In this golden age of television we’re currently enjoying – where critically-acclaimed dramas are accessible all day, in whichever room you fancy, at the click of a button – you’ll find animated series’ are beginning to be overlooked. You’ll rarely hear original or creatively ambitious cartoons like Avatar or Rick and Morty spoken of in the same breath as the likes of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, or Mad Men. But BoJack Horseman season five reminds us why there’s a place for great animated series’ in the pantheon of high-quality television.
Those of you who only know of this series as that weird Netflix programme with the talking animals or those who haven’t made it past the questionable first season will wonder why the rest of us sing BoJack‘s praises. Over the last four seasons, committed viewers have been rewarded with genuine laughs and a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s the original storytelling, the unexpected deaths, the poignant considerations of mental health, and the flawed, heartbreaking characters that keep us coming back for more.
While Season 5 doesn’t reach the heights of the famed underwater episode “Fish Out of Water” or the crippling lows of Beatrice Horseman’s tragic backstory, it maintains a level of human sincerity and emotional resonance that star-studded live-action dramas often struggle to pull off. Furthermore, it manages to stay fresh. In the episode “INT. SUB”, the entirety of the story is told second-hand with the cast playing humorous caricatures of themselves. This is one such example, but every episode plays well, showing the mark of writers deeply concerned with the exploration of ethics and moral responsibility. Thankfully, however, the series doesn’t doesn’t take itself too seriously, perfectly juxtaposing cartoonish absurdity with this human drama.
Each new character arc is strong. BoJack’s leading role in the crime drama Philbert sparks a story arc that exposes the shortcomings of TV’s popular male anti-heroes like Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Walter White. The type of characters who, in an effort to undermine toxic masculinity, “end up glamouring its excesses” – as succinctly put by Diane. This cleverly highlights the damaging aspects of this series’ faults, as heard through Diane’s criticism of the eponymous character’s past actions, and it also leads to the advancement of several story threads that have been seasons in the making. Diane and Mr Peanutbutter’s divorce leads to some long overdue individual character development, taking both characters to interesting places. And the decision to continue exploring Todd’s asexuality and Princess Carolyn’s journey to motherhood proves to be the gift that keeps on giving as both characters develop in unforeseen but believable ways.
It’s hard to sell this series without spoiling the narrative decisions that make it so special, but what I can say is this; BoJack Horseman continues to be a comedy-drama that’s so tragically like reality that it needs a veneer of animation and absurdity to allow viewers to watch it without sinking into existential depression. Not every programme with anthropomorphic animals tackles issues as serious as the male gaze, opioid addiction, divorce, feminism and death. Much like reality, conflicts aren’t neatly resolved within a thirty-minute time-bracket, life is more unfair than it is fair, terrible people get away with their sins for all the wrong reasons, and people constantly try to change but often find they can’t escape themselves.
BoJack Horseman pulls you in with its intelligent humour and creative use of visual gags, but it’ll keep you engaged with its constant reminders that we are not alone and that no one’s got life figured out. Not even a major recording artist like Sarah Lynn or a wealthy celebrity living in Hollywoo.
BoJack Horseman Season 5 premiered Friday 14th September 2018 on Netflix. All episodes are available online.