BoJack Horseman Season 4 Review: The Root of Us All

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When season three ended with BoJack catching a glimpse of “wild” horses on the horizon, it forced BoJack to recognize the kinship of his own species he clearly missed out on. They, in their anonymity, were who the laws of nature said BoJack had to be. But he’s not, he’s a washed-up ’90s sitcom star facing depression and alcoholism. Ordinary is impossible. After spending the premiere away from the show’s titular figure, season three’s cliffhanger is quickly and anticlimactically resolved at the onset of season four’s second episode, but it does chart a course based on the idea of BoJack’s roots that sets the entire season in motion.

Coming off of season three, which, after a year and change of letting the dust settle, has stuck out as one of the great television masterpieces of this decade, season four feels almost like a whole new show. For its first half, the five main characters are mostly spread out, with their specific plotlines having little to do with the show’s basic premise of satirizing Hollywood and celebrity life. While BoJack is off on a tangent desperately trying to find a way to connect with his ancestry in Michigan, Mr. Peanutbutter sets up a campaign to run for governor, which Diane disapproves of not only because her husband is an absolute idiot, but because it’s taking away from time that they should be working on their clearly damaged marriage. She’s also trying to write meaningful political essays at a blog called Girl Crush. Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn, comfortable in her new relationship, starts trying to become a mother. Then there’s Todd, who comes out as asexual in the premiere and continues to assimilate into that community throughout the season, which is frankly a landmark in the depiction of the orientation (Wikipedia’s list of other fictional asexual characters, a list of less than 10, includes the likes of Jabba the Hutt and the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, hardly characters that help us better understand asexuality).

The point is, everyone on BoJack Horseman is looking for themselves this season. What’s remarkable is how emotionally and believably it gets them a little closer by the end. After the great first two episodes, the season hits a bit of a lull while setting up the rest of its examinations. The groundwork being laid is ever-important for the payoff when the season is over, but don’t expect another early season masterstroke like “Fish Out of Water” this year. Instead, as BoJack returns home, seemingly failing to reconnect with himself, he’s greeted by someone who says she’s his daughter, Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla). She was adopted by eight gay males in a polyamorous relationship (you meet them late in the season, and it’s amazing), but is now in search of her birth parents. But by the time BoJack is done introducing himself, she’s far more interested in meeting her birth mother, who she hopes will actually be nice to her. And yet, the more time he spends with Hollyhock, the more he sees himself in her. Thinking he’s a parent changes him, even if he gets in his own way for most of the ride. The season’s brilliant sixth episode, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” dives deep into BoJack’s depression, and how he’s going to handle that in mentoring Hollyhock, if at all.

Following the also-brilliant seventh episode, “Underground,” an insane bottle episode that reunites the five main players, season four kicks into high gear for a finish that sees just about everyone not only getting more comfortable with themselves, but also becoming better, more honest people. The season’s best episode, “Time’s Arrow,” even asks us to find remorse for BoJack’s endlessly cruel mother. We do, of course, because the writers of this show are experts in extracting feeling out of the deepest pits of emotional despair, a talent that has pushed BoJack Horseman into the very top tier of television on right now.

So sure, season four won’t be as immediately memorable as season three, and yes, it’s election plotline is a bit tiring after pretty much every other show from Homeland to Arrow has recently down. But this show is still in prime form, cutting away at the layers of humanity to reveal something new, even in its fourth season: an inherent goodness. In this tumultuous, often disturbing 2017, one of the most depressing shows on television found a way to be uplifting. And it did so while sprinkling eye-roll-inducing, hilarious animal puns into every nook and cranny. May BoJack Horseman‘s insane, genuinely unique blend never be rendered irrelevant. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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