Tuesday, September 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'BoJack Horseman' - Paranoia and Self-Doubt Fuel BoJack's Inner Monologue in 'Stupid Piece of Sh*t'

Netflix's BoJack Horseman - Episode 4.06 "Stupid Piece of Sh*t"

Surrounded by family, BoJack spirals into self-loathing. Princess Carolyn and Rutabaga Rabitowitz plan Courtney and Todd's sham wedding.

BoJack Horseman has always proven itself to be willing to shake up its formula for a specific character-based conceit for an episode. This is a show that produced an almost silent episode underwater and an episode entirely of Mr. Peanutbutter's game show. It's a lot of fun when it changes things up. It allows the show to be more episodic. It allows it to stand out as one of the greater shows on a streaming service because the episodes don't just blend together. The ensemble-based nature to this season's stories means the show has less opportunities to do big concept episodes that take over the entire story for 25 minutes. "See Mr. Peanutbutter Run" and "The Old Sugarman Place" are the best episodes of the season so far because they are focused on a singular objective. Now, the ensemble nature of this season is perfectly fine as well. All of these characters are great and can carry their own narratives without needing to interact with anyone else. However, it can be a little crippling when the show wants to switch up its formula on an episodic basis like it has in the past. It makes it harder to appreciate the gun control episode because it's only half focused on that with the other half just being an introductory subplot for the season. The same is also true of "Stupid Piece of Sh*t." It's a great idea to revolve an episode around the inner monologue that is going on in BoJack's head. The audience has seen him be very self-destructive in the past. But this conceit allows it to be more open about the dialogue that is actually fueling his actions. It's a key moment that addresses his self-destructive depression in a very engaging way unlike any other show out there. But again, it's only the concept for half of the episode with the other half going to Princess Carolyn planning a wedding that Todd ultimately bails on.

Of course, there is still some strong emotional resonance to BoJack's story throughout this episode. He wants to be better this season. The show and the audience want him to be better and not repeat the same mistakes of the past. He has always known that he's "a stupid piece of shit." He knows that he's going to hurt the people closest to him because it's the pattern he has followed his entire life. He wants to change but doesn't know if he can. This episode digs into the constant fear and paranoia that comes from this mindset. It's not healthy at all. He keeps calling himself "a stupid piece of shit" over and over again. It's his mantra that defines everything that he does. He doesn't know if his awareness of this is good or bad. It's just something constantly on his mind. He worries about every action that he takes. He worries if this is the action that will lead to a path of destruction. He didn't expect his current living arrangement with Hollyhock, Beatrice and Tina to happen. And yet, it's his new reality. He wants to be better for his daughter. He doesn't know how to be a father. He feels he doesn't need to be a good son to Beatrice because she was a horrible mother. But he's constantly living with the fear that either he'll hurt the people he cares about or they'll be turned against him because of his past history of mistakes.

As such, it's simply easy to just leave this life behind. It's easier to just spend all day at a bar or parked on the side of the road just staring off into space. He doesn't have the determination to kill himself but those suicidal thoughts are on his brain as well. It's the simplest way to get out of this life. But it's not the kind of satisfying ending he believes he deserves. But that only further spirals in his brain about legacy and the point of life. These are far-reaching thoughts that only further crush down on BoJack's mentality. He's crippled into non-action because of them as well. He isn't productive for the majority of this episode. And when he does definitively do something, it's quite destructive to his family. He sees no need to play along with Beatrice's delusions. He doesn't strive to understand her disease or make her feel comfortable in his home. She's just a nuisance he has to put up with. He'd rather just roll her into a corner where she can't bother him. He refuses to see the doll as a real baby. And yet, his fears still creep in to say that Beatrice loves that doll more than she ever loved him. That's what ultimately forces him to break. It's so painful and destructive to see him toss that doll off the deck. He understands that it was horrible. But he doesn't see the error of his ways until afterwards which only forces him to spiral even more into despair because it's just more confirmation that he's a piece of shit.

