Bye-Bye Bojack: A Retrospective on Netflix’s Searching, Existential Comedy

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As BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s existential animated comedy comes to an end, it leaves a void in animated television that will linger for many years to come. Neither ending with a bang nor with a whimper, the final season instead offers a more nuanced, sensitive, and emotionally complex feeling of finality to its six-season run, representing, in this reviewer’s eyes, a towering achievement of animated television.

Be warned: this review contains minor spoilers for the final season of BoJack Horseman.

An Unusual Protagonist

At first glance, BoJack Horseman occupies a somewhat unorthodox space within the landscape of contemporary television, made up of two parts dark comedy to one part surreal animation. Set in a world where talking animals and humans co-exist within society, BoJack Horseman follows BoJack Horseman, the titular character, actor, and a talking horse, as he navigates his lingering fame after being the star of the hit TV show “Horsin’ Around” in the 1980s and 1990s.

BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) battles with his own search for meaning amidst his attempts to chase his former fame, all whilst navigating addiction, depression, and his often fraught relationships with those around him. It also (it must be said) has one of the best opening pieces of music available on television, a funky, head-nodding refrain that it is almost impossible not to air drum along to.

BoJack Horseman continuously surprises and engages audiences by delving into some of the darkest corners of the corrupting effects of fame, addiction, deteriorating family relationships, and depression. It is existential in its approach, continuously asking of its central cast what matters to them, how their relationships with one another are constantly shifting, and, in its final season, brings these arcs to their sometimes inevitable conclusions.

Throughout the course of the show, the writing team does a highly commendable job of toeing the highwire between comedy and tragedy and the supporting cast are exceptional in their enrichment of BoJack’s world. In my eyes (and there has been much discussion about this) the show deals with sensitive topics like depression, addiction, power, and self-destruction without ever going so far as to romanticize them: many of BoJack’s actions over the course of the show are, it must be said, indefensible. He is a complicated character at the helm of a morally complicated show that deals with these issues cautiously.

Standout Moments

BoJack Horseman offers a number of particularly notable episodes for their high caliber writing and execution. Season Four, Episode Eleven, ‘Time’s Arrow’, which delves into BoJack’s early family relationships in one of the most searching flashback episodes on television, won widespread acclaim amongst critics and the public alike, earning a 9.8/10 rating on IMDB. Season Five, Episode Six, ‘Free Churro’, which sees BoJack delivering a eulogy at a funeral, remains one of the most powerful episodes of television I have ever seen – engaging, emotionally complex, yet simplistic in its staging, offering one of the best monologues of modern times.

The writing is faultless in its execution, unraveling a richly textured speech with layers that are still being revealed on the third or fourth viewing. Arnett does a brilliant job with his voicing of BoJack’s character throughout, moving seamlessly between emotional registers, injecting humor, anger, guilt, and sorrow into his performance with ease. It is impossible to look away for the episode’s entire twenty-six-minute duration. Utterly engrossing.

Similarly, the final two episodes of Season Six, ‘The View from Halfway Down’ and ‘Nice While It Lasted’ bring the show to a close with deftly-written scripts filled with philosophical questions without answers, outstanding performances from the cast, and BoJack’s signature darkly-comic humor.

The penultimate episode is a surrealist masterpiece, interlaced with exceptional performances from Arnett and the supporting cast in a vaudeville-esque showstopper on death, dying, and the questions surrounding the meaning of it all. The episode reaches an emotional height with the performance of a poem (if you’ve seen the episode, you will know which one I mean) that is bitterly beautiful in its composition and, again, Arnett’s reading cannot be faulted.

The End of a Beautiful Journey

The final episode brings closure to some (but, notably, not all) of the character’s arcs, leaving the viewer just satisfied enough to feel the season’s closure is apt but not with so much closure as to avoid the creeping sense of anxious doubt BoJack Horseman so often evokes.

If BoJack’s final episode had been all happy endings, smiles, and rainbows, it would have felt a betrayal to the show’s often nihilistic approach to what it means to be happy and the emptiness of this constant inward-facing criticism. As the final credits start to roll, the camera pans starwards whilst Catherine Feeny’s ‘Mr. Blue’ provides an introspective, almost haunting accompaniment before the final cut to black. In my eyes, a perfect ending to the show.

Bojack‘s final season is a fitting end to one of the most searching animated comedies in recent times. It is a show that lingers long after the closing credits, a nagging sense of part-loneliness-and-part-bitter-wonder. It is a sensation like a friend drifting from friend to acquaintance to nothing: you wonder what happened to them, where they are now, but no answer comes.

For a show that often delves in and out of the well of loneliness with ease and sensitivity, it is apt that once the final credits roll, BoJack Horseman leaves numerous stones unturned, poses the question of whether turning the stones would have really led you to happiness and, instead, the unanswered and unanswerable questions remain.

Just as Horsin’ Around coming to an end sets in motion the events of Bojack Horseman, so too must Bojack face the falling of the curtain, which it does with considerable depth, grace, and decorum. In a bittersweet season filled with farewells, all that remains is to say, “Bye-bye Bojack. It was nice while it lasted.”

Dan Ewers

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