BoJack Horseman wants to believe that his life is a sitcom. He spent his early career starring in a hugely successful one, and he frittered away decades drunkenly watching Horsin’ Around reruns in an effort to recapture those halcyon days. He regularly engages in antics that are inspired by those same hackneyed plot lines, blissfully thinking (or willfully ignoring evidence to the contrary) that everything will work out in the end. And it’d be easy enough for that to be the case. If you had to describe the premise of BoJack Horseman to someone in a single sentence, it’d be entirely feasible to make it sound like a straightforward situational comedy. “Nineties actor tries to get his next big break in a Hollywood populated by humanoid animals.”
But BoJack Horseman isn’t even close to being a sitcom. For all its bright colors, absurd images and plethora of puns, it’s a show whose path is littered with broken things, a dark and uncompromising world more on par with prestige cable dramas. Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff said as as much when season two premiered, and Netflix further embraced it in this season’s promotional materials, placing BoJack in the antihero pantheon of Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Frank Underwood. The embrace of the sitcom by both BoJack and BoJack is nothing but a misdirect, a flimsy backdrop thrown up to mask all the demons hiding behind it.
And the flimsiness of that set is never more apparent than it is in “That’s Too Much, Man!” If you didn’t think that BoJack could fall farther than he did in last season’s wrenching penultimate episode “Escape From L.A.,” rest assured: he can. Once again, you could take the surface description of what happens in this episode of “BoJack and Sarah Lynn get drunk and decide to make amends” and get a stock sitcom plot out of it, but that move only hides how brutal, devastating, and heartbreaking every single moment of it is. It’s an episode of an epic bender, where they bend and bend and bend—right until it breaks.
The trigger for said bender is BoJack’s loss of an Oscar nominations and his entire inner circle, which in true BoJack fashion he opts to shut out by responding to Sarah Lynn’s “Old Acquaintance” invitation to party. Sending BoJack into drugged-out craziness in the penultimate episode of a season sounds familiar, given that BoJack Horseman did the exact same thing in season one with “Downer Ending.” There’s a key difference between the two though, in that BoJack’s aims in doing so are completely different. In “Downer Ending” he was getting high towards a productive objective, completing a book so Diane’s wouldn’t get published and no one would know what he was really like. Here by contrast, now everyone knows exactly what BoJack’s like, and now he’s just trying to blot out the acknowledgement of rock bottom.
For said blotting, he couldn’t have picked a better companion than Sarah Lynn. It’s not just because she’s got a house full of drugs—Vicodin-coated Vicodin, LSD-laced paintings, cocaine allegedly in the drywall—or because she’s the one person he can watch Horsin’ Around with and reminisce fondly, it’s because she’s the one person left who doesn’t judge him. The last two episodes have been full of people calling BoJack on all the shitty things he’s done and the shitty person he is, but there’s not a single thing BoJack can do that will shock Sarah Lynn. When she reiterates what he’s done, Kristen Schaal does so in a perfect matter-of-fact tone without an ounce of anger or resentment, and whenever he suggests a move she’s instantly game for it. It’s a complete change from two episodes of condemnation, and yet still achieves the same goal—if anything, this acquiescence makes what BoJack’s done sound even worse.
One of those matter-of-fact opinions leads them to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting where she can get her nine-month chip (not drinking isn’t in the 12 steps—loophole!), and that’s where events go from good-natured substance abuse to self-destruction. BoJack’s natural impatience and ego lead him to realize he can “top” all the stories the addicts are telling (“You people call yourself drunks? Most of this is stuff I do on a daily basis completely sober”), and it’s a terrifying thing to witness. Will Arnett has always been open about his own struggles with alcoholism—hell, BoJack is only one of his Netflix shows that deals with substance abuse—and the level of desperate mania that enters BoJack’s voice is so raw that it could only come from experience. His near-hookup with Penny was revealed to be heavily on his mind in “Start Spreading The News,” and here we see that splinter never came out, only pushed deeper as he tried to yank it out by asking himself questions he’d never get an answer for.
