I’m not a big fan of flashback episodes. With rare exceptions, it’s just more fun to watch characters move forward rather than backward. Perhaps the reason why “The BoJack Horseman Show” proves to be one of those rare exceptions is precisely because the characters on BoJack never seem to fully move forward. We have to go back to learn who they hoped they’d be.
Princess Carolyn and BoJack wake up in bed together in 2007. It’s the first time they’d had sex, and neither of them want to make it a thing, especially since Princess Carolyn is an assistant to BoJack’s agent, Marv. BoJack is spending his days drinking alone and recovering from Horsin’ Around, which ended 11 years prior.
You wouldn’t think of 2007 as a particularly idiosyncratic year, but this episode gets a lot of mileage out of oddly specific references to an oddly specific year. A “Generic 2007 Pop Song” hits the exact bland pitch of auto-tuned Black Eyed Peas megahits, banks assure the public that it’s a great time to refinance their homes, and ill-advised headgear abounds, including Mr. Peanutbutter’s Von Dutch hat.
The show also hits teenagerdom in the immediately pre-iPhone age, as Todd is a high-school skater kid with flat-ironed bangs and a flip phone. He hangs out with a friend named Emily (Abbi Jacobson), whose dad is apparently a mob boss, and who has a readily apparent crush on the oblivious Todd.
Elsewhere, a pre-fame, Ed Hardy–clad Mr. Peanutbutter argues with his “second and final wife” Jessica Biel at a Starbucks, where Diane is working as a barista while she tries to get her writing career off the ground. Jessica feels that Mr. Peanutbutter isn’t picky enough in the gigs he’s taking, but ever the optimist, he feels that you should “always take the meeting.”
Back at Vigor, Princess Carolyn is tired of having spent the last 14 years as assistant to a boss who will only read screenplays with two-word titles. (He passes on No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, which he says would be better titled There Will or Be Blood.) Aware of his absurd bias, Princess Carolyn fudges the title on a new pilot script by a famous writer named Cuddlywhiskers, and calls it Mitch’s Life. She suggests BoJack for the lead role, and decides to prove herself as an agent by actually convincing him to do it. She brings BoJack a pack of Four Lokos (heady days, 2007) and tricks him into taking a meeting with Cuddlywhiskers.
Cuddlywhiskers is the creator of a hit sitcom called Krill & Grace, but as he tells BoJack, the money and awards never made him happy. (He also appears to have a Secretary-esque relationship with Jill Pill, who works as his assistant.) BoJack isn’t interested in taking on a new sitcom, but Cuddlywhiskers tells him that he wants to make something that matters, something that lasts. But as BoJack confesses to Princess Carolyn, his reticence isn’t just in doing another TV show — it’s in trying and failing to prove himself as more than just the guy from Horsin’ Around. Still, BoJack eventually calls Marv and agrees to do the show.
Back at the coffee shop, Diane excitedly receives a rejection letter from the New Yorker. (Pro tip: While watching this scene, pause so you can see what’s written on the blackboards behind Diane. This Starbucks equivalent features such “offerings” as “hot brown,” “mint slubs,” “gentleman’s syrup,” and “sport crème,” a sort of coffee version of the Fuds menu.) Although her boyfriend (Wyatt Cenac) and co-workers don’t share her enthusiasm, Diane takes the personalized rejection letter as proof that she should keep going. Again, what works about this episode is not the fact that it reveals what the characters were up to before we met them, but who they were before life beat them down.
At a party, Todd and Emily play seven minutes in heaven. Todd confesses that he’s never kissed a girl, and Emily guides him through his first time. References to Adam Brody are dropped because, you know, 2007.
Two months later, it’s the morning of the first read-through for Mitch’s Life, and the promises BoJack and Princess Carolyn made to not make relationship into a “thing” have been proven hollow. The read-through is a massive success, but when a network executive compares it to Horsin’ Around, BoJack blanches. Against Princess Carolyn’s best advice, he and Cuddlywhiskers decide to rewrite the whole thing. (Or, as they put it, “stick their dicks in it and go balls deep into the universe.”) Drunk and high on adrenaline, they completely gut and refurbish the show with elements that seem exciting, then retitle the whole thing The BoJack Horseman Show. A frustrated P.C. goes to Marv and demands to become an agent. In response, Marv quits on the spot, prophetically warning that she can be an agent, but it might come at the cost of love and family.
Mr. Peanutbutter and Jessica Biel are still fighting, this time over Jessica Biel’s oddly close relationship with her new friend, Justin Timberlake, and Mr. Peanutbutter’s overexcitement about every opportunity. Diane is thrilled that she’s about to get published in McSweeney’s, but her mother doesn’t share her enthusiasm. We see in this moment the core of what makes Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane’s relationship work: They see good in the little things where others cannot.
Another two months later, Diane works as a cater waiter at a John Edwards fundraiser hosted by Mr. Peanutbutter, while Todd almost loses his virginity to Emily but ends up being scared off by her dad. (He’s not a mobster after all, but an editor on The Sopranos.) At a premiere party for The BoJack Horseman Show, Princess Carolyn ruefully predicts the next seven years of her life falling in and out of love with BoJack. She tells BoJack she had actually liked the horse from Horsin’ Around, and BoJack panics — he knows he and Cuddlywhiskers ruined any chance of having a successful show. He tells Cuddlywhiskers to call it off, but Cuddlywhiskers insists that this is the moment that’s going to change BoJack’s life. For better or for worse, he’s right: BoJack will spend the next seven years attempting to crawl out of the hole that he inadvertently dug for himself.
It’s taken recapping BoJack Horseman for me to realize what a dense show this is. This episode in particular is stacked layers deep — not only with era-specific jokes, but also with early seeds of the characters’ later discontent. We see how BoJack’s optimism about the possibilities of Hollywoo actually far outlived Horsin’ Around, how Princess Carolyn doesn’t actually have everything she wants, how Diane has come to chafe constantly against her idealism, and how Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter … actually, they’ve stayed pretty much intact.
- Princess Carolyn’s awful denim skirt collection hit unfortunately close to home.
- Marv: She kissed a girl AND she liked it? This I GOTTA hear!
- Wait, wasn’t Von Dutch more like ‘04? Was Mr. Peanutbutter just holding on to an outdated trend?
- Todd ruined the ending to The Sopranos. Blame Todd.
- Bee Movie–era Jerry Seinfeld appears in the background after the table read, wearing a bee costume while talking to a bee.