Four seasons in, it’s safe to say there’s a pattern to each season of BoJack Horseman, a few episode structures that it likes to deploy each year and that you can expect will appear at some point in the stream. We’ve already seen this year’s topical issue episode, with “Thoughts And Prayers” following “Braap Braap Pew Pew” and “Hank After Dark.” And now “lovin that cali lifestyle!!” follows “After The Party” and “Stop The Presses” to become unstuck in time for the year’s structural experiment.
“lovin that cali lifestyle!!” is the spiritual successor to “After The Party,” structured as a trio of vignettes that intercut across the same span of time. And like “After The Party,” the structure works because it manages to give each of the three stories weight in the way that a more traditional episode wouldn’t. It also proves the value of the time jump, finding multiple ways to take the “one week later” conceit and using it to clean up the loose plot details in an interesting way.
Let’s take them one at a time.
The gubernatorial election:
When the political campaign storyline was introduced in the season three finale, I was optimistic about it providing a narrative arc for season four, thinking it would expand on the artifice and excess that the Oscar campaign deployed so well. And even when real life conspired to transform politics into an unrelenting horror show, the season premiere gave the impression BoJack would still be able to find its own way, Mr. Peanutbutter’s ego trip and desire to be liked leading him down some questionable paths.
Since then though, it hasn’t fulfilled the promise of an election-based season for the series. The nuts and bolts of actually running a campaign have been sidelined for broader comedic emphasis on the weathervane discussion of issues, the way that the media focuses and distorts topics and how one little thing can turn the entire public. That plays out here as the polls rise and fall based on nothing more than what hands Woodchuck has. He’s down when he has lobster claws, he shoots back up once he has ten fingers, and he shoots back down when it’s revealed those fingers came from a pedophile-slash-murderer. (God bless Tom Jumbo-Grumbo in all of this though, as Keith Olbermann’s bombastic tendencies have been very well served this season: “Oh, no! The way you said ‘slash’ was very scary!”)
While mostly played for laughs, “lovin that cali lifestyle!!” does find a satisfying narrative close. Todd advised Diane all the way back in the third episode that she should use her celebrity writing as the cheese to the heartworm pills of her serious writing, and that point pays off in an interview with Jessica Biel. Jessica rants about avocados on her lunch, Diane slides that anecdote into her article, and suddenly Jessica’s odds of reaching the governor’s mansion spoil faster than uncovered guacamole. It’s a major victory for Diane after a season of getting batted around by the whims of the former Mrs. Peanutbutters, and a nice validation of her ability to make a difference with her writing.
That makes it all the more upsetting she doesn’t get full credit for it. The main issue with the political storyline is that (aside from “Underground”) the focus has been largely limited to how the campaign has affected Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane’s relationship. That focus continues as “One week later” fast-forwards us to the resolution of the election as Mr. Peanutbutter congratulates the two of them for putting this together, and the look on Diane’s face indicates how little she’s on board with that viewpoint. It’s an anticlimactic end to the story, albeit one that indicates the issues explored will extend past the swearing-in ceremony.
The Philbert pitch:
Here’s where both the Abraham Lincoln and the weird flat house of BoJack Horseman are on display, as the loopiness of Todd’s clown dentistry practice merges with Princess Carolyn’s breakdown in “Ruthie.” Diane sank into a miasma after her Cordovia exploits in season two, and now it’s Princess Carolyn’s turn to do the same, letting Todd and his clowns have free run of her apartment while she’s drinking herself into a stupor. Unsurprisingly, neither are doing well: Todd’s disciples are terrifying more people than they’re healing, and Princess Carolyn’s so out of it she still thinks Judah’s taking her calls.
A possible solution to both their woes comes up when aspiring writer Flip McVicker (Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek) tries to pitch Princess Carolyn a script. Princess Carolyn goes off on a tangent about how thin the odds are that it’ll connect with anyone, and she cuts off when she sees the title: Philbert. In her haze of booze and grief, she can only see that title and attach some meaning to it, the content or quality of the script irrelevant to what it represents. It’s a sign of how deep a miasma she’s in, as our normally savvy Princess Carolyn would never bank this much professional stock on an unread project otherwise.
Nor would she rely on Todd’s clown dentist army to get her the meeting with Lenny Turtletaub. I was down on the clowns when they were first introduced, but they’re used to great effect here. BoJack Horseman always does the caper vibe well, and director Anne Walker Farrell gets some fun deployment out of the split-screen antics, efficient in their ludicrousness—or ludicrous in their efficiency, whichever you prefer. Princess Carolyn’s kept on track with Lenny by way of water flowers and chicken dances, but her charm is nearly depleted and has to reach to the only managerial weapon she has left, randomly naming actors until implausibly Lenny likes the idea of getting BoJack for the role.
