Monday, September 11, 2017

REVIEW: 'BoJack Horseman' - Diane and Princess Carolyn Address Gun Violence in 'Thoughts and Prayers'

Netflix's BoJack Horseman - Episode 4.05 "Thoughts and Prayers"

A mass shooting at a mall creates a PR nightmare for Princess Carolyn. BoJack takes Hollyhock to visit his estranged mother.

Every season of BoJack Horseman has produced an episode that revolves around a very controversial and divisive topic. In years past, the show has tackled abortion and celebrity sex scandals. This year it's addressing gun control and mass shootings. It's a very important story to tell that is filtered through the Hollywood nature of this particular story. And yet, this is an overall more political season of the show. The writers have already been responding to the ever-changing reality of the real world. It's more politically charged. So, the value of this one episode has less importance than in previous seasons. Plus, the gun violence story isn't the only plot happening in "Thoughts and Prayers." All the previous episodes were able to be about that one story as it affected all of the main players. They each had funny moments. But this season, the cast has been separated more. It's been a perfectly fine evolution for the series. All of these characters can topline their own plots. It's actually been quite enjoyable to watch. It shows how these connections actually evolve over time. Sometimes they are in each other's lives and sometimes they aren't. People change over time. That's the foundation for this season. It just leaves "Thoughts and Prayers" feeling like it's separated into two stories. One involves gun violence and the other one deals with the cost of dementia changing family dynamics. Both are powerful and smart stories. They also just seem a little condensed and insular.

And yet, the purpose and criticism within the gun control portion of the episode is still very biting of our current culture. This episode gets its title from the common phrase that pops up all over the place whenever a tragedy like this occurs in our country. It's the phrase that is necessary to say in exchange for avoiding doing anything to prevent tragedies like this from occurring again in the future. This is a deeply divided country when it comes to guns. The people who love guns are always afraid that they are going to be taken away by people who don't respect them. It's a battle to feel superior and smarter. It's a conflict where no meaningful progress has been made in many years. Nothing seems to be happening except more mass shootings occurring all across the country. And again, the "thanks and prayer" statement is released. The cycle repeats. Nothing changes. This episode takes its inspiration from that. It's a biting criticism of Hollywood as well because of the kind of entertainment that's produced that incorporates guns as frequently as possible.

This past summer was the least financially successful summer at the Hollywood box office in a long time. The costs of tickets are still increasing. But the turnout continues to be dwindling. More and more studios are relying on big, blockbuster event-type movies to pay the bills and stand out in a crowded marketplace. But if they don't break big in the first few days of release, then they are quickly tossed aside for the next collection of movies the following weekend. There is no time for any film to grow anymore. There has been a collapse of the mid-sized films as well. Films produced with a sensible budget that are successful if they bring in $100 million. Films that don't rely on action sequences and special effects. Those are dwindling. It's either blockbusters or prestige plays. And the blockbusters have a ton of violence in them. That comparison is opt for the BoJack Horseman universe because Lenny Turteltaub and Princess Carolyn are concerned about this tragedy only because of its impact on their bottom line. They want to make these movies that glorify gun violence but never have the window of opportunity to actually release them because of real-life gun violence.

Both Princess Carolyn and Lenny say "thoughts and prayers" continually throughout this episode in order to give the perception that they care about the people who died in these tragic events. But mostly, they are just looking for a way to release a movie they've put so much hard work into in a way that isn't insensitive to the modern culture. They believe Miss Taken starring Courtney Portnoy will succeed because it's an empowering film where a woman is taking back the violence from the men. That's a message Princess Carolyn and the team can get behind. They believe it's an easy vision to execute because all of the real-life mass shootings have been perpetrated by men. Again, it's an insightful criticism about how unstable white men are throughout this country. They are the true problem but no one wants to do anything about it. Everyone is just perfectly fine when a white straight man does something but is outraged as soon as someone else does the same thing. That's basically the plot of this episode as well. Diane inspires a movement to get every woman to carry a gun in order to feel safe in modern society. That leads to a woman mass shooting and a whole montage about the sexism in the gun industry. It's a debate that is immediately had with the conclusion of all guns being banned because it's simpler than reinventing society to ensure the safety and independence of women. That's tragic in its own way. It just also feels like an easier ending to this type of story than the show usually does. That's a little weird and less earned even though the rest of the story is still very powerful. It resonants in a biting and strong way with its commentary.

