Trying to sum up the end of “BoJack Horseman” feels like a fool’s errand.
At this point, you’ve probably heard all the obligatory sentiments: “heartwrenching,” “brutal,” “hilarious” or “the best show on TV.” It’s not hyperbolic to say an era has ended. Until these last few episodes dropped at the end of Jan., it was the only show from Netflix’s first forays into streaming that was still going.
Against all odds and improbable circumstances, a show that started off as an Adult Swim-esque “adult animated comedy” blossomed into a harsh yet beautiful examination of a broken man (sorry, horse) and the people around him.
Even more unbelievable is that it never lost its comedic sensibilities as it delved into deeper and more intense territory. Now that its split final season has aired in full, I can confidently say Raphael Bob-Waksberg stuck the landing in typical remarkable fashion.
The first half of the season (eight episodes that aired in 2019) picked up as BoJack (Will Arnett) finally checks into rehab. As the opening montage shows, he seems to be doing better. He’s painting, joining groups and going to therapy (horse therapy, an important distinction). Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) adjusts to the single-parent life with the help of Todd (Aaron Paul), while Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Thompkins) struggles to admit his own relationship issues.
Diane (Alison Brie) has moved to Chicago, entering a relationship with her co-worker Guy (Lakeith Stanfield). So far, so ordinary. In these episodes, BoJack seems to finally start getting better. Everyone, in fact, has an arc of coming to peace with their life in some way or another. To quote an earlier season, they’re “getting their s–t together.”
By the halfway point, BoJack even reaches what could be described as peace; if the show ended there, it would be a fine enough ending. Of course, nothing is ever simple.
The sixth episode brings that fragile peace crashing down to earth as the show walks back through all the most horrible moments, via the extremely “BoJack” characters of Paige Sinclair (Paget Brewster) and Max (Max Greenfield) a reporter and her squabbling companion who’ve stepped right out of a classic screwball comedy. Both Brewster and Greenfield have a lot of fun with their lines, and you sense the writers had fun crafting these moments.
If there’s been a throughline of the series, it’s the idea that improving yourself doesn’t mean you can forget the people you’ve hurt. The key to “BoJack’s” success has always been the fact that the creators (and Bojack himself) realize how loathsome he is. At times, they’ve interrogated the audience response to the character, and in the last season almost dared us to still sympathize with him. Everyone around him has begun cutting themselves off in one way or another, and throughout the season we see each gaining closure of some sort over their arc.
It’s not always the smoothest — there’s a definite sense that Waksberg and the writers had at least a full season’s worth of plot in them that they suddenly had to shove into 16 episodes.
Plotlines that usually would’ve gotten their own episodes to breathe have a b-side spliced onto them, sometimes inelegantly. Although the seams are a tad more visible this time around, the team manages to hold on tightly to its control of tone.
Truly there is no way a deep, upsetting dive into a plotline involving a character going off her antidepressants could co-exist in a moment that features the line “Oh poop! Our scoop’s flown the coop!” And yet this is a show that also relishes in jokes, whether their presented in the background, the dialogue or run throughout the episode. It feels effortless, which is no mean feat and, as always, the animators lovingly fill the background with color, worldbuilding and funny signs. They even get a couple of episodes to really experiment and break things up, especially in the final two episodes.
It wouldn’t be “BoJack” without the signature penultimate episodes, where everything seems to shine (and upset) the most. The one here is perhaps the most upsetting of all for reasons I won’t spoil for you. Let it be said that I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw “Neon Genesis Evangelion” because episode 15 reminds me of that show’s internal finale in the best of ways. By the end of the show, things look much darker for him. But then, it’s always been like that.
More than anything, “BoJack Horseman” has stayed true to itself over the course of its run, forever conscious of its lead character’s actions and the ripple effect he has on people. It feels difficult to sum up. What I can say is that I’m so glad Netflix let this show go on as long as it did. Raphael Bob-Waksberg and other creators made something special, and though the finale didn’t quite clear the impossibly high bar, it stuck the landing. I’m going to miss it.