Despite containing numerous discussions of autoerotic asphyxiation, the appearance of J.D. Salinger (voiced by Alan Arkin), and an out-of-work Mr. Peanutbutter, “Higher Love” is a lighter episode of BoJack Horseman. It takes a standard sitcom premise—BoJack says, “I love you,” to his new girlfriend Wanda and worries about the ramifications—and adds an outrageous touch to it, i.e. BoJack threatens to try autoerotic asphyxiation to force Wanda to say, “I love you,” after he accidentally says it first. Though it’s noticeably slighter than the previous episodes this season, “Higher Love” still mostly succeeds because of the comedy, courtesy of writer Vera Santamaria, and like many of the best episodes of BoJack Horseman, it takes absurd ideas and follows them to their logical conclusions.
Besides the BoJack-Wanda storyline, there are two other plots in “Higher Love.” After learning that his company PB Living is going bankrupt after a long line of terrible business ideas, including purchasing the film rights to the children’s game Tag, Mr. Peanutbutter is out of a job and looking for work. When he finds out that his agent, Ronnie Bonito, has died from autoerotic asphyxiation, he decides to take a job from Lady Footlocker after “wandering around L.A. with an open mind and an empty stomach waiting to get discovered.” Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn arrives late to work at Vigor and is too late to poach any of Bonito’s clients onto the Vigor roster, but then later finds out from Rutabaga that Bonito represents author J.D. Salinger, who has faked his own death and working in a tandem bike shop.
These two stories are classic BoJack Horseman plotlines. They take standard sitcom premises and add an absurdist touch, but also ground them in recognizable character motivation, which keeps the stories from spinning off into their own orbit. Mr. Peanutbutter is a relentlessly positive guy who has been lucky enough to achieve his dreams without doing much work. He got discovered off the street for his hit TV show, Mr. Peanutbutter’s House, and has mostly been living off the residuals since then, so the only way he knows how to find work in Hollywoo is to basically wait around until someone notices him. In the process, he ignores Diane’s very understandable financial concerns and forces her to preemptively steal food and paper towels from work in case Mr. Peanutbutter’s plan doesn’t work out.
But Diane forgets that this is Hollywoo, and people like Mr. Peanutbutter always get discovered. He brings his traditional charisma and charm to his work at Lady Footlocker and quickly gains the trust and admiration of the customers who frequent there, only to get a job hosting J.D. Salinger’s new celebrity game show (Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out!) by the end of the day. What’s Mr. Peanutbutter’s takeaway from his brief unemployment? “You know, it just goes to show, with the right attitude, every single one of your dreams will always come true. And if your dreams don’t come true, it’s probably because you just didn’t have the right attitude!” That’s Hollywoo for ya.
Princess Carolyn, on the other hand, feels unappreciated and unnoticed at work, especially after Mr. Witherspoon, her boss, publicly chastises her for being late to work. So when she finds J.D. Salinger at his tandem bike shop, successfully convinces him to come to Hollywoo by telling him that it’s a place where not only people don’t read but they don’t pay people enough to read for them, and helps him sell his game show to MBN, she thinks it will finally get her the respect she deserves. But by the end of the day, Mr. Witherspoon only praises his son for catching a bagel after flying out of the toaster, and Princess Carolyn is stuck sharing her problems with Rutabaga over the phone, and even he keeps finding a way to bringing the conversation around to his marital troubles.
These two stories also feature the beauty of BoJack Horseman’s logically absurd world, easily my favorite part of the series. For example, it’s not that J.D. Salinger has faked his own death and is secretly alive, it’s that he’s working in a tandem bike shop that displays his motto “It’s better to be alone.” And it’s not that J.D. Salinger wants to pitch a show to a TV network, it’s that he pitches a clichéd game show with a very literal name, and sells it. On paper, it sounds almost too over-the-top to even work, but within the context of BoJack, it not only fits right at home, but it actually makes a certain degree of sense. It’s because BoJack never winks at its absurd plot developments, and instead keeps chugging along expecting viewers to accept them at face value. There’s a certain beauty to a fictional world that commits so strongly to its own sense of logic that it can confidently throw a bunch of intelligent nonsense at the wall and have it stick without a second thought.
Though the BoJack story doesn’t quite live up to the other two plots in “Higher Love” because of the staleness of its premise, it still has its share of funny, sweet moments, and features some good character work as well. After Wanda tells him that she doesn’t love him either, BoJack’s insecurity works into overdrive. But when he receives an autoerotic asphyxiation kit from Corduroy Jackson-Jackson (Brandon T. Jackson), his Secretariat co-star who suffers from that particular sexual compulsion, he threatens to try it to force Wanda’s hand. Of course she doesn’t bite, and it sends BoJack to buy lumber and equipment necessary to build an autoerotic asphyxiation machine, but along the way, he also fixes his bed, which had been giving Wanda some shoulder problems, so they reconcile.
Santamaria is smart to have the plot hinge on BoJack’s insecurity, i.e. he’s more worried that Wanda doesn’t love him than him actually saying the words, “I love you.” BoJack desperately needs people to love him unconditionally, but doesn’t want to put in the reciprocal effort. It’s only when he demonstrates that he actually listened to Wanda’s feelings and followed through with her request that she finally caves and admits she loves him. Though BoJack can be selfish and narcissistic, he’s also capable of recognizing a good thing. It’s his own insecurity that leads him to complex solutions to very simple problems.
Ultimately, that’s the common problem with the characters on BoJack Horseman: They all avoid the obvious elephants in the room (no, not the actual elephant). Mr. Peanutbutter should go actively search for a job, but that would require him to face up to his own reality as a washed-up sitcom star that nobody really wants anymore. Princess Carolyn should try to find satisfaction in her life outside of work, but instead just re-doubles her efforts at work. BoJack should just fix the bed, but instead he builds an autoerotic asphyxiation machine. Everyone keeps running from the obvious because it’s easier to live inside the unnecessary complexities of interior lives. Only they can wake up and smell the shit right in front of them.
- Thank you to Caroline and Erik for letting me sub in today! Caroline will be back tomorrow. I hope I didn’t muck anything up.
- The actual plotting in “Higher Love” is quite impressive. Bonito’s accident dovetails nicely with Corduroy Jackson’s own sexual fears which fits nicely into BoJack’s relationship problems. And of course, it begins and ends with two people hanging from a noose with their pants down.
- Apparently, J.D. Salinger is not a tough nut to crack.
- The opening scene with Mr. Peanutbutter’s accountant is hilarious: “Has this ever happened to you?” “No, no, whatever it is, it hasn’t! Nothing has ever happened to me! Stop!”
- Vincent Adultman was Mr. Peanutbutter’s business manager, because of course he is.
- The new gravy food truck only sells gravy. You have to go to the bowl truck first. That’s how they get you.
- Names for auto-erotic asphyxiation: Blue-face Blastoff; Strokey Chokey; Two-neck Squeeze; Old Gasp and Goo; and Funky Spiderman (“Because he hangs and shoots webbing.”)
- Favorite sight gag: Outside Salinger’s bike shop, a mosquito sits with presumably his girlfriend while she reads a book, only the mosquito is drinking the girl’s blood while she happily watches.
- “I gotta look at paint swatches for the new kitchen. I have to pick a shade that won’t clash with the splatter of blood for when I blow my brains out after talking to Katie about paint swatches all day.”
- “I think with a beeper, you just ignore it.” “With what, my mind?!”
- “The author of Catcher in the Rye? And…others?”
- “I don’t know if I want your jack-off kit at my house.”
- “I’m not gonna half-ass anything. This is my orgasm we’re talking about.”
- “One day, some genius will invent some sort of bagel catcher that takes the guesswork out of this task.”
- “I don’t love you! You don’t make me feel less broken!”
- Today in Hollywoo Signs