“You know what ‘from’ means? It means you don’t have to be there anymore.”
It’s a testament to BoJack Horseman that its creative team is as comfortable outside its well-developed Hollywoo bubble as it is within it. Other shows may suffer when they’re forced outside of their comfort zone, but BoJack Horseman is an expert at taking that discomfort and turning it on its characters to devastating effect. BoJack seeking self-discovery in New Mexico and Michigan and under the sea, Diane reconciling her past with trips to Boston and Vietnam, even Mr. Peanutbutter heading home to Labrador Island—they all have to face the way life works in a place where superficiality and name-dropping aren’t currency.
Now, it’s Princess Carolyn’s turn to break out of her routine, with her quest for adoption taking her back to her home state of North Carolina. “E5” joins the pantheon of successful out-of-town BoJack episodes, giving us a taste of the lives the main characters can live outside of Los Angeles, and how much time there has warped their abilities to function outside it.
Any opportunity for an episode focused on Princess Carolyn is of course cause for celebration—“Say Anything” and “Ruthie” are in the series’ upper tier—but what’s even more intriguing about “The Amelia Earhart Story” is the opportunity to learn more about Princess Carolyn’s enigmatic past. Details have been sparsely doled out in the last couple of years: we know that her mother was the alcoholic maid for a wealthy family, that she was the runt of eleven siblings, and that her heirloom necklace came from JC Penney instead of the “old country.” Otherwise, she’s played it close to her cardigan, embracing the “hard, heartless career gal” persona to varying degrees of success.
What works so well about “The Amelia Earhart Story” is that it steers away from the cliches about a “going home again” story. If it wasn’t for meeting a potential birth mother named Sadie (Jaime Pressley), Princess Carolyn would have no reason to go home. On her last visit to Eden she buried her mother, and her siblings had fled the town long before then. The rich family who loved private jets and champagne fountains have fallen on hard times and their mansion now looks like the sort of place people gather to shoot BoJack-brand heroin. Princess Carolyn sees no one she used to know, and evinces no nostalgia for anything, spitting out a bit of the local hushpuppies as soon as Sadie heads to the restroom. What flashbacks she’s getting are all about proximity, a faint connection to who she used to be.
“The Amelia Earhart Story” is credited to Joe Lawson, who was also responsible for “Say Anything,” and he’s the perfect writer to get into what’s shaped her motivations and melancholy. Young Princess Carolyn’s indeed living a hard-knock life, limited to one VHS copy of a film about Amelia Earhart and filling in for her mother more times than not. And in that world you can see where her determination not to quit began, idealizing the woman who flew into the sun when everyone told her she couldn’t. It’s the origin of the spark that would lead her to give BoJack a legion of pep talks, a disadvantaged teenager applying to college in California and pushing her employer’s son Cooper (Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry) not to take no for an answer from his coach. Her desire to strive for more was always there, her desire to make her own way in the world and push others to do the same.
And right alongside that optimism is the fear that she can’t pull it off, her mother’s harsh words about “losing numbers” something else deeply ingrained into her at a young age. A tryst with Cooper leads to an unplanned pregnancy and then a miscarriage, a progression that delights and enrages her mother in equal measure. Even if those side glances during the pitch of Cooper Senior (Daveed Diggs, magnificent as always) indicate Princess Carolyn didn’t want the patrician lifestyle built on an answering machine tape fortune, it’s still a tragedy all too easy to depict as her failure. It’s heartbreakingly clear how much of this experience she internalized, the feeling that having a miscarriage meant she’d failed in some way—a feeling that will torment her through several other miscarriages and destroy her relationship with Ralph Stilton.
Being away from Hollywoo also calls into focus just how vital Princess Carolyn’s presence is to making sure everything functions—and how this time her professional stakes may be as high as her personal ones. She’s the reason Philbert even exists, greenlighting an unread script solely on her emotional connection to its title, and she’s assembled the shakiest team possible to create it. An untested egomaniacal head writer, a lead actor with a disastrous on-set track record, a co-star and consulting writer who just went through a divorce, and an executive whose previous venture was running a clown dentistry out of her living room. If there was ever a project she needed to be hands-on with all the time—especially with how many people are now in the opening credits scene—it’s this one.
