One of the topics that comes up when streaming services drop an entire season at once is the discussion of whether the format is going to kill the idea of the individual episode. In the age of binge watching, creators know that their audience is likely to go to the next episode almost immediately, and as a consequence the idea of singular episodes of a show that stand up above the fray are less important than building a whole story. Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk wrote a piece just last week arguing for the importance of those episodes: “For a brief period of time, we get new rules, all the usual priorities shift, and we have to look at our well-known characters with new eyes. They work our engagement muscles, forcing us to pay a bit more attention. They can be TV at its best, and they’re always TV at its most fundamentally TV—using the space of one episode to play around with a new idea.”
With Netflix as one of the biggest culprits of this approach in recent years, it’s a deep relief to know that one of its best series is standing against the tide. BoJack Horseman is a show that despite its devotion to a serialized narrative knows how to craft episodes that sit above said narrative, and are easily identifiable as “the XX episode.” They take the time for structural experiments (“After The Party”), capitalize on a hot-button issue (“Brrap Brrap Pew Pew”), or force major conversations between characters (“Escape From L.A.”). And now they have the latest entry with “Stop The Presses,” the first episode of BoJack to become unstuck in time.
Ironically, the catalyst for all this action is a fixed point in the uncertainty, The L.A. Gazette, which BoJack has been receiving for the past six months and trying to cancel to no avail. (“It’s like I’m living in a really boring episode of The Twilight Zone!”) BoJack calls the paper and gets kicked up the org chart to the “Closer,” a mysterious executive with a Dr. Claw-like aversion to being filmed from the front, who’s willing to talk BoJack through the entire process with the aim of talking him out of it. It’s an approach that seems straightforward, but proves to be anything but, as BoJack’s distractible nature and the Closer’s surprise at some of his disclosures take the topic far past the Sunday edition.
The framing device isn’t as necessary to the development of the story as it is similar projects—it’s not a puzzle structure like Memento, for instance, where truths become apparent as the chronology straightens out. All the various developments that are tied in this episode could be presented in a conventional episode of BoJack Horseman, and there’s no mystery or reveals that pan out as a result of that framework. Rather, it’s used for comedic effect in the way BoJack’s story heading into all manner of narrative digressions: Todd building a giant papier-mâché version of his head, Todd and Emily pitching their new ride-share business, Diane having a complicated if utterly boring morning. There’s a fun anticipation in tracing who’ll take over the story next, and the noticeable tonal shifts when they do.
That’s not to say that “Stop The Presses” is devoid of any tension or potential reveals. Surprising absolutely no one, BoJack and Emily had sex after their bar meeting in “Love And/Or Marriage” and BoJack elected not to tell Todd, not wanting to jeopardize his friendship now that he’s admitted Todd is his best friend. (“Last week he said, ‘Did you know the wiener dog is neither a wiener nor a dog?’ Instead of saying, ‘Shut up, Todd,’ I said, ‘Okay.’”) Here the inclusion of the Closer works to the story’s benefit, as this is the closest BoJack gets to an actual therapy session. Yes, she’s trying to keep his newspaper subscription active, but her complete remove from the situation and understanding of people means she can see BoJack’s unconscious ulterior motives to destroy this friendship. “It’s not you, you tell yourself, it’s that bad thing you did,” she explains to BoJack right before he makes his excuses and hangs up, a clear sign that she’s closer to the truth than he’d like.
BoJack’s avoidance of the situation leads to two separate developments in the episode, which trade on BoJack’s masterful balance of anarchy and angst. The anarchy comes with the welcome return of Character Actress Margo Martindale, hiding from the man on the Escape From L.A. When this series eventually concludes and final evaluation takes place, elevating Margo Martindale to Character Actress Margo Martindale will stand as one of its top five achievements. Once again, Martindale’s commitment to this felonious version of herself is an absolute treat, regaling BoJack with stories of hiding out in the worlds of regional theater and a stint on The Good Wife. (“I disappeared into the role, BoJack. It’s called acting. Try it sometime.”) It begins crazy and ends crazy, Character Actress Margo Martindale hurling a plum and taking both the Todd head and the boat out to international waters.