Again, on a typical sitcom, this would be the sort of move that would make a character realize how badly they need help—your classic “I’m so excited, I’m so scared” moment—and it seems to be heading that direction as Sarah Lynn explains the concept of making amends. However, the fact that such explanation comes as they’re driving at top speed down Hollywoo streets and sending others diving for cover makes it clear what those amends are in service of. True amends come from caring about the people you hurt, wanting to make up the wrongs you did them. For BoJack and Sarah Lynn, this is all about them, making them feel better regardless of collateral damage in their wake.
And that’s the real tragedy of BoJack Horseman this far into its run: everyone that BoJack wants to make amends to has known him entirely too long to take his grand gestures for anything genuine. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter take a moment to reflect on the bizarre sight of the drugged-out dopplegangers in their bedroom—arguably the funniest bit in the entire episode—and try to guide their intruders to a guest room to sleep it off. Princess Carolyn just looks at BoJack for a moment and without a word lets Ralph take her back to bed. And the person BoJack thinks is Todd isn’t Todd, only a little kid wearing the same hat whose parents are a bit too comfortable with his proximity to a child. At this point, no one expects BoJack to be anything other than BoJack, and that BoJack is a colossal disappointment.
Said judgment falls on him particularly hard when he tries to get an explanation from Ana on why she never called him back. She’s the only one willing to talk to him about what he’s done, and she makes it clear to BoJack and the viewers that it wasn’t the Oscar that made her leave. She saw in their short time together what it took Princess Carolyn and Todd years to acknowledge. BoJack might not be beyond saving, but consciously or unconsciously he works so hard at not being saved that people in his orbit usually wind up as collateral damage. If BoJack Horseman doesn’t answer whether or not BoJack can be saved, writers Elijah Aron and Jordan Young seem to be on the latter side: he blacks out and goes back to hear her important story so frequently it achieves peak tragicomedy, and when he finally hears it he may as well have blacked out again for all the meaning he gets.
No one in BoJack’s path is collateral damage as badly as Penny, the one thing he regrets most of all and who he feared he’d scarred for life. So of course he can’t leave well enough alone and drives straight to Ohio. Here, again, BoJack Horseman revels in the dichotomy of its setting. BoJack and Sarah Lynn are in trench coats talking about frontier architects and makeover scenes, exactly as you’d expect in a wacky sitcom plot where one character is trailing another, except what they’re actually doing is stalking the girl with whom BoJack almost committed statutory rape. However, that girl seems to be doing just fine—even drinking Red Bull over beer at a house party—and it’s clear BoJack has no need to be there and should leave.
He even tries to do that, except he collides with Oberlin College’s preeminent a capella group the Obertones, and the disaster becomes manifest. There’s no passionate speeches or recollections that exist here, this is just a cauldron of raw shock and horror. Ilana Glazer as Penny only gets a few lines this episode, but everything she says indicates only one of the pair has been dwelling on this at length over the last year, and with the advantage of youth she’s moved past one bad decision. Once again, the appearance was all about how BoJack felt about this, and the consequence is Penny learning—as BoJack has time and time again—that bad things in your past always come back to haunt you. Surely this is rock-bottom?
Nope. Sarah Lynn pops the glove compartment, locates the heroin packet left over from the “BoJack Kills” adventure, and faster than you can say “Suck a dick, dumb shits” the two of them are snorting it off Horsin’ Around DVD boxes. Events go from leaping forward to fully unstuck in time, a return to 2007 to an image of the park bench they first reconnected back in “Prickly-Muffin,” to a rundown hotel where they’re both disheveled and wracked with junkie twitches. Whatever sense of fun existed is gone, and the trip has shifted gears to the hellish introspection stage. It’s almost unbearably bleak, even before the split-second fakeout of a Sarah Lynn overdose, moments that seem peaceful and insightful but are anything but.
