Comedy Central acquired linear television rights to the series on Jul. 26, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
On Friday, Sept.14, everyone’s favorite depressed horse returned to Netflix. The debut of “Bojack Horseman” season five has brought with it everything that the show has utilized to remain incredible. The juxtaposition of the cute animated style with the morbidly heavy issues it tackles, the fascinating multi-dimensional characters and their dynamics and the central struggle of Bojack attempting not to self-destruct his life. As expected, the show continues to push the button in ways that few other shows do, regarding mental health and political commentary, to equal parts hilarious and tragic outcome. However, at the center of a season that any other show would call a triumph, is an essential question: how long can “Bojack Horseman” keep this up before it is just running in circles?
“Bojack Horseman” is defined by a central plot cycle that has followed it season to season. Bojack seems as though he’s getting better thanks to the finale of the prior season – Bojack starts to spiral, Bojack’s deterioration effects his personal relationships, Bojack hits his new personal low, Bojack sees a glimmer of hope, roll credits. It’s an extremely effective cycle that has yet to truly fail in any significant regard. However, as the pattern becomes more and more evident in the narrative, it is getting a bit more exhausting to witness. Bojack’s struggles are extremely investing, and the show’s consistent drive to go where few others have gone offset the issue, but the formula means that we know that any happiness Bojack finds is intermittent and any relationship he has is doomed to fail. While there is no inherent issue with shows with a tragic nature, the predictability of such makes it simply unexciting. How many more times can the audience watch Bojack hit rock bottom before they are not only depressed, but also un-entertained?
This sounds fairly scathing; however, it is important to note that the season is not bad. The season remains at its best when looking at it from a solely episode-to-episode basis. Per usual, there are some episodes where they attempt to make a more artistic statement, which truly allow the show to shine amongst the best. The most glaring example of such is the masterful episode “Free Churro.” This episode features Bojack as the only character on the screen after the brief introduction, delivering one long monologue. Not only is it a fascinating look inwards at his character, opening up on the main topic with a depth that he is usually unwilling to provide, but it also manages to defy all expectations of being potentially boring, and remains consistently engaging and entertaining throughout the entire episode.
The other highlight that one could describe as a more artistic episode is the penultimate episode, “The Showstopper.” This episode overlaps the life of Bojack himself with short scenes of the television show he is acting in as a way to symbolize how real life and the show are becoming one in his mind. Although this may sound narratively confusing, the changing color scheme between the two sets of scenes makes it abundantly clear to the viewer what exactly is being witnessed. It is wonderfully done, especially when viewed through the context that this show that they are filming is inherently intended to be a meta criticism of “Bojack Horseman” itself.
Despite the triumph of these more artistic episodes, they also serve as an excellent illustrator of the other main issue with this season. The show delivered several episodes that feel relevant to the central plot in only an extremely tangential way. There is an episode focused solely on Diane, an episode focused solely on Bojack, an episode told entirely through the perspective of a therapist and a human resources representative, an episode focused mostly on Mr. Peanutbutter told through a series of flashbacks overlapping with the present and so on. While these episodes are mostly handled masterfully on their own, when viewed through the lens of the season, it results in a somewhat choppy central narrative. Even in these more ambitious episodes that still focus on the central narrative the strange methods of storytelling employed, while unique, make it feel like less ground is covered in general. This would be perfectly effective in a network show with a new episode with its own story every week, but for a streaming show that has always had a strong central narrative, it is a bit disappointing.
While much of this review may have sounded scathing, the worst parts of this season are on a broader sense. When watching each episode and judging it by its own merits, it is hard to find faults and overall, “Bojack Horseman” remains a standout Netflix original, albeit with a lot of room for growth going forward.
Final Grade: B-