For better or worse — most often for better — BoJack Horseman, both the show and its titular character, have always been deeply invested in the past, and generally speaking, the idea of time itself. After all, for much of the series, BoJack is still riding the high of starring in a very famous TV show, and from almost the beginning, we’re brought back into the past (1987, 1997, and 2007, most notably) to see what influence the events of the past have on the present. And, looking forward, if you’re damaged and badly broken, do you even have a shot at happiness? If not, why bother trying?
These themes are just as present in BoJack’s fourth season, if not more so. The audience has the opportunity to travel even further back with BoJack than we have before — albeit not in a full period-specific episode, exactly — but in a way that truly recontextualizes what we know about BoJack’s family and pays off in unexpected ways. BoJack has never hesitated to go to dark places, so naturally the audience shouldn’t expect anything different this season. But one of the best things about BoJack is that it rarely leaves you hanging in this darkness, alone, for too long. There’s often a great joke around the corner — or at the very least, an act break.
And in true BoJack fashion, the jokes in season 4 are of the highest caliber (we all know how BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and production designer Lisa Hanawalt feel about a good pun), as are the show’s Easter eggs, send-ups of the entertainment industry, and roster of celebrity guest stars – all things that have become true staples of the BoJack Horseman universe. Plus, BoJack always does service to comedy fans, juxtaposing guest stars like Sasheer Zamata, Natasha Rothwell, Hannibal Buress, and Aparna Nancherla (who has a particularly pivotal role) with more established Hollywoo giants like Jane Krakowski, Matthew Broderick, and Felicity Huffman. Andre Braugher also has a turn as California governor-turned-political rival of Mr. Peanutbutter, Woodchuck Could Chuck Berkowitz, providing a sharp contrast in his gravitas to Mr. Peanutbutter’s universal appeal. In fact, seeing Mr. Peanutbutter curry favor with Californians despite his alarming lack of qualifications will likely feel eerily familiar and perhaps even cringeworthy to anyone living through modern-day American politics.
Mr. Peanutbutter’s gubernatorial race is given its narrative due, and so too the plotlines of Diane, Princess Carolyn, and Todd, who is given some meatier character development than in seasons past. BoJack Horseman might be the name of the show, but each member of our main cast feels as well-cared for, story-wise, as BoJack. BoJack might be our entry point, but he’s no longer the glue holding these people and animals together, if he ever was. BoJack’s actions have consequences, which comes as less of a surprise within this cartoon world than it does in others. Here, everything feels incredibly deliberate and specific, from every word of sharp dialogue to each line drawn by Lisa Hanawalt and the animation team.
Because ramifications hold such weight in BoJack’s world, as tempting as it is to binge the show, I would recommend hitting pause between each episode, allowing yourself time to sit with the show’s heaviness. It’s not always easy to watch these characters fight and claw for happiness only to be denied it — sometimes resulting from their own self-sabotage — but it certainly makes for good TV.
Following the release of season 3, Raphael Bob-Waksberg told Uproxx that “Even in the first three seasons, we try to let the characters or grow or shift, and a season 3 episode doesn’t feel like a season 1 episode. And that’s very intentional.” In this, BoJack Horseman succeeds. Season 4 doesn’t feel like season 3; the show has grown and changed. But has BoJack or Princess Carolyn or Todd or Mr. Peanutbutter or Diane, for that matter? Well, as they used to say on my favorite show: Let’s find out.
Season 4 of BoJack Horseman premieres on Netflix this Friday.
Lana Schwartz is a writer and comedian based in New York City. Her work has been featured on The New Yorker, The Hairpin, Mental Floss, The Toast, and various other sites around the internet. You can follow her on Twitter @_lanabelle, on iTunes via the U OK? Podcast, or IRL at her monthly show My Hometown. For more on Lana, as well as instructions on how to pronounce her name, please visit www.lanalikebanana.com.