TV Review: BoJack Horseman Has a New Outlook on Life in Season 2 of the Netflix Comedy

BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

Few of the great TV protagonists have been extravagantly rich. It’s hard for an audience to empathize with characters that openly and gleefully flaunt their wealth. TV writers and executives know this, and that’s a big part of why, at least at the start of their respective series, most television characters are upper middle class at best.

However, some of the most memorable TV characters have indeed been incredibly wealthy. Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Larry David come to mind. Shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Curb Your Enthusiasm get away with this because they make it abundantly clear that their main characters are existentially miserable. They are lonely, depressed, curmudgeonly, unable to find happiness no matter how successful they become. (Conversely, a show like Entourage is mostly terrible because its central group of unbelievably rich protagonists are generally in good spirits, mostly worrying about what movies they’ll star in and whether or not they’ll score some more pot.)

BoJack Horseman (as voiced by Will Arnett) follows in the tradition of these characters. As everyone who has heard the BoJack Horseman end-credits theme song knows, “back in the 90s [BoJack] was in a very famous TV show.” That show was Horsin’ Around, a hacky multi-cam sitcom about a bachelor horse who reluctantly adopts three human children. Flash forward to 2015, and BoJack is an essentially retired TV actor who begrudgingly hangs out with his perpetual houseguest and stoner pal, Todd (Aaron Paul). BoJack is a drunk, a pill-popper, a depressive, and, in general, an asshole.

Over the course of the first season of BoJack Horseman, BoJack writes a memoir with his ghostwriter Diane (Alison Brie), becomes closer with Todd, and at the end of the season, is unexpectedly cast in his dream role as the racehorse Secretariat in a Secretariat biopic.

At the start of season two (released on Netflix on July 17th), BoJack is turning his life around in preparation for his role of Secretariat. He listens to motivational audio books, is unusually nice to people, and even tries to jog. His newfound attitude and toned-down cynicism come in handy when he meets a female owl named Wanda (Lisa Kudrow). Wanda is especially attractive to him given that she has just woken up from a thirty-year coma and has never heard of him or Horsin’ Around. Pretty soon, BoJack and Wanda are moving in together.

While the BoJack/Wanda relationship may be a bit thinly drawn, it does have one truly excellent result: it significantly lessens the likelihood of a BoJack/Diane romance storyline. See, BoJack and Diane had a Sam and Diane “will they/won’t they” thing going on for much of the first season–at least, BoJack thought they did. And while the dynamic between the two characters was fairly strong, the periodic hints at a romance felt unnatural and shoehorned-in. One of the many wonderful things about BoJack Horseman, however, is that the writers seem to be evolving along with the show, adapting to its strengths and weaknesses. As a result, in season two there is nary a hint at BoJack and Diane’s romantic future. In fact, the unambiguously platonic nature of their relationship throughout the season gives their dynamic a certainty and a strength that it didn’t have in season one.

The other woman in BoJack’s life is Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his agent–and a cat. She continues to date Vincent Adultman (hilariously, Alison Brie), whom only BoJack can tell is really three young boys in a trenchcoat. In an early season two episode, we delve a little deeper into the life of Vincent Adultman, to comical effect. A scene wherein Carolyn very nearly discovers Vincent’s secret is one of the funnier sequences in the show’s history; it’s a terrific, absurdist take on typical sitcom farce. As a bonus, the sequence also reveals that a poster from the utterly ridiculous 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Junior hangs in Princess Carolyn’s living room.

Meanwhile, another member of the show’s main ensemble, Mr. Peanutbutter (voiced by the great Paul F. Tompkins), is having financial problems. In the first few episodes of season two, Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd team up on various nonsensical business ventures (including but not limited to: building their own Disneyland and buying the movie rights to the schoolyard game “Tag.”) Later, Mr. Peanutbutter gets a gig hosting a new TV game show produced by the inexplicably alive J.D. Salinger (Alan Arkin). The game show, called Hollywood Stars and Celebrities–What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out, proves to be a great outlet for Mr. Peanutbutter and provides him with the financial stability he needed.

I was always of the opinion that Mr. Peanutbutter was one of the show’s weaker characters. In season one, he was mostly a one-note douchebag and rival to BoJack. However, in season two, Mr. Peanutbutter becomes something much more interesting. We see his deep insecurity. We get a few glimpses into his unfortunate backstory. And we explore his relationship with his wife, Diane. The show’s writers clearly have a much stronger understanding as to what this character should be than they did back in season one.

The voice cast remains excellent. It’s pretty clear that Will Arnett was born for this role. Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins, Alison Brie, and Aaron Paul are all doing good work. Lisa Kudrow is a pleasant, if slight, addition to the cast. Guests like Henry Winkler, J.K. Simmons, Daniel Radcliffe, Ricky Gervais, Ben Schwartz, and, as the characters of BoJack Horseman would refer to her, Character Actress Margo Martindale, pop up in every episode, populating the show’s universe with an incredible assortment of quirky, funny supporting characters.

I enjoyed BoJack Horseman season one but found it somewhat forgettable. Season two is unmistakably great; it’s a huge step up from the first in many ways. In dropping the BoJack/Diane romance arc, strengthening its various supporting characters, and being generally funnier (because in case I haven’t stressed it, this is a very, very funny season of television), BoJack Horseman season two is a real triumph.

BoJack Horseman Season 2 Rating: 8.5/10

Eli is a 20-year-old film student living in Boston. He spends quite a bit of his free time consuming pop culture and media: movies, TV, podcasts, etc. He is an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker and will almost certainly “make it” one day. His favorite filmmakers are Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin McDonagh, and the Coen Brothers; his favorite movies are Punch Drunk Love, Amelie, Once, O Brother Where Art Thou, and In Bruges. A true contrarian, Eli believes that Christopher Nolan, Marvel, and small children are overrated.