When “The Simpsons” officially began in the late 1980s, adult animation was relegated to comedy. However, as time passed, the landmark series proved that you could imbue even animated characters with deeply emotional back stories. This weekend, the king of emotional narratives within animation returned and continued to stake its claim as one of the best shows on television. Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” was somewhat of a surprise hit when it debuted in 2014 and has maintained a hit among those in the know. The show functions as a high-level hybrid of “30 Rock” and “Transparent,” while it skewers “Hollywoo” and what it means to be a celebrity. Through its satire, it continues to bite at the highest of comedic levels, while giving us true character development and depth afforded to few other series.
This season, we follow Bojack (Will Arnett) as his world shifts. It turns out a former lover had a daughter, Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), and his mother (Wendie Malick) is suffering from severe dementia. He’s also distanced himself from many of his friends after leaving town for 18 months and cutting off all contact. Diane (Allison Brie) is struggling in her marriage to Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Thompkins) while he runs for governor. Todd (Aaron Paul) is selfless as ever and continues to find himself caught up in hijinks. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) continues to be a successful manager, and her romance with Ralph (Raúl Esparza) takes another step forward. The theme of this season is taking those steps, but for some, the emotional weight is too heavy a price.
The thing that really stands this season out from other is the willingness to change what the show can be from episode to episode. While new shows like “Master of None” and “Atlanta” have embraced this format, “BoJack” has often followed a traditional show format. Last season, there was some departure from that, including the almost silent episode underwater, and the showrunners continue this train this season. One of the best episodes of the season belongs to Todd, who has been the best person on the show since its inception. Another engages in BoJack’s depression and features different animation styles to show what is going on in BoJack’s mind.
However, “Ruthie” is the best episode of the season, perhaps of the Fall 2017 slate. It is an episode devoted to Princess Carolyn and follows emotionally devasting news for her character. The showrunners have absolutely perfected storytelling with these characters, and this is the one to prove it. The episode features a dynamic turn from Sedaris and gives the underrated actress an opportunity to showcase her talent.
There are a lot of other actors and actresses giving top notch vocal performances here. Arnett might be the strongest of the bunch. There are few who could be as endearing as BoJack can be, while also being as absurdly despicable. When he conveys BoJack’s emotion, it proves that this was a role Arnett was born to play. Nancherla is a spectacular addition to the show, and should continue to develop as a comedian after her role. There’s a hopefulness in her performance that makes you feel for her instantly.
Paul and Thompkins are also incredibly talented as the levity in the series. Mr. Peanutbutter running for President is hilarious and gives echoes of our current political climate. As noted, Paul absolutely dominates scenes as Todd explores his sexuality (or asexuality in this case). While other characters follow fairly dark paths, both actors bring jokes and absurdity. This helps offset some of the tougher stories this season and creates a floor for each episode.
This season is spectacular from start to finish, and not a single episode dips into 2-star territory. At worst, you’re looking at an above average series. At best, you’re seeing a show dominate in only the ways great television can. With 4 seasons in the book, “BoJack” has established itself as a hallmark of the genre. It has placed itself as one of the great animated shows in a decade filled with them.