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BoJack Horseman is the best original series to come out of streaming giant Netflix, full stop. And its third season, which debuted in one fell swoop on July 22, continued to raise the bar for quality programming on Netflix and across television as a whole. Season three of BoJack pushed the boundaries of how dark a comedy about a cartoon horse can get, but unlike in past seasons, by the end of the season finale, there was a distinct element of hope.
The incredibly cohesive season arc, including the absolutely spectacular fourth episode (which may be the best half hour of television made this year), continued to plumb the depths to which BoJack can sink. It turned out, unsurprisingly, achieving success and a level of professional respectability doesn’t simply make one’s problems and depression disappear into thin air. Money, fame, “friends,” and success do not suddenly make a person happy and content with all they have. It might seem like a simple lesson (and one that has been told countless times in the creative realm), but watching that message play out over the course of BoJack Horseman this season was truly sobering (for the viewer and, one hopes, BoJack). If you haven’t had a chance to dive into the most recent season of the show, I highly recommend you do. And for those who have, I’ll get into my more specific (and spoilery) thoughts on the season after the break.
If BoJack‘s second season was dedicated to seeing how far down the rabbit hole of selfishness and poor decision making BoJack could fall and still remain an engaging character, season three was focused on the aftermath of the Penny incident. Would it change BoJack for the better, or would it simply be a marker on his continued descent into the darkness around him? And, just to make things more interesting, BoJack was presented with all he has ever wanted professionally (success and validation) whilst still trying to make sense of whether or not he really is a monster for all he did last season. It’s a complex tightrope for the show to walk- repeatedly reminding the audience that the show’s central character was moments away from committing a heinous act that no one would be able to forgive, while continuing to show BoJack’s star on the rise. While there’s a clear allegory here (that success and karma don’t go hand in hand in the world of Hollywood, or, in this case, Hollywoo), that’s only the surface of what the central thrust of the season was getting at.
We’ve seen time and again that BoJack is a self-absorbed creature who desperately wants success and fame to fill the deep void of unhappiness within him. So, as Secretariat pushed closer and closer to getting him that Oscar nomination, BoJack became more and more focused on himself and his success and less on the work, feelings, and existence of his friends. And yes, seeing how BoJack has treated Diane, Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter, and Princess Carolyn in the past, it was not in the least bit surprising to see him destroy each relationship in turn. But this is the first time we’ve seen his friends push back. When Todd, of all people, pointed out BoJack’s fatal flaw to his face (“You are all the things that are wrong with you.”) it was a shock. For so long, BoJack had been able to feed his own narcissism and escape any consequences of his actions by refusing to accept that anything he had done was his fault, that to see BoJack’s m.o. laid bare like that was something I wasn’t expecting. And to see it actually hit home in the aftermath of Sarah Lynn’s death? It was a long time coming. Just like Secretariat, BoJack had been running in circles, and it was time for him to take stock of what he has done and who he wants to be.
One problem I tend to have with cartoons is that they rarely change in discernible ways over the course of the series. And while I’ve loved the past three seasons of BoJack, I don’t think the show could handle a fourth season (which will be coming to Netflix in the summer of 2017) with BoJack remaining in the same place mentally and emotionally. Time has clearly passed on the show, and it’s time for him to begin to grow and change. I’m not advocating for BoJack to get his shit together ASAP or something equally as drastic.
But I was encouraged by where the season left things, not just for BoJack (who, it appears, may be contemplating taking some time away from the limelight to find himself), but for the rest of the core characters as well, with Todd beginning to look at who he is, Princess Carolyn attempting a real relationship (although that career shift to manager rather than agent is a bad omen for keeping her love life going), and Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane appearing to be in a better, if still not great, place in their marriage. There’s hope that BoJack may have found his way out of at least some destructive patterns (after what that bender with Sarah Lynn, one hopes that pattern will be broken). And seeing a small shining light in the darkness might be enough to propel BoJack into a slightly less self-absorbed asshole in season four.
Now that’s I’ve touched on the dark portion of the show’s dark comedy classification, I want to take a few moments to highlight how well the series once again managed the balance the comedy with the painful introspection. I honestly cannot think of another show that balances out the darkness baked into its premise with comedy than BoJack (while comedy is certainly an element of a show like Orange is the New Black, rarely does it so seamlessly coexist with the darkness that BoJack Horseman can intermingle with the laughs). From the fun asides with Character Actress Margo Martindale (who I certainly hope survived that incident with the spaghetti), to having BoJack and Sarah Lynn arrive at an AA meeting where a live drinking bird toy was sharing his struggle with constantly needing a drink, the third season was chock-full of these little moments that not only relieved the tension of BoJack’s continual failings, but also reminded the audience that even when things look incredibly bleak, there’s still humor and laughter in the ridiculous world we live in.
And in no episode was this more apparent than in “Fish Out of Water.” Stunningly animated and almost entirely without dialogue, the episode encapsulated BoJack’s character perfectly. He’s not a horrible creature, but he has a penchant for trying to asuage his own guilt by doing something that only makes things worse in the end. Even when BoJack manages to accomplish something good (in this case, saving the baby seahorse and reuniting him with his father), it still doesn’t achieve what BoJack wants.
There isn’t a great feeling of accomplishment and no major recognition of the action. Hell, the baby didn’t even look at him as he waved goodbye. BoJack proved he doesn’t always destroy everything and everyone he touches, but it didn’t make him feel any better. It didn’t make him any less lonely (that beat with him standing alone and lost in the doorway was heartbreaking). Just like giving Kelsey the note didn’t mend a relationship he destroyed. And it was just as fitting that BoJack found out about the speaker system in his helmet when it was far too late to be of use. That’s just how things go for him. It’s a comedy of errors until it spirals into tragedy. After all, you can’t have one without the other.