Aside from GLOW, which appeals to this writer’s sensibilities as a wrestling fan, BoJack Horseman is that one series on Netflix which I can watch from start to finish in one day or two days tops, in true binge-watching fashion. Despite a rocky start that relied on an overload of pop culture references for its brand of show business satire, series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his team eventually painted a nuanced, yet dark picture of a tortured celebrity, an anthropomorphic horse who has more issues than National Geographic. With Season 5 having arrived in full on Friday, is it fair to say that the adult animation comedy/drama is knocking it out of the park after a fourth season that got slightly mixed reviews, as IGN and other publications noted?
The short answer would be yes, but for the long answer, you’ll need to watch each of BoJack Horseman’s 12 episodes for Season 5. As Season 4 ended on a hopeful note (at least for the titular character’s standards) as BoJack (Will Arnett) confirmed that the young female horse he thought might be his daughter was actually his half-sister, the fifth season starts out on that same hopeful path. However, it doesn’t stay that way for long.
After the first five episodes walk us through the changes in the lives of each of the show’s main characters, most notably BoJack’s new lead role in a gritty cop drama called Philbert, the sixth episode gives viewers 25 minutes of raw, naked, and vulnerable emotion as BoJack delivers a eulogy at his estranged mother Beatrice’s funeral, with no participation whatsoever from the show’s other main characters. This episode also reminds us of that one callous thing BoJack did in the fourth season, which was to send Beatrice to the worst nursing home possible and lie to her by telling her that she was back in her old childhood home.
BoJack Horseman season 5 doesn’t let its hero off easily. It’s bracing and thrilling. https://t.co/gEH5m2pZVH
— Vox (@voxdotcom) September 15, 2018
In Episode 6 (“Free Churro”), we see the conflict of feelings going through the eponymous anti-hero’s mind, as he struggles to say nice things about a mother who, together with his father, verbally and psychologically abused him as a child and helped mold him into the tremendously flawed individual he became as an adult. You will never look at a free churro the same way again after BoJack explains how a complete stranger – a Jack in the Box cashier who gave him the episode’s titular snack when he told her his mother just died – showed more kindness in one brief moment than his mother ever did to him in his entire lifetime.
With that in mind, the second half of BoJack Horseman’s fifth season gets dark quickly, as BoJack begins to abuse drugs due to an injury he suffered on-set and Diane (Alison Brie) tries to process some troubling, yet previously documented information about BoJack. She also chafes at the misogynistic, chauvinist attitudes being promoted by Philbert and the people who work on said show-within-a-show, including BoJack himself. All this culminates in a penultimate episode where, as IGN opined, there is “no rooting” for BoJack as he blatantly crosses the line between anti-hero and outright villain in one brief moment of drugged-out insanity.
The season finale, as is often the case, offers some hope for BoJack and the people around him and leaves several questions unanswered. But if there’s anything to take away from the fifth season in general, it has to be this – if it isn’t broken, it isn’t BoJack. And as he said in Season 5’s sixth episode eulogy, there’s “nothing more realistic than that.”
“You never get a happy ending because there’s always more show. I guess, until there isn’t.”
'BoJack Horseman' season 5 is an incisive look at how Hollywood enables abusive men. But the show also turns its lens on itself, asking what society gains and loses when artists tell relatable stories about flawed male antiheroes, @lenikacruz writes https://t.co/VxADP7KrDR
— The Atlantic (@TheAtlantic) September 15, 2018
At this point, we can’t say for sure whether BoJack Horseman will ever get the happy ending most television comedies or dramedies do, but taking stock of what we saw in Season 5, there’s a lot more to its 12 episodes than a further exploration of BoJack’s twisted psyche. As the series is still a Hollywood satire at its core, a lot of the episodes were very timely in the light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and the plethora of male celebrities who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct, only for many of them to remain well-liked among fans and gainfully employed in their line of work.
Likewise was also nice to see the writers remind viewers that there are so many instances where people, especially those in the public eye, can come about as “fake woke” when their words and/or actions contradict the socially relevant messages they claim to identify with. With the theme of redemption standing out in several Season 5 episodes, BoJack Horseman made it clear that “redemption” is often a buzzword used as entertainment executives try to put a positive spin on the negative words or actions of a disgraced celebrity.
Looking back at previous seasons and comparing it to the new one, I can’t say I was as disappointed with Season 4 as others were, but there were some uneven or dull moments that made it noticeably weaker after the progressive improvement from Seasons 1 to 3, though still must-watch content in any case. BoJack Horseman Season 5, however, is arguably the best of the bunch, as it reminds us after the optimistic Season 4 finale that the titular character is possibly the least traditional, but most realistic, sitcom protagonist there is today, even if he happens to be a talking horse.
This isn’t your traditional sitcom hero with a few flaws here and there, but nothing that could make you hate them outright. BoJack has done so many things that could make you hate him, but there are times when he strives to be decent, hard as it may be for someone with such a tragic upbringing and self-loathing nature. Yet as Diane says after BoJack asks her once again if she thinks he’s a good guy, there’s “no such thing as bad guys or good guys,” and the best path to take is to “do less bad stuff and more good stuff.” That’s something that often rings true, not only in a cartoon world where humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist with one another, but also in the real world we live in.