in-person finger-wagging, and my maid.”
- “Thanks Channing! Love half your movies!”
- “Hooray! I’m confused!”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, Esteemed AV Club Contributor Nathan Rabin edition: