Still Broken gives Bojack his long awaited reunion episode of Horsin’ Around. It had all the elements of Bojack’s distinctive style, but Still Broken played it safe. The jokes weren’t too edgy, it wasn’t too existential and it had the classic sitcom “moral of the story” moment – complete with an inconsequential subplot undertaken by a minor character. However, this wasn’t to the episode’s detriment. I thought it was fitting that Herb’s death played out like a sitcom.
In Still Broken, Bojack returns to Herb Kazzaz’s (Stanley Tucci) mansion for the last time. Herb has finally passed away. The man didn’t succumb to his rectal cancer, but rather died in a convoluted series of events that I’ll simply call “Herb and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. Bojack and the kids from Horsin’ Around reunite for the first time in 30 years to attend Herb’s funeral. A lot has changed since Horsin’ Around ended. Sarah Lynne (Kristen Schaal) is just as we left her last season, Joelle (Alison Brie) has adopted a British persona and Bradley (Adam Conover) now runs a hardware store. The Horsin’ Around family band together one last time to find Herb’s “gold”, which turns out to be a terrible manuscript – buried by Henry Winkler to preserve Herb’s legacy. Minor storylines include Todd becoming “cool” and Princess Carolyn schmoozing hardcore.
The episode synopsis prepares viewers for one of Bojack’s more depressing episodes, but the Still Broken had no real lows, or highs for that matter. Instead of spending the funeral grieving, Bojack and the former-kids embark on a treasure hunt. Bojack remarks that Herb always wanted to do a treasure hunt episode, but was stood down by the network. Any sentiment this parallel might hold was conveniently overshadowed by novelty of the situation. In fact, no one in Herb’s faux-family seemed particularly troubled by his death. I suppose you could argue the death was expected given Herb’s diagnosis of terminal rectal cancer, but there was still no feeling of loss. Perhaps this was because of the superficiality of the Hollywoo attendees. In reality, I believe it was in keeping with the classic sitcom formula – keep it relatable, keep it middlebrow.
At its core, Still Broken was about time and change – not so much family or loss, as Herb might have hoped. The episode frequently flashes back to the golden years of Horsin’ Around as the children and finally Bojack remember Herb. We see the way in which fame and success eroded each budding star’s life. Bradley’s parents get a divorce, Joelle feels undervalued, Sarah Lynne loses all prospects of having a happy childhood and Bojack loses his one true friend, becoming… Well, Bojack. Herb’s legacy supposedly was Horsin’ Around but it wasn’t the same one he intended to build all those years ago. Unlike Bojack, the children have spent their lives trying to redefine themselves outside the realm of Horsin’ Around with varying amounts of success. It is undeniable that they have become disillusioned with show-business, again in varying amounts. As we see their adult selves exist side by side their young counterparts, we have to wonder, “Was the sacrifice worth the success?” What Herb pitched as the opportunity of a lifetime, quickly fizzled out. I suppose what was really lost over time, and buried with Herb, was a sense of hope.
It would be easy to think of the Horsin’ Around cast as a family, ironically with Herb as the father, rather than Bojack. But, in reality, they were always just a group of strangers brought together by circumstance. Herb’s attempts to forge a family within the cast largely failed. What he did succeed in was providing comfort in a trying time to a bunch of innocent kids (Bojack included). Once Herb was fired from the show, Bojack was more emotionally unavailable than ever, leaving the children almost totally alone. Funnily enough, Bojack is the only remaining person to consider the cast a family. It may be because Bojack’s own family was so broken, it may be the latest thing he is trying to assign meaning to. They do have brief moments of family-ness, but they don’t share any real moments together. The only reason they ever undertook Herb’s gold-hunt was because they owed it to Herb, not to each other. One of the things that Herb held dear to him was his legacy. Even though this aspect of the episode was neatly wrapped up in a “moral of the story moment” (courtesy of American TV Legend Henry Winkler), it brought that Bojack pragmatism into the mix. We can’t control our legacy. Try as he might, Herb’s legacy wasn’t Horsin’ Around or even his dismal novel. It was the memories he left in people. But even schmoozers like Princess Carolyn blur the lines of what Herb stood for and what he did. In these few short moments, Bojack concedes that he was trying to find meaning in Herb’s death. Not only was Herb’s death meaningless, the meaning of what he did leave behind became muddled. This wasn’t deeply explored, but I think, to Bojack, Herb represented hope. While Herb was alive, Bojack still had a chance at reconciliation, at reunion and at rediscovering his roots. Still Broken ends with a young Bojack and Herb entering a new world, full of optimism and naivety. If only they knew.
Still Broken was Bojack Horseman’s version of a cross over. It fused a stale sitcom plot, with traces of Bojack’s existential angst. The episode is not the best Bojack can do, but I liked it for what it was. In Still Broken Herb’s death brought Horsin’ Around back to life for a brief moment. But more importantly, it reminded Bojack of a time when hope felt sweet instead of desperate.
Bojack Horseman S02E03: 7/10
Don’t look back…except for these: 1. Herb’s legacy: ultimately a bench by the sea
2. Todd reminding Bojack of what’s really important – hating Todd.
3. “Bojack my parents got divorced because of you…”
4. How I’m afraid my blog reads…
5. Henry Winkler – so much more than the guy from that episode of Law and Order SVU
6. Henry Winkler on death
7. Bojack meets an old friend
8. Bojack remembers his friend, Herb
9. The future is bright Bojack…