DISCLAIMER: The following contains spoilers for Season 5 of BoJack Horseman. If you don’t wish to be spoiled, I suggest you mosey on over to Netflix and binge away.
BoJack Horseman continued its streak of being one of the most underrated shows on television with its fifth season. This season marked as a turning point for the titular BoJack (Will Arnett) as he finds himself on the film set of another popular TV series. Not only that, he becomes reliant on pain pills after a stunt gone wrong. Said new addiction serves as a catalyst for BoJack finally admitting he needed help. In the season finale, we see Diane (Alison Brie) drive BoJack to a rehabilitation center far from LA.
Now, we’ve never seen BoJack fully take responsibility for his actions in the past. He would merely resort to drinking as a way to “clean the slate.” In the standout episode “The Showstopper,” BoJack is high on pills and finds it difficult to decipher reality from fiction. We see the setting of his TV series “Philbert” intertwine with real life as he attempts to solve a “conspiracy.” However, he takes it a step too far and ends up choking his real life girlfriend/costar Gina (Stephanie Beatriz). BoJack truly hit rock bottom. BoJack Horseman has always boasted strong, dynamic writing. However, this season took that to a new level as the series continues to push the envelope and explore new avenues.
Of course, it wouldn’t be BoJack Horseman without commentary on a prevalent topic in our current society. This season’s highlighted hot button issue was the Me Too Movement. Diane joins “Philbert” as a writer, but is rebuffed by the showrunner Flip (Rami Malek). Flip doesn’t view Diane as a worthy equal in the writer’s room, and the whole scenario reeks of sexism. BoJack begins to find his footing as a feminist as he objects to Flip’s vision and dialogue. However, BoJack veers in the wrong direction as he becomes the new spokesman for feminism. Because feminism is only done properly if a man is at the helm. BoJack Horseman, once again, is unafraid of delving into sensitive issues and giving its brilliant two cents on said issues. This season hit the nail on the head in this regard.
Now, the show also injected the Me Too Movement into its B story arc. Todd (Aaron Paul) winds up in a lofty accountant position with the company that’s financing “Philbert.” A sex robot (yes, a sex robot) that Todd initially crafted for the purpose of pleasuring his friend Emily takes on the CEO position of said company. Of course, shenanigans ensue with the talking sex robot as it makes unwanted advances on all the staff. Now, we know the sex robot is merely repeating the catch phrases Todd supplied it with. The robot is effectively ejected from its CEO position.
However, the sex robot is immediately offered a cushy spot with a prime network in town. Todd comments that said robot was just fired from another company for sexual harassment. But, as is the typical response for most of these scenarios in real life, the robot “apologized.” Therefore, it should be allowed to work at another studio. Sound familiar? Diane makes an interesting remark this season about how we as a society should deal with harassers. She calls for these men to be held accountable for their actions. For them to take responsibility. My hat’s off to BoJack Horseman for giving this topic the spotlight it deserves.
Best episode of the season? Hands down, without a shadow of a doubt, “Free Churro.” In this episode, we learn that BoJack’s mother has passed away. He’s asked to deliver the eulogy at her funeral. Now, the entire episode is solely BoJack delivering said eulogy. Of course, we are well versed in BoJack’s complicated, oftentimes contentious relationship with his mother. That makes this eulogy all the more heartbreaking. What do you say about a woman you called mother who was abusive? For me, this episode hit home. I also have a feeling we’ll be seeing a spike in actors using excerpts from “Free Churro” as monologues for auditions. Arnett deserves accolades for his performance alone (literally). Not to mention, the writing was so beautifully crafted and effectively summarized BoJack’s feelings toward his mother.
Another standout episode was “The Dog Days Are Over,” a Diane-centric episode. We see her travel to Vietnam post-divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). She finds herself wandering aimlessly through life, struggling to anchor herself to her identity or purpose. Diane grapples with her ethnicity and her trials regarding it while growing up in America. She felt at home in Vietnam and was finally able to embrace her heritage. This episode perfectly encapsulates the struggles of people of color in America. Many will find Diane’s struggles relatable. It’s a celebration in diversity. For much of the season Diane learns how to just be – how to exist without Mr. Peanutbutter. We see her bittersweet journey after marriage, the highs and lows of rebuilding oneself. Brie gives a heartfelt, nuanced performance. Subtle and understated, which suits this role perfectly.
This season, we also see Todd explore his relationship with Yolanda (Natalie Morales). He meets her family, and we discover that they’re unaware of her asexuality. Once again, kudos to the writing team for tackling the topic of asexuality with the respect and grace it so deserves. We seldom see asexuality blatantly addressed and explored in television. Not to mention, BoJack Horseman takes it a step further and differentiates between being asexual and aromantic. Representation matters, and it’s immensely gratifying to see the series shine a spotlight on a seldom represented faction of LGBTQIA+. Yolanda eventually comes out to her parents regarding her relationship with Todd, and they embrace it with open arms.
Now, we also shone a spotlight on Princess Carolyn’s (Amy Sedaris) road to adoption. She returns to her hometown in North Carolina, and we learn how she discovered she was incapable of sustaining a pregnancy. Infertility is nothing to be ashamed of, and BoJack Horseman drives that message home. It’s an issue many people struggle with, but it’s always addressed in a negative light. Infertility is met with despair. However, one’s ability to procreate should never be a defining factor or character trait. This show reveals a silver lining for Princess Carolyn, which befits her character. She is never one to settle or give up. There are always other options and BoJack Horseman expresses this idea with aplomb. In the end, Princess Carolyn adopts a beautiful child.
If I had to summarize Season 5 of BoJack Horseman, I would say it’s hopeful. Despite the true rock bottom BoJack experiences, he decides to pull himself up by his bootstraps and accept full responsibility for his actions. This is in line with the message the show conveys regarding the Me Too Movement. Diane is on the road to discovering her identity. Todd becomes more comfortable with his asexuality. Princess Carolyn never gives up. Even Mr. Peanutbutter learns that not fitting a typical “masculine” image that society incessantly projects is okay. This series is hopeful, even amid the doom and gloom of the show’s topics. As Diane tells BoJack (I’m paraphrasing here), “No one is good or bad. We just do good things or bad things.” I couldn’t agree more. We all have the ability to do both inside us.
BoJack Horseman never seems to receive the recognition it deserves, and perhaps it’s because of its animation format. I must admit, I initially had qualms about watching it. However, not only is this show the most realistic in terms of exploring the entertainment industry, but it handles sensitive issues with the respect they deserve. Its message is one of boldness, one of delving deeper into the human condition. BoJack Horseman is unafraid to explore, to boldly go where no man has gone before (sorry, I had to do it).
Final Grade: A
BoJack Horseman Season 5 is now streaming on Netflix.