It's amusing that it's Mr. Peanutbutter who helps BoJack pull himself out of this. BoJack sees Diane as the only person who can help him through this crisis right now. He has that thought while drunk and then wakes up in her house the next day. And yet, he's still afraid to actually see her. He wants to be better when he sees her again. He doesn't want to be the same BoJack despite how long he has been away. Because of Mr. Peanutbutter, he doesn't have to have that reunion yet. He's allowed to still avoid her. That means everyone knows that BoJack is back in town except for Diane. She knows that he's still alive and can relate to life in Hollywoo better than the rest of the world. But she has no clue what he's currently up to. Mr. Peanutbutter has now seen Hollyhock and Beatrice. He's interacted with them. He's still his upbeat and joyous self. He's not entirely helpful in this search to retrieve the doll. It's just a wonderful introduction to the fact that Felicity Huffman owns the house right below BoJack's and is always having to clean up the mess he always drops below. That's a fun reveal. You'd think she would move away after 15 years of that. But she's still there and asks BoJack to be on her new show in order to get the doll back. That's a nice setup of perhaps BoJack getting back to work after this traumatizing and uncertain year following Sarah Lynn's death. Work could be good for him. But actually spending time with his family and forcing himself to be a part of those awkward and uncomfortable dynamics will be even better in the end.

It's tragic to watch as well in the end. Beatrice still loves the doll more than she loves BoJack. He still doesn't completely relate to the world as she experiences it. He still doesn't want to be the good son. He truly believes it's all an act for attention. He believes he caught her slipping up when she claims he's not good enough for her husband's jizz. Of course, that could only be setting up a grand reveal that Henrietta was carrying on an affair with Butterscotch, which could explain why Beatrice hates the concept of her so much. But that's just speculation for now. It's more important in this moment for BoJack and Hollyhock to connect because they still have their minds. Hollyhock sees what BoJack is doing and understands why it's happening. She wants to know why he doesn't want to be a part of this family. She wants to know where he goes to all day. He tells her the truth. It's not some big, complicated lie this time around. That's important. It shows that the two of them really are trying to foster honesty in their relationship. That shows that this can still be a healthy dynamic. But it's also tragic to learn that Hollyhock may be more like BoJack after all. She claims to hear the same voice at the back of her head as well. It's tragic because BoJack knows just how destructive that little voice can be. It cripples him from being a better person. He's so riddled with self-doubt that he's ruining this new dynamic at his house. And yet, the one action he does for Hollyhock is so simple and aspirational. He tells her this voice will go away. It's not going to be with her for the rest of her life. It's just an awkward, teenage girl thing. He's encouraging her even though he knows how grim life can truly be. That's a key sign of growth. But BoJack is still a long way from being a better person. Hollyhock's presence is helping. But he's still detached from the regular people he needs in his life as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Stupid Piece of Sh*t" was written by Alison Tafel and directed by Anne Walker Farrell.
  • Todd has been willing to go along with this sham wedding to Courtney for a few episodes now because it gives him something to do in his life. But the closer it gets to the actual ceremony, the more doubts he has because of his acceptance of who he is as an asexual person. He's still just learning what that means. He doesn't know if this marriage is a good idea. So, he ultimately decides not to go through with it.
  • This show is tackling the asexual conversation in a very intriguing and honest way. It's great to hear the distinction between asexual and aromantic. They don't mean the same thing. Asexual people can still get married. Romance is just something different for them. It can still be a possibility for Todd. He just needs to figure out what he actually wants in his life.
  • Rutabaga Rabitowitz returns as Courtney's new agent. It forces him and Princess Carolyn to work together again. It's something she wasn't excited about at first. Then, they proved to be very effective as partners. And that's what makes the end so devastating. It reveals that Rutabaga has changed. He's not solely focused on work anymore. He's making an effort to be a parent. It's just devastating when he says Princess Carolyn won't be a good mother.
  • And yet, it's so uplifting when Judah tells Princess Carolyn not to listen to Rutabaga. He loves working with her because she is so caring about other people. That will make her a good mother. But more importantly, Princess Carolyn is actually pregnant. It's something she has wanted for so long. And now, it may actually be happening.
  • It seemed very doubtful that the show actually got Meryl Streep to do a cameo appearance. And yet, it has a long history of getting completely random but great celebrities to play themselves. It was possible given the previous set up expectations. But it's also just great to be aware that Meryl Streep is trapped in a box next to Princess Carolyn's desk.
  • Todd: "It's always nice to be included in a sentence someone says."
  • Mr. Peanutbutter: "BoJack Horseman! What is this? A Will & Grace-style celebrity endorsement video?"
  • Rutabaga: "We're doing to this wedding what Rob Durst did to that lady and what Fred Durst did to his career."

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.