On a more serious front, Emily’s increasing tension being around BoJack and Todd at the same time finally boils over with her admittance that she can’t be in this company anymore. Aaron Paul and Abbi Jacobson continue to do excellent work together in this episode, Todd and Emily’s relationship already feeling so lived in that a separation even this early is regrettable. (The fact that the conversation takes place during a both continue to pantomime holding the car is a great visual detail, as well as proof that Todd’s improv training hasn’t left him despite all the associated traumatic memories.) The exact words don’t get spoken, but the impression is that they don’t need to be voiced. For all Todd might seem to be a few newspapers short of a giant head, the disappointment in his voice at “What did he do this time?” proves he’s lived with BoJack long enough to know what his best friend is capable of.
Yet even Todd likely wouldn’t have predicted the next step of the relationship between BoJack and Ana, the most genuine surprise of “Stop the Presses.” It’s not surprising that they’ve started hooking up given BoJack’s penchant to always accept sex and the dominance Ana’s exercised over him, and it’s not surprising that BoJack would violate Ana’s privacy by spying on her and learning her personal life is far less glamorous than advertised. What is surprising is the fact that BoJack wants something more out of this, speaking to her in heartfelt tones we haven’t heard him use since he opened up to Wanda in “Yesterdayland.” It’s not a BoJack chasing the past or trying to hide, it’s BoJack trying to see if he can grab onto a tentative connection and find something more. It softens Ana’s harsh glare, and appears as if for all his self-sabotage BoJack may have made a good decision.
Or at least it would if BoJack didn’t decide to take this confidence and push for something new. Buried in the sea of stories is the next stage of the Secretariat awards campaign, publishing For Your Consideration (not, not that one) ads around town. Princess Carolyn zips through them with ease—including one that owes something to BoJack guest star Melissa Leo—but the one that catches BoJack’s eye is a reflective one that simply says “You Are Secretariat.” As he tells the Closer, it resonates with him in an almost intimate way, providing an affirmation he didn’t even know he needed. But given the fact that it’s an entire movie that doesn’t feature the real him once, it’s no surprise that something convincing him to the contrary would be the ad he thinks will sell.
Unfortunately, that ad doesn’t translate so well to the rest of the world. (Princess Carolyn: “It kinda just looks like a billboard for the sky.” BoJack: “Yeah, I did not think this through.”) It’s a perfectly tragicomic close to the episode, what should be a sign for BoJack’s biggest success leading bird commuters to flatten themselves and the only thing that appears to be nominated is KIIS-FM. BoJack may have gotten what he wanted, but if all his fulfillments turn out like this one, pretty soon The L.A. Gazette may be the only constant in his life.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Candice Bergen’s work as the steely, unseen Closer easily takes the prize this week. She’s the perfect calm authoritative voice to guide BoJack on his epiphanies, and the script gives her some phrases that sound like a treat to pronounce. “From whence the hostility, counselor? … Did the head help to ameliorate your pest peccadillo?”
- Speaking of, that giant Todd head is terrifying. Printing it here again so it may haunt all your nightmares as it haunts mine.
- Callback: The L.A. Gazette’s photo of BoJack is the same sneeze photo that the media uses every time there’s a BoJack story, to his constant chagrin.
- Virginia’s dumb Kickstarter is the best visual gag of the night for the introduction of Ham Trapeze, a stop-motion animated film about a pig who goes to circus school. Backer awards include an emailed “T
hanks” for $10, a tote bag and maple-glazed ham coupon for $50, and a date with a pig for $1,000.
- BoJack on his relationship with Ana: “We have a very complicated relationship. It’s complicated. If our relationship was a Meryl Streep movie, it would be… Doubt.”
- “Cabracadabra, we want to reach out and grab you! … Oh no, we’re a cab company.”
- “Robot drivers? What if they become sentient and try to murder us? Or unionize? That could be a real headache.”
- “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go… watch a sport!”
- “It wasn’t good-intimate like seeing your mom cry, it was bad-intimate like when your dad writes a poem about Lena Horne’s nipples and makes you read it out loud so he can hear if it scans.”
- “When the sun comes down and hits that billboard, that’s gonna be a real problem.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: