Bojack Horseman Season 4 Premiere is a Heavy Return

Bojack Horseman Season 4 Premiere
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Bojack Horseman Season 4 Premiere Plot Summary:

Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign to recall the governor of California culminates in a high-stakes ski race. Meanwhile, BoJack is nowhere to be found.

I think a quick recap is in order to get us ready for where the action is about to take us in the first episode of season 4. When we left all our friends in Hollywoo, BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) had just stopped himself from committing suicide. Diane (voiced by Alison Brie) had gotten a job at a trendy feminist blog. Mr. Peanutbutter’s (voiced by Paul F. Tompkins) ex-wife Katrina (voiced by Lake Bell) returned, convincing him he should run for governor. Princess Carolyn (voiced by Amy Sedaris) had finally found a stable partner in Ralph Stilton (voiced by Raul Esparza), a mild-mannered mouse. Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul) becomes a millionaire and then immediately lost everything when he accidentally tipped his waitress eight million dollars. He also revealed his sexuality to his friend and sort-of love interest from last season, Emily. (voiced by Abbi Jacobson).

Bojack Horseman Season 4 Poster

It’s not made explicitly clear how much time has passed since that all happened. Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign seems to be in full swing, yet it’s also coming to a rapid close; the first step in Katrina’s plan was to gain enough signatures to get the current governor recalled, and there’s only a week left to collect an impossible amount of signatures. Despite this impossibility, Diane is making a point to be a doting and supportive wife. At this point, she knows that it’s easier to lean into Mr. Peanutbutter’s delusions and wait for him to fail than it is for her to waste her energy and cause herself stress by trying to talk him out of it. She also relishes the fact that with his ex-wife Katrina around, Diane seems chill by comparison. The new chill Diane waits in the wings, delighting in the fact that she can be the devoted wife while also anticipating her husband’s inevitable crash and burn.

BoJack is completely out of the picture for the entirety of the episode, and so it’s only natural that Mr. Peanutbutter steps up to replace him. And if it wasn’t for Diane placing constant, frantic unanswered calls to BoJack, we’d almost forget that this wasn’t Mr. Peanutbutter’s show to begin with. He’s finally given depth, and his personality is explored beyond that interminable niceness that we learned last season is just part of who he is. He’s doggedly persistent, in all the wrong ways.

Opening the episode is a flashback to 1992 when the Untitled Horsin’ Around Knockoff is struggling to find its ground thanks to a woefully miscast Vincent D’Onofrio filling the role Mr. Peanutbutter would eventually turn into an entire career. Speaking of D’Onofrio, he is voiced by himself and you’re gonna wanna watch what they make him do here.

After literally walking in off the street, straight onto the set, Mr. Peanutbutter’s antics amuse the crowd and the showrunners enough that they determine, regardless of whether or not he can act, that he has “it” and “it” is all he needs. He coasted off that message for 25 years, and now it’s time for him to realize you can’t land the lead in a TV show by walking onto the set, and you can’t become governor simply by standing your intent to do so.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

We know that Mr. Peanutbutter rose to fame by playing the father in a show remarkably similar to BoJack’s show, Horsin’ Around. It seems like in the court of public opinion, Mr. Peanutbutter’s House was the superior show and he the superior lead. This is due in large part to Mr. Peanutbutter’s inherent likeability, something that BoJack has had a difficult time accepting and which he is deeply jealous of.

Peanutbutter’s likability is something that has carried him his entire life. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to BoJack, in that BoJack has a deep-seated resentment for himself and craves approval but dislikes anyone who gives it to him, while Mr. Peanutbutter has an enormous amount of self-confidence and just enough delusion to either be oblivious to or deeply shocked by the idea someone wouldn’t like him. Both need approval, but only one of them wants it. Until now. But when it comes time for Mr. Peanutbutter to collect on all that popularity he presumes he has, he realizes that he’s coming up short. It’s not that people don’t like him, his ex-wife assures him. People just don’t like him ENOUGH. He’s been getting handouts his entire life because he’s just a nice guy, and now that he expects more, it’s time for him to try more.

Except maybe not I guess, because after realizing that he won’t get enough signatures to recall the current governor, he challenges him to a ski race down the mountain: winner gets governor. The current governor (voiced by Andre Braugher) ignores this challenge for a month (adding to however long it’s already been between seasons 3 and 4) before saying he won’t engage unless it’s added into the law of California that governors can be determine by a ski race. Governor Chuck Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz happens to be a gold medalist in skiing, so Katrina sends Peanutbutter to “ski school.” Of all the things I might be spoiling plot-wise, I want to let you enjoy his adventures in ski school yourself. The end result is, to skip over some other spoiler-y details, that the two will face off in a special election.

