BoJack Horseman: Season Three

BoJack Horseman's titular hero sinks to new depths in a bold and assured season of the melancholy sitcom

Review by Ben Venables | 25 Jul 2016
  • BoJack Horseman: TV comedy review

Proof that the creatives behind BoJack Horseman have reached new heights in the animated sitcom's third season arrives in a peculiar form. Flashback episodes are usually a warning that writers have run out of steam but that's not true here, where the oft-dreaded back-stories instead resurrect 2007 with the flair of new ideas, all folded into an absurd and hilariously exaggerated nostalgia.

Nowhere, however, has this series been as good as in episode four of this third season, with the risk to imagine an entirely new 'world' by introducing the underwater Pacific Ocean City again serving as testament to the brass of its creative decision-making. The risk pays off in a masterful nod to Lost in Translation, retold as silent comedy.

This particular episode, Fish Out of Water, is perhaps as close as BoJack gets to the kind of person he'd like to be, a person making the right choices and taking responsibility for his mistakes. His underwater attempts to make amends to a former colleague (who BoJack got fired) are truly sincere, but later in this season his motives are tragically ill-conceived and misguided.

It's hard to believe now that much of season one was no more than a pleasant but vanilla satire on Hollywoo(d) – a wasted celeb version of Animal Farm with absolutely no bite. Though it soon started to ask its anthropomorphic horse-man 'why the long face?', or rather 'is human change possible or are we our animal natures?'

In answering, the show peels back layer-upon-layer of the kind of despair, depression and regret nursed by its hero over many years. This was brought to a knuckle-gnawing episode of cringe comedy towards the end of season two, in which a seemingly genuine regret for a life BoJack could have led with Charlotte – the one-that-got-away – is likely just another of his brooding preoccupations, symptomatic of a depressive state of mind. 

These experiences inform much of BoJack's outlook in season three as he continues on a route of self-loathing and self-fulfilling prophecy. If this all sounds dispiriting, well, that's because it is. Yet the surrealism, slapstick moments (especially when pulling the characters back to their animal natures), the detail of background gags, the quality of the running ones and the surprise callbacks ensure each episode is firmly a comedy.

However, comparisons to The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad are not wide of the mark. Even though he sometimes receives exactly what he wants, it seems unlikely BoJack can stop alienating those around him anytime soon. He's a horse-man who desperately wants to be good – but after season three, can he ever believe he isn't poison?

BoJack Horseman: Seasons 1-3 are available or stream on Netflix now.