On July 17th, Netflix subscribers would have begun what is now becoming an annual rite of passage: the binge watch. In this case, the show in question was Bojack Horseman which returned with its second season. In its first season, Bojack evolved from a novel sitcom into a dark dramedy, as we watched Bojack (Will Arnett) attempt to write his (Golden Globe© Winning) memoir with ghostwriter and eventual love interest, Diane (Amy Sedaris). The first season of Bojack essentially whittled down to the story of a guy/horse who wants nothing more than to be happy, despite the fact that his entire lifestyle and personality drives him in the opposite direction. If this isn’t making any sense to you, you probably haven’t watched the first season. Eventually I will review each episode of season 1, but for now you will have to settle with a quick rundown of the facts:
For total, complete beginners, who are not well acquainted with the internet:
That’s our main character. His show, Horsin’ Around (yes Bojack is a horse) was wildly popular but now we meet Bojack on the other side of success as a washed up 90s has been. According to a user on reddit, the origins of his name may be explained by this: Bojack (ボージャック) is the main antagonist of the 1993 film Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound. He is the leader of the Galaxy Soldiers. His name is derived from the Japanese word bōjakubujin, which means “arrogance” or “audacity”. And like any celebrity, Bojack is arrogant.
Wait, he’s a horse?
Yes, as his name would imply Bojack is a horse. In the Bojack world humans and animals live side by side. The animals are anthropomorphic and can talk, but that doesn’t stop a dog from chasing the postman. It gives the show a nice unique touch.
What’s the appeal?
Well the show was originally marketed as this fun, pun-filled show about Hollywood which it was for about the first 4 or so episodes. After that, we were introduced to Bojack’s depression, his narcissism, but overall, his desperate (and sometimes pathetic) need to be loved – even superficially.
How can I watch it?
You’re going to need to get a Netflix account. Netflix is an online video streaming service which you can pay for about $10 a month, but you get the first month as a free trial (which you can cancel at any time). In my opinion, for Australian viewers without a VPN Netflix is only worth getting in order to watch Netflix originals e.g. Orange is the New Black, new episodes of Arrested Development, House of Cards etc. For a wider range of shows I would seriously consider getting Stan which offers the same deal as Netflix.
To people who have just been saying they’ll watch it but haven’t gotten around to it:
I tried watching an episode and it wasn’t that funny.
I hear you on this one. If it weren’t for my habit of never abandoning shows, I probably would have stopped watching. However, I am a student with a lot of work on my plate, meaning, I have an incurable thirst for procrastination. Watch at least 4 or 5 episodes. Bojack only really hit its stride midway through the first season. Personally, while I appreciate the puns and the cut aways to animals-doing-animal-things; it simply isn’t my sense of humour. What charmed me was Bojack’s cynical and selfish nature, and his messed up relationship with almost everyone in his life.
Wait, isn’t Bojack’s love interest a human?
Yes, Diane is a human. But this is the Bojack world. Humans and animals live side by side. They even have relationships with each other. Physical relationships. For some reason it’s not that bad. The whole concept does bring a certain something to the series. Don’t think about it too much. I don’t think I’d like Bojack Horseman nearly as much if it were an entirely human world. It just works.
So while I thought season 1 had a slow start, it was worth the watch. I enjoyed it so much I made an event on my calendar for the release of season 2. Unfortunately, I can’t see myself writing a review of every single episode in the same 48 hours that I will inevitably watch the show (it’s a busy weekend for me). So I’ll start with the first episode of season 2… Brand New Couch.
The series opens on a familiar scene. Baby Bojack is watching the Secretariat (John Krasinski) interview whilst his neglectful and verbally abusive parents are fighting…again. Once Bojack’s father storms out, his mother, Beatrice (Wendie Malick), turns to him. Beatrice encourages the slow erosion of Bojack’s self-esteem as he continually fails to impress her. As we know, this trait defines Bojack’s adult life. We then are taken back to the present, a few days before the filming of Secretariat begins. After much reluctant self-analysis and even success, Bojack’s life still managed to crash and burn in season 1. So season 2 Bojack has decided to make a change. Enter: The New Bojack Horseman. It’s his new way of repressing his past. Bojack listens to self-help tapes, drinks smoothies and speaks in hashtags (cringe). However, he is bombing his performance in Secretariat, his dream role. Bojack’s quasi-positive attitude prevents him from expressing any (marketable) emotion. This continues, until Bojack’s mum finally does something helpful to Bojack. She tells him that he will never find happiness. Bojack’s depression and talent returns. Welcome to season 2.
