Bojack Horseman Season 5: A Review

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Grade: A-

A new season of Bojack Horseman galloped into people’s Netflix queue last week. Without a doubt, fans are already preparing for another healthy dose of wacky animal comedy expertly blended with depressing existential contemplation. For those not caught up, season five of Bojack Horseman picks up with the eponymous horse (voiced by Will Arnett) beginning work on his latest project: a detective/crime thriller about a deeply flawed anti-hero named Philbert. As the season progresses, our protagonist finds himself facing yet another set of moral struggles, becoming increasingly paranoid and distressed as the line between Philbert and Bojack begins to blur and everything starts to feel just a little bit unreal.

The production of ‘Philbert’ becomes the primary thread through which every other major character dips in and out of Bojack’s life as they attempt to deal with their own personal struggles. All of the main cast gets at least a minor arc dedicated to them this season, with Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) lives after divorce being the primary B-story, while Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris) and Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) each have their own separate, but occasionally interweaving arcs as they both work to balance their professional and personal lives. Add to this two major recurring characters in Gina (Stephanie Beatriz) and Pickles (Hong Chau), and you have an impressive number of plot threads going on that nonetheless manage to feel well rounded and satisfying by the time it’s all said and done.

A good chunk of this satisfaction comes from a well established theme that makes itself known early and is constantly tinkered and experimented with in new and surprising ways. This season’s theme is forgiveness: what it means to forgive, what the purpose of forgiveness is, and what makes someone worthy of being forgiven. As a topic, it is perhaps more relevant than ever in the era of #MeToo, where not only public figures, but the public itself, has come to grapple with the question of how we deal with past offenses being brought to light. When it comes to these conundrums, Bojack Horseman never skips a beat, from finding the time to lampoon the cynical “forgiveness” PR campaigns of Hollywood, to exploring what forgiveness means on a personal level, between individuals, and why we stick around with people who have undoubtedly done bad things.

On the lighter side of the spectrum, the show is still chock full of clever jokes, silly animal puns, and wacky hijinks, and it all moves at a brisk enough pace to never leave you waiting too long for a moment of levity, even in its darker scenes. That said, some fans may be disappointed as season five chooses to sideline some of the crazier humour in favor of more grounded scenarios, with the exception of one particular invention of Todd’s that ends up stealing the limelight in the season’s latter half (and may just be one of the best arcs in the entire run of the show).

It’s not going to be for everyone, though. Despite the fact that this season actually takes a more hopeful tone by the time it wraps up, the show’s darker themes and cynicism, as always, will make it difficult for some viewers to stick it out. None of it comes out of left field or without justification, but suffice to say there are several plot points that may seem a little too real for those looking to indulge in a silly animal comedy. On a similar note, after season four’s fascinating episode “Fish Out of Water,” season five follows up with a similarly experimental episode that stands out and works well, but isn’t quite as effective as its predecessor. Beyond that, season five ends in a way that makes it obvious there is more to come, and while the conclusion is satisfying enough, this season in particular feels like more could have been done to wrap things up for the supporting cast, particularly Todd, who lacks a strong cohesive character arc this time around.

Overall, season five of Bojack Horseman is more of what you’ve come to expect: more satirical takes on modern culture, more animal-celebrity jokes, and more contemplations on human folly than you can shake a stick at. Everything comes together in yet another brilliant testament to the flexibility of the show’s writers, the sheer talent of its cast, and the genuine emotion of its tone and character. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but when it’s all said and done, one of Netflix’s best original shows can chalk up another resounding success.

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