‘Bojack Horseman’ continues surprising to the end

Photo courtesy of Netflix

After some delays, Netflix announced that everyone’s favorite show about a terrible, alcoholic horse would return for its final season. While the sudden news was certainly upsetting for fans, the timing makes some sense. 

Speculation is, at the end of the day, just guesswork based on limited information, but the “BoJack Horseman” crew has started moving on gradually. Production designer Lisa Hanawalt — the woman responsible much of the art and animation — created and helmed a show of her own, “Tuca & Bertie.” Kate Purdy, credited with writing some of the series’ best episodes such as season one’s “Downer Ending,” co-created Amazon’s “Undone” with Raphael Bob-Waksberg (the creator of “BoJack Horseman”).

In addition to the career progressions of cast and crew, the fifth-season finale sent the titular horse to rehab, which seemed like a show preparing for its conclusion. Thus, into the endgame goes “BoJack Horseman.” On Oct. 25, eight episodes dropped for part one of the final season; part two will release on Netflix on Jan. 31, 2020.

With the first half of season six, though, the animated series starts making its case as one of the best shows of the decade. Like the penultimate season before it, the new episodes prove about as funny, moving and insightful as the depression comedy has ever been.

For those new to “BoJack Horseman,” the show stems from the same form of vulgar, wacky comedy as that of Adult Swim animation. In a world where anthropomorphic animals live alongside, intermingle with and date human beings, the titular horse — voiced by Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) — is a burnout 90s sitcom star, grappling with fame, alcoholism and depression. The show engages in satire of the entertainment industry, cultural commentary and an exploration of mental health and unhappiness via references, puns, gags and wacky misadventures.

Over the first five seasons, BoJack committed countless crimes and acts of inhumanity. In addition to an endless stream of rudeness, he drove drunk, sabotaged friends’ careers, attempted to break-up relationships, almost hooked-up with a teenage girl, ended a friend’s sobriety (which resulted in that friend’s death) and physically assaulted a woman during a drug-bender. The horse is, without even the faintest shadow of doubt, a horrible individual.

However, the sixth and final season is, at least the part released so far, a reckoning with that past — both for the eponymous character and the friends caught in
his orbit.

Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris, “Elf”), BoJack’s longtime agent who recently adopted a baby porcupine, finally strikes a happy and meaningful work-life balance after decades of struggles, even making amends with some former friends and enemies. Diane — BoJack’s human memoirist and best friend, voiced by Allison Brie (“Community”) — slips into another bout of depression, but finds the help, love and guidance she has always needed from BoJack and her new romantic partner (LaKeith Stanfield, “Atlanta”). The always chipper yellow lab Mr. Peanutbutter — voiced by comedic dynamo Paul F. Tompkins from “Comedy Bang! Bang!” — learns to listen, righting a problem that has plagued his multiple marriages. And even everyone’s favorite stoner couch-crasher Todd (Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”) has some of his backstory developed, as he takes his stepfather on surprisingly kooky capers to find his mother a new kidney.

In the midst of all this heaviness, two qualities of the new episodes stand out in particular.

First, “BoJack Horseman” is about as funny as ever before. Todd takes “Untitled Princess Carolyn Project” — the newly adopted and unnamed porcupine — to entertainment industry meetings, unwittingly getting the baby greenlit for a production. Meanwhile, BoJack keeps finding needs to break out of bedrooms with a makeshift rope of bedsheets, like they did on his 90s sitcom. And a strike among the “Hollywoo Guild of Assistants” causes literal mayhem in the streets.

Second, the animated series just keeps surprising, with each new turn offering insight or emotional resonance. For example, Princess Carolyn eventually names her baby Ruthie — a callback to a season-four episode. She also makes amends with her lifelong nemesis — a human named Vanessa Gecko — and with her former assistant Judah (Dedrich Bader, “Office Space”).

Moreover, the successes and experiences offer more elaborate stances on mental health. In a sense, it feels like the show spent five seasons examining depression and unhappiness, followed by eight episodes supplying solutions and insights.

Yet all of these developments are just extra perks to BoJack’s reckoning. After one encounter, the horse announces, “I remember everything. I’m sober now.” In a similar vein, even the opening credits have been amended to walk BoJack through all the terrible things that he has done, and the result is goosebump-inducing.

Just as BoJack finds peace and self-fulfillment with himself, though, the show prepares a plotline for part two — BoJack’s impending bout with justice. The eighth episode shows journalists and people from his past grappling with trauma and the truth. And as previously described, BoJack has long been overdue for accountability.

“BoJack Horseman,” in addition to exploring depression, has always lived adjacent to the “Me Too” movement. While the show never attempted to sidestep around the horse’s atrocities, the wait for justice has often felt too prolonged.

However, the show is just as much about relationships — public and private — with problematic celebrities as it has been about “Me Too.” In a 2018 interview with The Ringer, Bob-Waksberg talked about how figures like BoJack do indeed have close ones who love and care for them. For him, the distinction between private and public is worth considering. The creator said, “I don’t think they deserve the spotlight. I don’t think, as a society, it’s our job to love them and help them. I hope they get [care and help] from the people in their lives who care about them.” While friends and family often furiously express detestations of the committed crimes, that care does not always evaporate immediately upon scandalizing revelations. In “BoJack Horseman,” Diane represents just that — an individual torn between hating BoJack and helping him get better.

And the ways by which the show navigates these grey areas is nothing shy of remarkable. After following the main characters through seven episodes, the aptly titled eight episode, “A Quick One While He’s Away,” chronicles the devastation BoJack has left in his path with careers ruined, individuals traumatized, and a loved one deceased. Here, moments before BoJack’s crimes are publicly revealed, part one ends.

Although the conclusion is still uncertain to viewers, no show has embodied the decade better than this. But on the cusp of its finale, perhaps the time has finally come for the spotlight on BoJack and “BoJack Horseman” to come to an end.