Tuesday, September 11, 2018

TV REVIEW: Netflix's 'BoJack Horseman' - Season 5

Netflix's BoJack Horseman returns for its 12-episode fifth season on Friday, September 14. The animated comedy stars Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins and Aaron Paul.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening all twelve episodes

BoJack Horseman is the star of the new television show Philbert, the first original scripted series for the streaming service What Time Is It Right Now? BoJack plays Detective Philbert, who is struggling in the aftermath of his wife's tragic death and the subsequent investigation. He is coping with sex, alcohol and drugs. He suffers from depression and paranoia. The season promises to be a twisted exploration into the mind of a man teetering on the edge of sanity. All of this is really familiar territory for BoJack Horseman viewers. In fact, it's actually quite jarring to BoJack as well as he begins to read the scripts of the new project he has signed onto. He is struggling to understand where BoJack ends and Philbert begins. That is the main story for the fifth season of what remains one of Netflix's best original series. The inside Hollywoo satire adds a dark anti-hero television show into its main narrative to great effect. It means that everyone has consistent employment throughout the season. In fact, it's quite amusing to see how the show gets everyone involved around the set of Philbert. But it's a very intense time for BoJack. He ended the fourth season on a message of hope that his life was finally looking up with the idea that he could actually be a good and consistent influence in the life of someone he loved. And now, he is realizing just how hard it can be to be a good person every day. It is a choice that he has to keep making. It's just much more difficult now because Hollyhock is away at college and BoJack is playing this character who requires him to enter into that dark headspace once more in the pursuit of acclaim. It's the latest act of his Hollywoo career. It's just one that teases that his grip on his own sanity may be tenuous and his destructive tendencies may always threaten whomever gets close to his life.

Again, all of this is familiar territory for the animated comedy. After the third season, the creative team acknowledged that they couldn't just keep going to darker and darker places with BoJack. Sarah Lynne's death had to mean something. It meant that BoJack spent an entire year trying to step up while the characters around him filled much more of an ensemble piece. In fact, the fifth season remains an ensemble driven comedy. Everyone has their own stories going on as well. They all tie into ideas of isolation and loneliness. They are each addressing concerns of theirs that may hint at their larger fear of being all alone in life. Princess Carolyn and Todd are still living together even though she is now formally exploring adoption and he is dating Yolonda largely because they both happen to be asexuals who also want romantic companionship. Meanwhile, Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane have finalized a divorce. They are both trying to bounce back in their lives, which is something that Mr. Peanutbutter seems to embrace and accomplish much easier because he is already given a new love interest this season. But of course, all of this is still filtered through the prism of BoJack Horseman. His life is once again touched with sadness and depression. He is living in his mansion all by himself trying to hold onto whatever relationships he has left. As such, he places so much emotional burden on his new co-star, Gina (voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Stephanie Beatriz), who actually develops into a friendship that BoJack wants to protect no matter what.

But tragedy still strikes this season as it goes along. In fact, there is an episode in the middle of the season that rivals Season 3's "Fish Out of Water" and "That's Too Much, Man!" It's another very character-centric episode. This season continues to pass the focus around so that there is one episode that focuses primarily on Diane, another on Princess Carolyn and another on Mr. Peanutbutter. The truly classic episode in the middle of the season is so notable because the show commits to a particular style and is then able to execute it for the rest of the episode. It's so remarkable and the realization that it is happening is just as important for it to be effective. So, that's all I'll tease about that. Moreover, the voice star at the center of the story is absolutely deserving of an Emmy but I'm sure the show will continue to be snubbed in that regard. In fact, there are a lot of fun guest stars this season. Rami Malek continues as the showrunner of Philbert who is such an asshole because he believes he has to be in control of everything on set. Beatriz is fantastic as BoJack's co-star he becomes involved with. Hong Chau plays a young and ditzy dog who could represent something new for Mr. Peanutbutter. Wanda Sykes and Issa Rae show up as a couple who find themselves trying to help many of the characters fix their problems. And yes, Jessica Biel returns as herself making fun of the many different aspects of her career.

And finally, BoJack Horseman has really adjusted itself according to the issues brought up during the #MeToo era. It's the subject matter of this year's political episode. That moment centers around whether it's okay for famous people to go on apology tours even if it's clear that they haven't done any self-reflection on their past behavior. But it's not just confined to that specific episode either. BoJack is also truly grappling with his past and whether or not he deserves to have a career in Hollywoo. Is Philbert simply validating the decisions he has made in his life? Everyone believes that they aren't suppose to like the central character of this dark streaming drama. And yet, the reaction makes it much more muddled to the point where Diane feels the need to speak out for normalizing this horrifying behavior. All of this infects BoJack's mind as he is forced to reckon with the decisions he has made in the past. If those were exposed, then would his career be over? Does BoJack actually want his life as an actor to be done because it would then stop teasing him with fame and stardom? Or does BoJack want to be provoked into feeling bad instead of actually putting in the work to address the underling cause for all of his past behavior? Is he capable of change? Or is he just repeating the same problem over and over again with the audience always wanting to believe that he is going to make a different decision this time around? These are the profound questions being asked during another strong season of BoJack Horseman.