A desperate search to maintain that peace leads Sarah Lynn to throw on the TV, and conveniently turn on the Academy Awards—at the exact moment her contribution to The Nazi Who Played Yahtzee wins for Best Original Song. This is the cruelest ironic twist of the entire season, and possibly the entire series: BoJack was so busy trying to drown his pain and forget his Oscar hopes that he indirectly made Sarah Lynn forget her own. And the neutrality with which she greets his bad decisions because she’s similarly damaged gives him a mirror for his own. He gets to see on her face the happiness he was after, see how short-term it was, and the crash that comes when it draws into focus how empty everything else feels.
Faced with all of this, he takes her to the planetarium she’s been begging to go to all episode, the one moment in possibly their entire non-televised relationship that comes across as truly paternal. Confronted with the grand scope of the cosmos (narrated by everyone’s favorite astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson) BoJack and Sarah Lynn finally come through the darkness to find a moment of peace. All of their mistakes and failures, all of it doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, a revelation that BoJack shares with her… to no response. The overdose fake-out only a few minutes ago was a joke, but only now does it become apparent how cruel it was, a ruthless moment that stomps into the ground any of the Very Special Episodes Horsin’ Around may have done on the topic. It plays out in heartbreaking finality, BoJack saying her name multiple times as then the light of the cosmos goes out. And he says it once more, just enough behind Arnett’s voice that it’s clear he knows an answer isn’t coming.
Maybe BoJack’s right, and what it’s all about sharing a perfect moment. Unfortunately, every moment has to end. And now that this one’s over, he’s left alone once again, and the person he shared it with won’t be able to share any moments—or anything else—ever again.
Man. That’s… too much.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Goddamn, Kristen Schaal. Goddamn. Schaal has done amazing voice-over work on Bob’s Burgers and Gravity Falls for years, but neither Louise Belcher or Mabel Pines have ever reached the degree of heartbreak that Sarah Lynn achieves in this episode. She takes this Lindsey Lohan caricature and pushes her to outlandish “Suck a dick, dumb shits!” extremes, and then still finds the little girl hiding behind all the fame and the drugs in her most sensitive moments. With Horsin’ Around reruns always airing in this world this likely isn’t goodbye for good, but her real-time presence will be missed. RIP Sarah Lynn.
- On that note, her Disney princess style cold open sets a perfect tone in its overly cheerful presentation (“Your skin is murdered-baby soft!”) and the complete 180 she turns the instant someone gives her an alternative to sobriety. And the Sarah Lynn-as-Ophelia painting above her bed is an early telegraph that this isn’t a story with a happy ending.
- For some historical context, the last Oscar nominations were announced on January 14 and the awards took place on February 28. Assuming this universe occupies a similar timeframe, BoJack and Sarah Lynn have been on a bender of at least six weeks.
- The bottle opener in BoJack’s glove compartment is from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which strikes me as a conflict of interest somewhat.
- Other celebrity namesake drugs: Billy Crystal Meth, Angel Dustin Hoffman, Lucille 8-Ball.
- Sarah Lynn on acai berries: “They should really call them overpriced blueberries for douchebags.”
- “Why would I make my body a temple? I’ve been to Temple. Temple is super-boring.”
- “Well, I think we all learned a valuable lesson today about the Armenian genocide.”
- “One time, I didn’t want my friend to move out, so I used Character Actress Ann Dowd to help me sabotage his hip-hopera.” Between this and Jurj Clooners also having someone living on his couch Todd-style, I like the implication that parallel universe BoJack Horseman dramas are playing out all over Hollywoo. (And the fact that it’s a real-life drinking bird delivering this story only makes it more delightful.)
- “This might be the nitrous and bath salts talking, but I wanna do more nitrous and bath salts.”
- “What’s Diane’s deal, again? She’s like an Asian Daria?”
- “We’re making amends, assholes!”
- “I’m not gonna shot heroin with you. We can snort heroin like sophisticated adults.”
- “The disjointed blackout structure with the one flashback in the middle really confused our audience. And they hated all the fourth wall-breaking meta jokes.” “Of course! Audiences hate meta jokes!”
- “…I wanna be an architect.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: