Bojack Horseman Continues to Strive in Season Five
Warning: Light spoilers for season five of Bojack Horseman
Debuting in 2014 on Netflix, the comedy about a show featuring a washed up celebrity from the 90’s in the city of “Hollywoo” started as a fun satire of the Hollywood lifestyle, but developed into much more. Few, if any shows on television, have portrayed the complexity of emotions, relationships and the different types of mental illnesses than Bojack Horseman, a cartoon featuring anthropomorphic animals.
In the season five trailer, one particular line rang out multiple times. “You say you want to get better, and you don’t know how.” For five great seasons (and rest assured, season five is amazing), the question revolving around Bojack was “Can he get better?” “Is he a good person?” Season five sets out to answer these questions, but as usual with the show, and real life, the answer is never black and white.
The framing of this season is perhaps its most brilliant feature. Bojack Horseman has never been afraid of tackling episode structure before, but this season raises the bar for concept episodes. One episode features a standalone story told through the format of an article; another told as a 20-minute monologue that deserves notable attention. One story is told from the perspective of two separate side characters who observe the events; another as four separate Halloween parties from different years taking place in the same episode. A particular episode operates as a stream-of-consciousness bender that puts us in the mind of its character. This season is daring in its ambitious and is stunningly successful in what it tries to do.
Bojack has been cast in his new show, “Philbert”, a detective character whose life bares more than a slight coincidence to his own. The character Philbert leads to an introspection of not just the character, but the show itself. Philbert is a great framing device for the entire season, acting as a central hub for its characters to operate. Princess Carolyn operates as producer of the show while trying to adopt a child. Todd (perhaps inevitably) becomes the manager of the show while grappling with his personal issues and Diane becomes a writer on the show while dealing with the fallout of her divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter who himself is cast on the show.
Season four saw the show’s characters more separated than ever, and while each character this season goes through individual story arcs on their own, the show brings its characters back together more often this season. The cast continues to be one of the best on television, as Will Arnett, Alison Brie and newcomers Rami Malek and Stephanie Beatriz give amazing voice acting work, which brings the characters to life. Each of these characters go through their own inner battles, but none stand out larger than Bojack’s.
Philbert, as a concept, allows the show to really dissect Bojack and itself, delivering meta commentary, and showing us a complete arc for Bojack and where he needs to go from here. Although the end of season four left on a positive note for Bojack, showing happiness for him might be possible, but season five assures that it’s not that simple. For every happy ending, there’s a day after, and Bojack’s mental health issues aren’t simple enough to be fixed so easily.
Bojack Horseman’s portrayal of depression continues to be the best display of mental health on television, with the show tackling his depression and addictions head on this season. The show has never shied away from the lows that come with such a topic with the show, despite its surrealism, being known as one of the darkest on television. Season five continues to be no different, offering some of the darkest episodes the show has to offer. Although the show has always held Bojack accountable for his actions, we see this come back affecting Bojack in ways it never has before. Kissing Diane, the close encounter with Penny, the death of Sarah Lynn: All the bad decisions Bojack has made are laid out for the audience to see and makes us question the validity of our anti-hero.
The show asks itself what needs to happen for Bojack to truly become a better person. Bojack has become self-aware of his own issues in ways he wasn’t before, but being aware doesn’t help. He needs to take responsibility for his decisions and happiness in a way that he never has been able to before, and the show holds him accountable for that. As a character, Bojack has hit many lows, and this season is no different. However, we see it happen for a reason.
Depression is a subject that hits more kids than ever before, making Bojack Horseman a powerful and influential show that can affect many. Season five holds its character, and an audience that may sympathize with him, accountable. In the season five trailer, Diane states “You want to get better, and you don’t know how.” The show may have answered the question, but it’s going to take a lot of responsibility and accountability. In a powerful season full of affecting moments and themes, that may be its most meaningful message.