“Oh, really? I’m gonna regret buying muffins? What, have they got a lot of saturated fat in them? … Oh, man, they do have a lot of saturated fat. Why’d I buy these?”
After the pilot episode of BoJack Horseman, there were some concerns about the show going forward: its elements of Hollywood satire not as well-drawn as its environments, supporting cast who didn’t leave enough of an impression, and only a tentative direction for its storytelling. “BoJack Hates The Troops” isn’t the immediate course correction those who saw the pilot’s potential were hoping for, as it marries some stock comedy tropes to a muddled take on social issues. The potential is still there and it takes some positive steps, but the feeling remains a show that hasn’t figured out its sensibilities.
Some of that problem is in the episode’s premise, which is largely a conventional sitcom setup. BoJack, agitated after all his toaster strudels are eaten by people who don’t belong in his house, goes to the supermarket and picks up a box of muffins sitting in the produce section. Unbeknownst to him, the box was previously in the possession of a seal who put the muffins down for a minute, leading to an argument about the nature of dibs. BoJack refuses to back down and buys the muffins out of spite, the seal—who’s also a Navy SEAL—gets the press involved, and BoJack somehow turns the entire thing into an affair where he’s calling our armed forces jerks. It’s a scenario that could be switched into an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld without batting an eye, your neurotic/misanthropic main character getting himself into a bind and making it worse by virtue of his stubbornness.
To BoJack Horseman’s credit, it’s commendable that the show would make an effort to tackle a hot-button issue like supporting the military in its second episode. Unfortunately, this early in the game they’re not good enough at what they do to make that statement. It’s unclear whose side we should be on in this conflict, as while BoJack is definitely throwing fuel on the fire in a self-centered way, he’s not entirely wrong about Neal being kind of a jerk. The media crusade similarly brings out a cable news host who’s ready to devote every bit of air time to any controversy, interviewing people who are mad at BoJack less for what he said than for daring to say something.
There’s a chance for the episode to patch things up in BoJack’s improvised speech to Neal when he’s left with day-old hamburger buns instead of reparation muffins. Unfortunately, it too comes across as muddled noise rather than sharpened satire, BoJack yelling about reality TV, glorification of violence, and the nature of what it means to be a hero. Despite valid points there’s little desire in presenting them in an interesting way, listing them off and moving to the next distraction. And while you could argue that’s proving BoJack’s point, his final statement to Diane about people only hearing what they want to hear doesn’t provide enough of a satisfactory resolution, leaving all of it as something strange that happened this week.
“BoJack Hates The Troops” also loses some momentum due to the fact that there’s not much supporting for the supporting cast to do this week. Todd’s starting a new long-distance relationship with a woman who’s asking him all the important questions, like his American bank account numbers and mother’s maiden name. While it reverberates through the main plot at times—his failed attempt to get plane tickets to Tokyo as an escape plan, the discovery and loss of his extra funds sabotaging the muffin plot—it’s a throwaway plot that only serves to remind the audience how truly clueless Todd is. And given that it’s only the second episode, a reminder of that isn’t all that necessary.
Similarly, Mr. Peanutbutter’s plot about setting up a reality show in his house is, to quote BoJack, “neither funny nor a story nor a reason for you to drop by.” So far, the only joke about Mr. Peanutbutter is that he’s too chipper and eager to fully get what’s going on around him. His actions this episode don’t build past that and mostly serve to prove why BoJack doesn’t like him very much, either botching phrases or completely missing the point of his own wordplay. As with Todd’s plot, there’s some service to the main plot as it gives BoJack the stage to resolve his conflict with Neil, but it’s a scene that could have been set anywhere. Peanutbutter And Jelly is about as relevant to the episode as it is to VH1, regardless of how funny it is when a dog gets his head stuck in a bucket.
