“I don’t understand how people live. It’s amazing to me that people wake up every morning and say, ‘Yeah! Another day! Let’s do it!’ How do people do it? I don’t know how.” – BoJack Horseman, giving a motivational speech at an orphanage.
I’ve started to become nervous about Netflix releases. When the now-ubiquitous media giant started the trend of dropping binge-in-one-sitting television seasons, it felt radical, even genius, and kicked off a top-that chain effect that rippled from Amazon Prime to primetime television (see: NBC releasing the full season of Aquarius). But the magic of a pilot season binge doesn’t necessarily carry over to a second season. It’s hard to remember the details of a binge watch, and so it can be hard to jump back into another a full year after the last one. The hype is so high that anything less than genius is a devastating letdown (at best Orange Is The New Black, at worst House of Cards). So I was wary, to say the least, of the new season of BoJack Horseman, the show which was voted by a wide margin to the top of Deadshirt’s Best TV of 2014 list.
I shouldn’t have worried.
While the new season of BoJack, which dropped at midnight on July 17th, naturally doesn’t have the raw shock of that first moment you realize you’re not just watching another Adult Swim cartoon (that’s season 1, episode 4, in case you were wondering), it is as surreal and wholly devastating as ever, and easily the best follow-up season we’ve gotten from Netflix.
Just as the audience has had time to recover from feeling all those feelings in last season’s finale, so, too, have the characters of BoJack had time to collect and compose themselves–at least, it would seem so. Season 2 BoJack is filming Secretariat and listening to self-help tapes voiced by George Takei. (“You’ve gotta conquer that hill. The hill is a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor. You are literally a metaphor.”) Princess Carolyn is digging her heels in at her agency. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are settling into married life. Todd is developing his own Disneyland. It would seem that all our characters, anthropomorphic and human alike, are doing okay.
Except that BoJack’s positive thinking negatively affects his acting, Princess Carolyn’s boss still treats her like an intern, Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter can’t get on the same page, and Todd’s Disneyland is literally on fire. So really, nothing at all has changed, except maybe the level of everyone’s denial.
For any other show, such character stagnancy could be a death wish, but BoJack is not any other show. BoJack’s depression can be alleviated, but it can never be cured, and this season doesn’t shy away from letting us feel that weight. That’s not to say BoJack can’t be happy–in fact, he’s a much happier horse this season than last, thanks to new girlfriend Wanda, an owl voiced by Lisa Kudrow (her best role in years). Wanda’s been in a coma for 30 years, but that doesn’t stop her career as a network executive, producing the hit game show Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out!. The incomprehensible show, hosted by Mr. Peanutbutter and created by J. D. Salinger (you read that right) is the best of many new developments in Hollywoo (spelling intentional), the twisted Angeleno world where BoJack and his pals reside (Another is the revelation that the network is owned by AOL-Time-Warner-Pepsico-Viacom-Haliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joe’s.)
The members of the ensemble get more solo screen time this time around, most notably Mr. Peanutbutter, whose happy-go-lucky attitude masks depths of insecurity. Diane, on the other hand, is notably less involved in this season as she travels to the fictional war-torn Cordovia, which, while detrimental to her marriage, isn’t much of a loss for the show. I was never the biggest fan of Amy Sedaris’ Princess Carolyn, but I appreciate the effort to humanize her (cat-anize?) through her relationship with business bunny Rutabaga Rabbitowitz (Ben Schwartz, settling for another tiresome Jean Ralphio character). Interestingly, the character who had the least development this season, Todd, had some of the best alone time, even if it was, as he says himself, “just a series of loosely related wacky misadventures.” One short sketch, culminating in Todd making two iPhones kiss, was so balls-to-the-wall in its absurdity I still laugh just thinking about it.
Some of the best bit parts of last season get a welcome return, including Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface, treefrog Charlie Witherspoon, and of course Character Actress Margo Martindale (sadly no David Boreanaz yet, though). If you listen closely you can catch scores of celebrity voices, too–Paul McCartney, Amy Schumer, and Tatiana Maslany number among my favorites.
This season of BoJack also played around with some formatting conventions, a great sign in the context of a binge season. One episode is nothing but a series of unrelated vignettes that start at the same point in time, while another puts all its eggs in the A-story basket. We also are treated to some fun riffs on the animation: Cops-style handheld for scenes at the police station, Thomas Kinkade brushstrokes for a trip to the museum, a “single-take” hallway shot behind the scenes at the network studio. BoJack is gleefully unrelenting in its use of visual punchlines, some of which are blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bits of clowning, some of which add up to a bigger picture.
All in all, BoJack Horseman remains one of the most inventive and emotionally charged shows on any screen. Two seasons in, BoJack Horseman is carving out a new space somewhere between comedy and tragedy, with high and low notes that soar with equal truth. Come for the laughs, stay for the heartache, and have your mind blown along the way.
BoJack Horseman‘s full second season is available on Netflix.