Obviously not all episodes can be created equal. In Bojack’s case the general flow of plot seems to be a few episodes of filler, a few episodes where drama builds, one episode where everything comes crashing down and then the final episode where Bojack is left to pick up the pieces and move on. Brand New Couch was a solid episode to open on. It certainly didn’t jump the shark, but it did give viewers a taste of Bojack’s self-loathing that we love to watch. I initially thought that the reason Bojack was underperforming as Secretariat was because he idolised the revered racing horse so much. However, what was really stopping Bojack was his New Positive Attitude. Ironically, Bojack’s New Positive Attitude was causing him to revert to his old performance as seen in Horsin’ Around. Bojack’s self-help tape stated, “Happiness is a metaphor for change.” Will Bojack ever be able to change? If there’s one thing Bojack is, its authentic. He can only ever be himself. His self-hatred and genuine desire to be a better person is simply not strong enough to dictate any real change in his life. Despite his life imploding in season 1 due to years and years of gold standard repression, Bojack still resists self-discovery. He shies from real insight for fear of what really compromises his character. Bojack’s armour of self-hatred beats any criticism to the punch, stopping Bojack from ever having a real chance of changing. This is the only way Bojack knows how to be. By the end of the episode viewers are left to believe that maybe the only way Bojack can exist is in misery. On the other hand, we have Todd (Aaron Paul) who is inherently happy. People love Todd for simply being Todd. The juxtaposition of the landowner and squatter is a real punch to the kidneys for Bojack. And yet, I still want Bojack to find happiness in his own way. Strangely enough, I was happy for him to cease his facade of positivity. I just want Bojack to be Bojack.
Brand New Couch gives us ample of dialogue between Bojack and Diane, but to little consequence. What I think will be in focus this season is Diane’s quiet (but growing) dissatisfaction with her life. As Diane settles into real adulthood, she is slowly building a life filled with things that will one day scream, “Wasted opportunity,” at her. She makes money by commercialising her talents and bypassing meaningful opportunities. She is married to Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), which, after last season, I am sure will present her with many occasions to build plenty of resentment. Diane compromises opportunity for comfort and pragmatism. I am interested to see where season 2 takes her – with or without Bojack.
By and large I did enjoy the episode. What I did not enjoy were the hashtag gags. I can say quite confidently, that 99% of a time a hashtag joke is made, I will consider it a waste breath. It has to be an exceptional call to impress me. So yes, I did grow a little tiresome of Bojack’s incessant hashtagging (#sorrynotsorry… I don’t think I can look at myself in the same light anymore). Aside from that the Brand New Couch employed the same wit that viewers came to love throughout season 1.
Overall, Bojack Horseman’s return did not disappoint. Once again, Bojack brings its mix of lighthearted humour, cynicism and abject realism. Brand New Couch brings us to a new chapter in Bojack’s life – a revitalised career and seeming return to normalcy. But it doesn’t forget Bojack’s simple unwavering truth: that Bojack was never meant to be, nor will be, happy.
Bojack Horseman S02E01: 8/10
Don’t look back…except for these:
1. Don’t sit so close to the TV… It’ll make you cruel.
2. Todd nobody can wake anybody else up… You need to wake yourself up.
3. It takes a real narcissistic to think anyone wants to read a book about you. You know how I feel about Anne Frank.
4. I know you want to be happy, but you won’t be… You were born broken… that’s your birthright. And now you can fill your life with projects and your books and your movies and your little girlfriends but that won’t make you whole. You’re Bojack Horseman…there’s no cure for that.