The inaugural episode of BoJack Horseman’s fifth season closes with the headline for its own review. Cocky? Perhaps. But this series has earned it.
I don’t exaggerate when I say I truly believe BoJack Horseman to be the single greatest series on television. It shouldn’t be. It does not make any logical or mathematical sense that the most intelligent, profound, thought-provoking, entertaining and emotionally gutting series of the 21st century is about a talking horse in an absurdist rendition of California deconstructing the Groening/MacFarlane-brand adult-humor animated series, but it is. I place my trust in Raphael Bob-Waksberg completely. And if he tells me this is going to be “a brilliant season of television,” nothing thus far has given me reason to doubt him.
Each season of BoJack is both an extension of its predecessors and a systematic peeling away of another one of BoJack’s layers to reveal the ugliness always lying underneath. As a wise, disembodied George Takei voice gleefully said back in season two, “everything is a metaphor. You [BoJack] are literally a metaphor.” Diving deeper into BoJacks’ psyche means diving deeper into ourselves, and the more frantic the search for some glimmer of hope in the swirling vortex or emptiness becomes.
This season looks to take that meta-dynamic to the next level by casting the horse in an gritty anti-hero crime drama series for a popular streaming app. The aforementioned parting words from Flip McVicker to an unconvinced BoJack are a wink and a nod to the audience that as BoJack the horse is about to take a long and difficult look inward, BoJack the show is about to hold a mirror up to its own existence and apply the same cynical, razor sharp, biting, hilarious lens to which it applies everything else.
The regular characters surrounding BoJack, conversely, provide us with a deeper look into the world overall. Through their various escapades of self-improvement and the futile search for satisfaction, Todd, Diane, Mr. Peanut Butter and Princess Carolyn in their own ways dismantle the myths and expectations of the 21st century life we live through.
It is through them and their individual stories’ resolutions around BoJack that the series levels its core thesis at its audience: BoJack Horseman is not about the collapse of the American dream; it wades knee-deep through its twisted, already-collapsed wreckage and pulls out the bodies underneath. The happy endings we felt ourselves entitled to through a millennia of storytelling are nowhere to be found. And none of the third-act prizes those stories promised were answers like a partner, a child, a job, or a friend. Instead, these resolutions tell every one of us to make our own lives happy, and sometimes that isn’t possible.
Every year I go through the same cycle of anxiety and release. What if BoJack is about to go from the best to the worst thing on television?” And every year I breathe the sigh of relief that that did not happen and I can continue escaping to Hollywood a little while longer. Four seasons is way more than a proof of concept.
BoJack’s is firmly established as a Mount Rushmore face for the gilded age of television. Even if it somehow ran out of steam and produced an objectively bad season, the level of greatness it already achieved is a marvel, even more impressive is the length for which the series has maintained and built upon it. Even if BoJack Horseman somehow fails to go for my jugular with its laser-accurate precision on the reality of depression and the overwhelming condition of life (unlikely), its building blocks have been firmly established in its characters, dialogue, theme, tone and sense of humor that I’d be willing to bet a bad season of BoJack is still pretty spectacular.
It would be impossible to get an accurate impression of BoJack or the central focus of the season from a single episode, but this season premiere communicates to me I have nothing to worry about, because it is simply more BoJack. And if you aren’t watching it by now, what are you waiting for?