Here, the “one week later” time jump filters the absurdity into two results. One, Todd’s show is somehow less entertaining than helping Princess Carolyn, and he’s forced to send his clown dentists into the woods. And two, even with a week’s lead time Princess Carolyn hasn’t performed any outreach to BoJack. She’s forced to sign his name—with an efficacy that makes it clear it’s not the first time she’s done this—when he refuses to even listen, now setting things up for an even worse next meeting between the two.
Why does he hang up? Well...
The Hollyhock collapse:
Much like the episode, I chose to be an evil bastard and save discussion of this one for last. “lovin that cali lifestyle!!” opens in a potentially disastrous way, as Hollyhock has to depart an UNO game with her family members and then collapses on the bathroom floor. Writer Peter A. Knight tries to distract you with avocado scandals and dancing rubber chickens, but all episode the mind never stops speculating. Is there some underlying health issue she never disclosed to BoJack, or has she been starving herself since the experience with Miles? Or is it something worse that?
We don’t know, and BoJack doesn’t either, as there’s a big difference between letting someone crash at your house and trying to get information about them from a nurse. All of the frustrations he had with the courthouse clerk in the previous episode are gone, and rather than throw fame at her, he suddenly cracks into honesty. One of the most moving confessions BoJack’s ever delivered was when he admitted that he’s never able to love someone enough, and in this moment it feels like maybe he’s moved past that. He knows Hollyhock, genuinely likes her, and genuinely cares about what’s next for her.
Those realizations come up short when he’s introduced to her adoptive parents. The previous description of Hollyhock’s family situation as “eight men in a committed gay polyamorous relationship” sounded like it belonged in the same programming block as Horsin’ Around, and “lovin that cali lifestyle!!” continues that feeling. Every one of them is a potentially wacky character, from the one who only watches foreign films to the one who’s the wrong one to mess with in a dance battle to the one whose catchphase is “Quack!” But wackiness is completely missing here: they blame BoJack for what happened, they have the authority to keep him away, and they’re going to use it.
Here’s where “lovin that cali lifestyle!!” deploys its time jump the wisest, leaping from BoJack having a panic attack on his floor to a quiet Hollyhock-less house that’s somehow even more worrisome. With characters backsliding in recent episodes, and all the good we’ve seen her do for BoJack, the fact that she’s gone makes it look like we’re heading back to complete self-destruction. And the reveal of where those amphetamines were coming from—laced coffee courtesy of Bea, who sounds closer to her nasty self than ever before—looks to be the thing that does it. Whether or not she knew what she was doing, that doesn’t matter to an enraged BoJack, who pitches her to the worst nursing home he can find and looks ready to walk out of her life forever.
At least until Bea says “BoJack?” somehow finding an even more loaded conclusion than the first two narratives. And it’s even more frightening because it cuts to black with the next episode is the penultimate. In keeping with the idea of BoJack Horseman adhering to a seasonal pattern, that’s the one that’s guaranteed to play the most on your emotional health.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: I’m always happy to have Natalie Morales on my television, and she makes a fun impression as Better Business Bureau agent Yolanda Buenaventura. Her name may not be Betty, but she’s still sufficiently comical with her no-nonsense approach to Todd’s nonsense. “I once met Paul Rudd at a cocktail party and I did not find him charming.”
- Yep, whattimeisitrightnow.com is a real site. And it does in fact tell you what time it is right now.
- Some good duality in the way Hollyhock and BoJack approach their respective collapses, especially in the throbbing background noise that blots out everything for BoJack prior to his panic attack.
- BoJack Horseman can’t let Jessica Biel get out the door without one more self-deprecating interaction, as she tells Diane about her eponymous fragrance. Diane: “’B-list’, like a B-list celebrity?” Jessica: “No, ‘Bielist,’ like Jessica Biel.” Diane: “I think we’re saying the same thing.”
- “Her polls, like an avocado exposed to air, have quickly turned from a verdant green to a mushy brown. And with only seven days until the election, her campaign might be in the pits.”
- “If this were October, you could market your venture as some sort of spooky Halloween experience, but since this is January, a month which, to my knowledge, contains no Halloweens...”
- “Are you drunk? You smell like somebody tried to put out a fire at the booze factory with more booze.”
- “Tony Sha-who? This is whattimeisitrightnow.com! Not whattimewasitfifteenyearsago.geocities.com/monk-fan-page.”
- “Get into the car, everyone. I’m taking you to the woods, out by the old abandoned insane asylum, near the elementary school where you belong.”
- “She’s a child! She called Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited! excessively kitsch. Kitsch is excessive! That’s the point!”
- “Well, this is your life now. This is what it all added up to.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, legalese edition: