Recurring Cast: Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins
Season Four of BoJack Horseman is the first time since the very first season that the show has felt driven by story, rather than character. In fact, this is a far more narrative-driven season than the first also. Opening with Hollywoo, as it is still wonderfully known as, missing BoJack since his disappearance last season, a year and a half ago, almost every character has an extensive journey to be going on. Mr. Peanut Butter, for reasons no one is quite sure of, seems to have embraced politics, running for governor, alongside Andre Braugher’s sensible politician, which sends his already crumbling marriage with Diane into overload. Princess Caroline is in a successful relationship, but still has no idea how to balance her work life and her personal life, an issue that becomes critical when she realises her biological clock is ticking. And then BoJack returns, after some soul-searching. However, waiting for them is a girl who claims to be his biological daughter and needs his help to find her real mother. BoJack needs to not only wrestle his personal demons, including his fractured relationship with his ageing mother, but now has to become a role model that can guide this nervous teenage girl through adolescence.
In some respects, the emphasis on story-telling is the injection that BoJack Horseman needs to revitalise its content. While the show was consistently gripping, it was beginning to feel a little trapped in its misery-wallowing ways. How many times can BoJack be a self-centred asshole and spiral into a depression funk before the show got stale? The theme of the fourth season seems to be detailing how superficial BoJack’s problems are. The show asks how bad BoJack’s life truly is – he is a famous celebrity, turning down roles for the first time in his life, he seemingly has unlimited funds and, if he truly reached out, there would be friends there to support him through his troubled times. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are suffering far worse issues. Mr Peanut Butter is desperately holding together a marriage that is imploding around him and the biggest thing to blame is his own personality. Princess Caroline’s body is giving out on her, while her agency seems to be moments from declaring bankrupt. Even Diane, who is growing more and more into BoJack with every passing moment, has enough genuine issues that you can empathise with her more than you can the titular hero. Yet, unlike BoJack, most of these characters find a way to fight through their dilemmas. Todd goes through hell most episodes but remains a kind soul, often discovering a comical and unorthodox way of coming out on top. Princess Caroline, until arguably the closing moments in the season, clings to what’s important, fighting even when the odds are against her. And Mr Peanut Butter remains the beam of shining joy in a sea of misery. When BoJack’s problem of the week is the fact he has to queue in a line like a civilian, things start getting hammered into perspective. Despite the change in priorities, Season Four does feel like the series at its most routine. Especially when binged, as BoJack was designed to be, the season does feel like a small dose of BoJack, rather than the hard-hitting drama/comedy it is supposed to be. That being said, there a few beats where BoJack is truly magnificent. The penultimate episode is up there with the best and most jarring of BoJack, made unique by the fact it cuts from the entire cast and focuses on BoJack’s cruel mother, suffering with Alzheimer’s and losing her grip on reality, explaining how she came to be the way she ended up being. It hides the biggest twist of the season, but also is successful, because of the smaller flourishes of tragedy. Even four years in, BoJack finds new ways to mine sadness out of the audience, master of manipulating comedy into drama.
Final Verdict: A bigger emphasis on story keeps BoJack ticking over for another season, keeping the heart-breaking surprises its winning hand.