TV Review: Daring New ‘Bojack Horseman’ Season Defies Expectations

Who would’ve thought an alcoholic animated horse would give us the most nuanced takes on a variety of hot topics not limited to dementia, gun control, the election, sexism, infertility and Felicity Huffman’s Booty Academy? “Bojack Horseman” remains a one of a kind marvel of a show in its fourth season. What’s also clear from the opening episode is it knows it doesn’t need its title character in order to succeed. Over the past three seasons, the creators of the show have built such a stable (no pun intended) of rich characters who can more than hold their won. Indeed, this season gives some of our favorite characters some great bottle episodes, many of which will leave one sobbing by the end of it. With a deft hand, “Bojack Horseman” sways between absurdist delight and soul-crushing sadness. Netflix has made its quietly best show yet.

Following last season’s bender and subsequent breakdown, Bojack Horseman (Will Arnett) retreats for a year, with no word to any of his friends. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, life goes on. Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) grows closer to her boyfriend, Ralph Stilton (Raul Esparza). Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) moves into politics, attempting to run for Governor of California on charm alone and without any qualifications. His wife, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) tries to remain supportive, despite their political disagreements, while writing for a new click bait site. Finally, Todd (Aaron Paul) deals with recognizing his asexuality while becoming embroidered in a sham celebrity couple. Upon returning to Hollywood, Bojack finds a surprise at his door. A young horse, Hollyhawk (Aparna Nancherla), makes her way to Bojack’s doorstep claiming he is her Father. Rather than seek a relationship with Bojack, Hollyhawk enlists Bojack to help track down her biological Mother.

The above is only a sliver of the madcap genius that unfolds throughout season four of the Netflix animated series. Every character finds their own unique groove with subplots tailored to fit them so specifically. The “illegitimate daughter” storyline is nothing new for TV. However, Hollyhawk comes off as such a unique, interesting character, the storyline feels fresh. Likewise, the cat and mouse relationship of Princess Carolyn and Ralph Stilton eschews any one note conflicts or jokes. Many shows have tackled election related episodes in our post-Trump world. However, Mr. Peanutbutter’s run for office does an even better job of explaining the fickle nature of our political climate and the public’s desire to elect someone they relate to, rather than the most qualified person for the job.

It’s a travesty the show has yet to reap the Emmys attention it deserves. However, if anyone is going to follow in Kristen Schaal’s footsteps in the voice acting race, it deserves to be Wendy Malick. Malick has long delivered biting, acidic punchlines aplomb as Bojack’s disapproving mother, Beatrice Horseman. However, when given the chance to anchor not only her whole episode but also the big reveal of the show, Malick navigates the situation with great precision and heart. Throughout all of this, though, she never loses her character’s edge. Similarly, newcomer Aparna Nancherla announces herself as a fresh, new voice as the biggest new, central character Hollyhock. There’s a tremendous wit to her delivery that never ignores the fragile teenage girl underneath it all. Hollyhock anchors the entire season, and Nancherla’s voice acting truly helps cement her as an unforgettable beating heart of the show.

“Bojack Horseman” makes itself known not only for gut-punch storytelling, but also some of the strongest, most hilarious celebrity cameos and voice over performances. Perhaps the greatest role Jessica Biel has ever played is the B-list dictator like power hungry actress version of herself in this show. An ex-wife of Mr. Peanutbutter himself, Biel emerges as the best take on a real life personality since Character Actress Margo Martindale. Lake Bell also nails her role as Mr. Peanutbutter’s other ex-wife, Katrina Peanutbutter, his heartless, no-nonsense campaign manager. On the other side of the spectrum are Matthew Broderick and Jane Krakowski, who truly haunt as Beatrice’s flawed parents. Andre Braugher, Lin Manuel Miranda, RuPaul Charles, Sharon Horgan, Kathy Najimy, Martin Short and Patti LuPone uniformly turn out memorable moments from short cameos.

The line between satire and sincerity is so thin its nearly impossible to walk across it. “Bojack Horseman” miraculously exists on both sides, without ever feeling tonally incompatible. Just when one thinks its going to zig, it zags. One episode it rips your heart out with a bottle episode of a principal character. The next moment, it tackles sexism and gun control with one disturbing, yet hilarious, punchline. The animators behind the show continually dazzle. Every inch of the frame bursts with visual gags that can easily be missed upon first viewing. Few shows have me eager to rewatch immediately after finishing. However, “Bojack Horseman” is rivaled by very few.

Bojack Horseman” season four is available in its entirety on Netflix

GRADE: (★★★★)

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