Her helicopter management/production it gives “The Amelia Earhart Story” its best comedic moments, juggling phone calls and trying to soothe egos from across the country. All of the expected clashes are playing out, as BoJack’s incensed at sharing the spotlight, Mr. Peanutbutter’s trying to put his own spin on his new performance, and Diane’s chafing under Flip’s flippant attitude towards her in the writers’ room. Todd in particular is even harder to work with over the phone, going into glorious non sequitur territory. (Princess Carolyn: “We’ve been through this, Todd. Lakes don’t have emotions!” Todd: “What about Ricki Lake?”) All Princess Carolyn does is spin plates, and she’s trying to spin them here with dowels that are 2,500 miles long.
Getting her out of town is also a move that pushes the conflicts of the season forward, as the various half-solutions she offers wind up causing more problems than she’s solving. The game of telephone over a motorcycle stunt puts BoJack in the hospital (“FUBAR on Lumbar” according to the Hollywoo Reporter). Flip’s shouldering the public blame and Diane’s internalizing the real guilt, which is easily the worst option for both. Todd’s in hot water with both his bosses and the executives at their sister site, whatdateisiitrightnow.net. Most worryingly, Princess Carolyn pushes Todd to get in touch with a “specialist” to keep BoJack comfortably numb through the rest of shooting, and he seems way too into those pills—and the resultant attention from the crew—for a guy who despite a cheat day or two was curbing his intake.
Between playing catch-up with Philbert disasters and the re-emergence of Sadie’s boyfriend Strib (short for Dennis), it’s not a surprise that Sadie turns down Princess Carolyn’s pitch. What does come as a surprise is the fact that she does it because she can see it as a pitch, rather than any of the working mother concerns that pitch was tailored to assuage. Princess Carolyn left for Los Angeles with barely a backward glance, and her rhythms are now tuned to the interaction-based economy of Hollywoo. Coming back to Eden wasn’t motivated by any sort of nostalgia for the home country or even the desire to give a better life to someone else from there, it was a box that she could check to appear like a better adoption prospect. It’s clear enough to Sadie that even Princess Carolyn can’t put up a counterargument.
“The Amelia Earhart Story” isn’t the emotional gut-punch of prior Princess Carolyn episodes, but it’s an important episode for filling in the gaps on her backstory—and how hard it’s always been for her to strike the balance of having everything she wants. We see the optimism that was birthed inside her at a young age, the desire to claim her destiny and fly into the sun. And we see the latest of many Icarus falls that have befallen her over the course of her life in pursuit of those goals, when experiences don’t match up to expectations. It’s a wistful tragedy: even as driven and cynical as that career woman has become, there’s still the young pink cat inside who wants to believe things turn out the way they do in the movies.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: BoJack Horseman keeps it in the family as Princess Carolyn’s mother is voiced by Amy Sedaris’s brother (and famous author/essayist) David Sedaris. As expected, the rapport between the two is terrific, the shared experience of growing up in North Carolina clearly informing their familiar drawls and the depth of feeling as the emotions swell.
- Hats off to Alex Heflin’s banjo version of the closing song. BoJack Horseman is showing more willingness to experiment with its theme this year, and I’m on board for it.
- Surprisingly, there is a real Eden, North Carolina. If there’s any Eden residents amongst the commenters, I’d love to hear your thoughts on your town’s depiction.
- Sighting of Debra’s new face on the Philbert crew!
- Princess Carolyn’s church: St. Mary’s Good Shepherd of the Lady of the Passion of the Constant Gardener of Latter-Day Belle & Sebastian.
- Shout-out to the giraffe wearing multiple neck pillows before their flight.
- A Shawarma Locusts is the first pun in a long time on BoJack Horseman that made me have to pause the screener and take a moment to collect myself.
- “How the hell do they expect me to learn five pages of dialogue in one day. What am I, Young Sheldon?”
- “I don’t know why Peter Scolari’s buying me a falafel plate, but hey, I am not complaining!”
- “Normally I love questions, because they’re good for pondering! But I guess in the corporate world when you’re asked questions they expect you to answer, and ‘Yeah, wow, really makes you think’ is not the kind of answer they’re looking for!”
- “UCLA. No, you will not see LA!”
- “Sarte was wrong! Physical pain is so much worse than prolonged emotional distress! What a hack!”
- “Do you only seem smart because you wear glasses?”
- “Better than a sky full of stars?”
- Shoutout to @davechensky on Twitter for being the first to catch this installment of...
- Today in Eden shirts: