In the trailer for season one of “Bojack Horseman,” a series of rap and rock songs plays underneath various shenanigans and crude jokes, showing Bojack dealing with a world that doesn’t think he’s famous anymore.
In the trailer for season six, the most recent and final season, Bojack narrates the trailer as he writes a letter to his friends from rehab. He ruminates on the nature of his life and how change can only be effective if it comes from him.
You’d be remised if you thought they were ads for completely different shows. What started as a juvenile show about celebrity turned into a show about the way you’re perceived by the world, the differences between evils happening to you and because of you, self-examination, and one of the most heartbreakingly realistic portrayals of mental illness this side of “A Beautiful Mind.” How does a show so completely turn itself around? And how does it do it within the first season?
That’s right, the show’s focus tightens up, and it begins to delve more into Bojack’s psyche and why he’s doing these terribly crass things halfway through season one! This change was, in fact, so drastic, that website IndieWire changed their review policy for Netflix shows to account for the entire season when reviewing, instead of the first six episodes. That's why “Bojack” season one has a paltry 67% on RottenTomatoes compared to the acclaim of the later seasons most critics only reviewed the first six episodes, believing they had gotten a grasp on the show as a whole.
Now with the first half of season six, the final season, premiering this past Friday, there are quite a few interesting things to ruminate on as the story comes to a close. So here are a few reasons “Bojack Horseman” is the best show on Netflix, and maybe even all of television. Spoilers ahead.
“Bojack Horseman” airs on Netflix and it is TV-MA, but that doesn’t mean the writers don’t know how to show restraint. Sure, there are drugs and drinking, but the one area where they are particularly selective is with the language. The show’s decision to only use the word “f***” once per season, and to only utilize it when Bojack has irreparably damaged one of his relationships means that the team effectively gives the word power. In a world of R-rated comedies and shows that flaunt language willy nilly, here the writers are purposefully giving the scenes the power they deserve with a word that is supposed to be able to have it.
There’s also some pretty great wordplay throughout the series. Some characters are parodies of their real-life counterparts, but with animal themed names, such as Quinten Tarantula, Lance Bass and Cameron Crowe. There are also moments of overly long sentences that serve to show the ridiculousness of Bojack’s world, such as a game show called “Hollywood Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let's Find Out!” or tongue twisters like “This was supposed to be Courtney's crossover coronation, but that's sort of being thwarted unfortunately, 'cause Courtney's purportedly falling short of shoring up four-quadrant support.”
Naturally all of this wordplay and silly situations shouldn’t fit as snuggly with the mental health issues and toxicity that “Bojack” often talks about. But the ability to embrace the absurd and allow it to exist alongside the serious actually helps to make the serious bits more engaging. For example, in season five, when a sex robot-turned-CEO is thrown out for making advances on his co-workers, it isn’t because he actually said anything sexual. It was because he said things like “low power” and “entering sleep mode.”
While other shows might have the occasional episode where one of their main characters doesn’t appear, or is having a separate adventure from the rest of the main crew, “Bojack” isn’t afraid to split its characters up in multiple ways. Bojack being missing was the entire premise for season four and multiple episodes throughout the show have not featured the titular character at all. It’s a strength of the writers that they don’t feel the need to squeeze every character in the show into each episode.
Quite possibly the most important element of “Bojack Horseman” though is its ability to show how positive change can affect people. However, it is quick to note that positive change does not equal growth or solutions. Throughout the show multiple characters have good, even great, things happen to them that seem to put them on a path to a better life, but they then tumble back to despair after failing to put forth any effort themselves, believing good things will just keep happening to them.
That’s the core of “Bojack Horseman” and why it’s such an incredible show. Back in the 90s, Bojack was in a very famous TV show, but now he isn’t. The writers and creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg make it very clear that as the world around him forces us to change, nothing will truly get better until we change ourselves.