At several points in the episode, Mr. Peanutbutter acknowledges that he doesn’t actually want to be governor, he just assumed it would happen by virtue of him wanting it to. For this reason, there are inevitable parallels between Mr. Peanutbutter’s quest to be governor born out of pure boredom, and the 2016 election – Trump specifically. This season was likely written prior to (or during the early days of) that election, so I’m sure these parallels were not intentional. It’s unfortunate that we have no choice but to see it that way, because I do think it hinders the storytelling. What was originally this fantastical idea about a golden retriever running for public office because he thinks to himself, “why not?” isn’t actually that far off from reality. The lesson I assume is in his arc this season is kind of lost. Still, I’m excited to watch the specifics of how it plays out and how his rival plays off of him.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Princess Carolyn and Ralph get little screen time in this episode, but their story gets set in motion and it looks like it may make up a lot of the heart of this season. I’ve been hoping that Carolyn could break away from BoJack’s toxicity long enough to begin building a life for herself, one where she isn’t tricked by children inside a trench coat. Although each character is full of flaws, Carolyn’s biggest is that she’s a workaholic who sacrifices herself for her job. I want her to work on that and it looks like she does too, for once. Part of me is worried that there are darker days ahead for this couple than we’re made to believe here, but if one character could emerge from season 4 a better person or animal, I hope it’s her.

Todd and Emily have a small disagreement early in the episode regarding his sexuality, which he revealed at the end of last season. Todd isn’t straight, but he’s not gay. He feels as though he’s nothing. When Emily laments that her friendship with Todd isn’t enough for her and she wants a boyfriend, which he is unable to be for her due to his asexuality, he bristles at the use of that word to define him. He doesn’t feel it’s accurate, and yet Emily feels like it’s important for him to put a label on it in this context. When Todd gets another label forced on him at the end of the episode, he rejects that one too, declaring he’s going to go on a journey of self-discovery to figure himself out before he agrees to any label. It seems like the depths of Todd might get explored more this season as well, and I really hope that whatever point they plan to make about his sexuality, that it’s handled respectfully.

Photo Courtesy of Netflix

I saved the best (in my opinion, I’m biased) for last: Diane. No matter how much she loves her husband, the fact is that he’s not a very good listener. Diane has never been able to truly be honest with him – or at least felt like she could be – and her relationship with BoJack was meaningful to both of them because they both fulfill a role that no one else will. They love to tell the truth no matter how harsh it is, can relate to each other through their shared childhood traumas, and know exactly what to say to encourage each other. Simply put, Diane and BoJack are codependent, but best friends, and not having BoJack around is clearly not healthy for Diane.

She’s taken to calling him and leaving him voicemails whenever she needs to vent, or just to ask him how he’s been; she calls BoJack so frequently that she has apparently filled up his inbox. There are only two glimpses of Diane’s current life that we see, beyond her regularly driving by BoJack’s house to see if the lights are on and eventually going inside to find it’s been abandoned: her struggling to find an audience at her new job, and her find it so hard to be honest with Mr. Peanutbutter that he ends up deciding to challenge the governor to a ski race despite not knowing how to ski. She tells BoJack in no uncertain terms that his leaving has affected her deeply, and knowing what we know about BoJack, she probably only pushed him away farther. Diane may be close to a breaking point without having someone to bounce the worst aspects of herself off of, so I’m very interested to see how her arc will pan out this season.

And that’s everyone. Mr. Peanutbutter is setting nicely into his classic role of Bojack knockoff, doing it arguably better than his predecessor, and Diane is starting to exhibit a lot of self-doubt. Princess Carolyn may or may not be starting a family and making her job only her #2 priority. Todd’s about to find himself. BoJack’s current whereabouts are unknown. While the show functions perfectly without him, and you’ll almost find yourself forgetting where he even falls into any of this action, he still kind of looms over the episode; the shadow of BoJack is present and it’s casting a lot of doubt onto whatever happy ending any of these characters could conceivably have. It almost feels like the creators want you to feel like these characters are better off for not having BoJack around, but I don’t know if that’s going to prove true. I wonder if we’ve never noticed their negative traits before because BoJack was around to keep them in check.  

Rating: 8 out of 10

–Melissa Jouben