Netflix’s surprise hit “Bojack Horseman” returned to TV-and-laptop screens last Friday with its fifth season.
“Bojack Horseman,” a satire on Hollywood celebrity culture and a meditation of depression in modern America, is one of the leading shows in a modern wave of animated series dealing with adult themes, joining the ranks of “Rick and Morty,” “F is for Family” and “Big Mouth.”
One of “Bojack Horseman’s” major strengths thus far has been its consistency, and even though the current season may not be one of the strongest, it continues to deliverhilarious, mature and creative television.
The main plot of the season focuses on the new gritty detective show that Bojack & Co. are working on, “Philbert,” with Bojack in the titular role.
The show follows the character Philbert as he and his ghost-partner Fritz (played of course by Mr. Peanutbutter), attempt to uncover some grand mystery of epic proportions.
It almost seems like a parody of True Detective.
The meat of the season comes from the parallels Bojack finds between himself and the character he portrays and an opiate addiction Bojack develops after a stunt gone wrong.
The most notable new character is Gina, Bojack’s co-star and newfound fling. Other newcomers include Flip, the pretentious showrunner introduced at the end of season four, and Pickles, Mr. Peanutbutter’s new pug girlfriend.
“Bojack Horseman” is famous for its habit of reinventing its methods of storytelling, and season five is no different. In fact, this creativity is one of the season’s greatest strengths.
One episode features four different Halloween parties throughout the years, cutting between them to examine Mr. Peanutbutter’s romantic relationships.
Another episode is structured like a Buzzfeed-esque article that Diane writes as she seeks refuge from the chaos of her recently-divorced life in Vietnam.
And the highlight episode of the season, “Free Churro,” features nothing but Bojack speaking to a room of mourners at his mother’s funeral.
Being a politically driven show, “Bojack Horseman” loves to riff off of current events, and season five is no different.
This time, the topic perhaps given the most consideration is the #MeToo movement.
Even though the season covers the movement occasionally in comic light (like the development in which a sex-robot Todd builds becomes CEO of a company), the show gives the movement the seriousness it deserves.
This is found most heartbreakingly in Gina. Inspired by a corn-based musical from her youth, Gina is ecstatic to finally have career success in Philbert, and willingly tolerates abuse in order to keep that success going. The Harvey Weinstein scandal comes to mind.
Season five’s most interesting aspect, though, is the way in which it examines its own existence.
Bojack Horseman is no stranger to being meta – much of the humor in the show is self-referential. However, season five becomes meta in a dark way.
The show grows a guilty conscious: the show-within-a-show of Philbert acts as a commentary on the way “Bojack Horseman” itself features such a problematic character in the leading role.
From the start it’s clear Bojack and the Philbert character are meant to be synonymous.
In the first episode, Bojack notices all the similarities between himself and this character. He even says, “He’s a drunk. He’s an asshole. I don’t want to be him.”
Within Philbert, the detectives try to hunt down the killer of many “dead” people, the killer is Philbert himself.
We learn to equate Philbert’s “dead” victims with all the people Bojack has hurt in the past. In one moment in Episode 11, the show juxtaposes a map of Philbert’s victims with a map of all of Bojack’s victims.
With this self-referential insert, the show recoils from the ugliness of its main character.
Nothing brings this home more than Diane’s concerns of the Philbert show in Episode 10: “I made him more vulnerable… And that made him more likeable,” Diane says of the Philbert character. “Philbert is just a way to help dumb assholes rationalize their own awful behavior.”
Horseman, in this moment of realization, seems ready to make amends. Unlike season four’s ending, which is hopeful of Bojack’s redemption only in suggestion, season five ends with something of a promise that Bojack will improve himself.
Even if the very last moments of the season are so corny they deserve their own musical, it’s an exciting place for the show to (finally) go.