Meanwhile, it's refreshing that BoJack is aware that his lies hurt people and that he should stop doing that to him. It's just an old habit to break. At the end of the previous episode, it was clear his lie about sleeping with another woman who could possibly be Hollyhock's mother would be destructive to that relationship. And yet, she only believes it for a few days before he comes clean to her. He's not forced to do that because he's being pressured either. It's just the pressure of him wanting to do better for this new relationship. That's relatable and shows growth on BoJack's part. But he's still fundamentally the same guy. He wants nothing to do with his mother because of how horrible she has been for his entire life. Hollyhock is curious to learn more about her biological family. Unlike Hollyhock's mother, BoJack knows where Beatrice is. Well, he can at least find out more easily. It just means calling Princess Carolyn and revealing to her that he is back in town. That's a humorous moment because he does seem like a changed guy truly making amends to her. Then, he reveals himself to be the same needy client who needs help figuring something out. He wants to strike the right, appreciative tone while still getting the information he needs. He's still selfish in that regard. But he's doing it in order to try to be better for Hollyhock.

Of course, things take a tragic turn once it's revealed that Beatrice is suffering from dementia and doesn't have much time left. BoJack doesn't care. Beatrice doesn't even recognize him anymore. She instead sees him as someone named Henrietta whom she doesn't like at all. So, the dynamic between them hasn't changed. Plus, Beatrice seems to recognize Hollyhock though doesn't really say whom she believes her to be. It's just important that the two of them have a pleasant dynamic. The plot then becomes about BoJack trying to get his mother to remember him so that he can tell her off. It's something he has always wanted to do. He figured he always had the time to do it. She was perfectly fine and still herself when his book came out. But now, her disease has progressed rapidly. An incident at the nursing home gets her kicked out and forced to move in with BoJack. That's going to be a significant change to that environment. It's fortunate that he has hired a bear nurse in order to care for her. She wouldn't last long if he was in charge of her health. Plus, he's only doing this in the hopes that one day she'll be lucid enough for him to say everything he wants to say and have it be meaningful. Hollyhock is encouraging and can connect with him through that plan. But it's going to be very fascinating to have three generations of the Horseman family in the same house together. Those dynamics are about to become very crucial to the main narrative.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Thoughts and Prayers" was written by Nick Adams and directed by Amy Winfrey.
  • It's also tragic that the first time BoJack ever hears something encouraging and nice from Beatrice is when she has dementia and doesn't know he's in the room. She's always been critical of his show. She complained that it was on TV when Butterscotch was dying. But now, she's laughing at it and quite enjoys it in the nursing home.
  • Of course, it's a traumatizing experience when BoJack stages a live episode of Horsin' Around at the nursing home. It's not a well-done production at all. Despite everything he does, he still comes across as the middle aged man that he is who Beatrice believes to be Henrietta. She has no idea what's going on and quickly becomes agitated. It's a violent outburst that is out of the ordinary while showing just how cruel and disorienting this disease can be.
  • Todd's next great idea is a waterpark where one has meetings. It's then fun to see him at a waterpark while randomly on a conference call with Princess Carolyn and Lenny. Plus, he has some thoughts about ending gun violence too. It just revolves around pumped up kicks and sunscreen that can deflect bullets.
  • The casual introduction of A Billy Bush Type working alongside A Ryan Seacrest Type is effectively cringe-inducing. It plays on him continuing to have a platform to discuss women's bodies in an off-putting way when he actually has no clue what's he talking about. It's a brutal and twisted joke but still very effective in the context of the episode. He shouldn't be a recurring character though.
  • The Mr. Peanutbutter signs are always great. Him running for Governor has only increased this. This time the sign reads: "PB for Governor. Is Governor spelled with an E or O?"
  • Lenny Turteltaub: "I'm tired of real life gun violence getting in the way of us telling stories glamorizing gun violence."
  • Lenny Turteltaub on Miss Taken: "It's Bridget Jones with slightly more murdering."
  • Diane: "Oh my god! Did I drive all the way home without realizing I was holding a gun? No wonder that guy at the gas station didn't charge me for the red vines. (gasp) Did I rob a gas station?!?!"
  • Diane: "I can't believe this country hates women more than it loves guns." Princess Carolyn: "No?"

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.