The real payoff in “BoJack Hates The Troops” comes as Diane gets down to business researching her book, and BoJack’s reticence to participate in said research. Flashbacks are much better used this episode as we witness BoJack reflect on a not so happy childhood, in contrast to his claims of “uneventful.” Will Arnett, pulling double duty this episode as father and son, gets some of the episode’s best lines as Horseman Senior’s old-fashioned worldviews shine through: “You take a boat from here to New York, you gonna go around the Horn like a gentleman or cut through the Panama Canal like some kind of democrat? You go around the Horn the way God intended!” It makes a look into BoJack’s psyche a lot more interesting than revisiting tropes of TGIF sitcoms.
In fact, all of the most interesting parts of “BoJack Hates The Troops” come when we start to get a better look at BoJack the character. His rant to the girls at the bar goes on a little too long, but there’s something genuine behind the way he tears into them. His rant to Tom and Neal goes from being irritated to self-loathing on a dime, and his concerns about this controversy getting in the way of everyone reading his book betrays his need for the good kind of attention. BoJack may use details like this muffin feud to avoid talking about himself—he says as much to Diane before going on MSNBSea—but BoJack Horseman shouldn’t let itself get too bogged down in those details if there’s something more worthwhile to spend an episode on.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: We glimpsed him on the Elefante television last episode, but this marks the first appearance of Keith Olbermann as MSNBSea pundit Tom Jumbo-Grumbo. Whatever you think of Olbermann’s politics, his persona is perfectly suited to this kind of blowhard character, someone who keeps steering the conversation to make his target look bad (“And I emphasize, from Afghanistan”) and keep the agitation fires stoked at the expense of Congress trying to pass a major education bill.
- BoJack’s full email to Diane: “Diane, why don’t you come over Tuesday morning at 9:00? Also, you should bring this email with you because I might not remember it because I just took a bunch of horse tranquilizers, ha ha. Also, please don’t put in my book that I use horse tranquilizers, ha ha. I just use a small dose to help me fall asleep at night and then a much, much larger dose to get me through the day. Also, I’m drunk. Also, I’m alone, so alone, so, so alone. Please don’t put that in my book, book, book, book ‘em, dildo. Does it taste like magenta in here? bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb”
- Princess Carolyn likewise doesn’t get a lot to do this week beyond serving as BoJack’s fixer, but it does produce a great recurring gag where she calls him only to put him immediately on hold, to the tune of “Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats” from the musical Cats. Also, that’s a pre-Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Rachel Bloom as her long-suffering secretary Laura.
- The most startling part of Todd’s arc is that he’s evidently fluent in Japanese, or at least fluent enough to understand Ayako’s furious rant about his poverty.
- “I told you, I don’t know where it is. Don’t put things up my butt if you don’t want them back.”
- “Pseudo? Would you say that to Eric McCormack?”
- “Well, that went slightly better than the worst it could have possibly gone. So… hooray?”
- “I’m not stubborn, I’m proud! There’s an important distinction.”
- “You never know when gold’s gonna strike!” “Gold doesn’t strike.” “That’s why you never know.”
- “He made me build my own tree house, and then he tore it down while I was at summer camp because instead of hearty, Christian nails, I used screws, which he called ‘fancy Jew nails.’ Like I said, totally normal.”
- Today in Hollywood signs:
Horsin’ Around DVD Commentary:
- “BoJack Hates The Troops” is the first instance of BoJack Horseman approaching territory beyond simple Hollywood satire, which it’ll achieve to much more efficacy in “Hank After Dark” and “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew.” It’s interesting to view this early effort as a first step in that direction, before the writers were sharp and bold enough to tackle the hard topics.
- The sneezing picture featured here will come back over and over again, proving BoJack’s lament that it’s the only photo anyone seems to use in connection with him.
- Tom Jumbo-Grumbo also will return in many contexts as the series goes on. And in just a couple of years, he’ll be the perfect avatar to eviscerate a mean-spirited fluorescent-haired twit who’ll inexplicably achieve the highest office in the land.
- Our first glimpse of BoJack’s tragic childhood comes here. It’s not the first time those demons will be looming over his shoulder.
Tomorrow: We go from breakfast muffins to “Prickly-Muffin,” as BoJack’s TV daughter Sarah-Lynn re-enters his life with unexpected results.