Mr. Peanutbutter is an old dog. He said as much a couple episodes ago when he and Diane had their big fight, the one that threatened to break up their marriage for good, but the episodes that followed showed us what he meant. Last season, we didn’t get to know Mr. Peanutbutter much beyond his Dr. Seuss name and overeager love for everyone and everything, but this season has shaded him in to a decidedly more three-dimensional character. Paul F Tompkins is so game for anything you throw his way, so hey, why not some depth?
Through last week’s flashback, we learned that BoJack really was a bigger star than Mr. Peanutbutter, who was well liked, but still starring in a rip off of Bojack’s existing sitcom. We’ve also seen him face up to the reality of his pie in the sky optimism, which could take the unfortunate form of dead end schemes, like when one he and Todd decided people should be able to drink moods (like a smoothie!). As is turns out, residuals only get you so far, and sinking a whole bunch of money into Halloween costume shop in July isn’t going to do you any favors in the long run. So while Mr. Peanutbutter is still the same old happy-go-lucky, determinedly optimistic dog that we’ve gotten to know at heart, his stories in the second season have taken a more realistic—so inevitably more serious—direction. This new game show, ridiculous long name notwithstanding, is a real shot for him to make something of himself this late in the game (not to mention enough money to keep his house). It even meant enough to him that he ended up taking the network’s side when Diane crusaded against Hank Hippopapolous. By the time the lights go up on the funhouse circus that is the Hollywoo Stars: What Do They Know?: Do They Know Things?: Let’s Find Out! set, we already know how much is at stake for Mr. Peanutbutter. We know why, to use BoJack’s words, he’s acting like kind of a dick.
The most impressive thing about this episode, though, is how well it takes everyone’s journeys into consideration when putting them through the paces of something as blatantly absurd as Hollywoo Stars: What Do They Know?: Do They Know Things?: Let’s Find Out! Even as BoJack tries to outwit Daniel Radcliffe in an escalating series of ridiculous cutaways and ruthless skewering of Hollywood bullshit (the BoJack Horseman special), there’s another factor at play. The conflict that’s been bubbling up between him and Mr. Peanutbutter for years strains at the edges of this aggressively wacky game show taping until neither of them can take it any more.
It’s certainly more startling when it’s Mr. Peanutbutter who finally loses it, nixing the Bubble Round to hash out his problems with BoJack. Their conversation about their friendship and Diane is one of the most frank conversations to happen in the series’ entire run, and it all happens on live television. Tompkins and Will Arnett commit completely to the emotional chaos of this scene, their voices alternating seamlessly between fury, confusion, disappointment, and hurt. Mr. Peanutbutter calls BoJack out for moping over Diane, and for kissing her—which “of course” she told him, “we’re married.” So there goes that basic sitcom trope of Secret Love. Most important, though, is the moment when Mr. Peanutbutter gives a voice to all the critics of BoJack, both as a character and a series:
Mr. Peanutbutter: “You’re a millionaire movie star with a girlfriend who loves you, acting in your dream movie. What more do you want? What else could the universe possibly owe you?!”
BoJack: “I…want to feel good about myself. The way you do. And I don’t know how. I don’t know if I can.”
It’s a huge gut punch of a moment. As Pilot Viruet wrote over at Flavorwire, BoJack is one of the most believable depictions of depression in pop culture right now, and it’s exactly because of scenes like this one, when he admits he doesn’t know why or how he feels so shitty all the time. This moment is perfectly in line with the utterly lost character we’ve come to know over these seasons, and the journey we’ve taken with him only makes it hit harder. The same goes for the moment after Mr. Peanutbutter makes a show of forgiving him, and gives him a layup question to double his 500,000 dollars for charity: who was the star of Harry Potter? BoJack is a better horseman than he was when we first met him, but he can still be very small and extremely petty. So BoJack lets the clock run out and the money burn, live on television, to spite an actor more famous and well-loved than himself. If you ever needed a primer course on BoJack Horseman, there it is.
So yes, it’s safe to say there would be plenty to work with for an entire episode onstage at Hollywoo Stars: What Do They Know?: Do They Know Things?: Let’s Find Out!, but we also get to bum around the control room—all in the style of an Aaron Sorkin show. Wanda and Princess Carolyn watch BoJack crash and burn as showrunner JD Salinger (one of Alan Arkin’s best roles to date and I’ll fight you on it) and his ambitious assistant Mia McKibben (a name only slightly less ridiculous than actual Sorkin character McKenzie McHale) direct the chaos. The opening walk and talk parody is pitch perfect, but we’ve seen so many walk and talk parities at this point that would really makes the Aaron Sorkin parallel stand out throughout the episode is how committed JD and Mia are to the genre while the rest of the cast bumbles around in their own peculiar ways, like they didn’t get the same script. For example: after JD Salinger gives his grand speech to inspire his production troops, someone hands Wanda a tablet to follow the “second stream” experience and she’s a goner. “I love bullshit like this!” she exclaims, because the survivor of a 30-year coma is the only person who would be impressed by a Twitter scroll.
Salinger’s assistant Mia (Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany) is a classic Aaron Sorkin producer: ambitious, determined, and plucky enough that her commitment to her job isn’t a total boner killer. She scoffs about how maybe she shouldn’t have gone to Stanford when Todd can just become an associate producer by being Mr. Peanutbutter’s driver (and hey, maybe she’s right). She bustles around the studio, literally pushing Todd around and piping up at JD’s shoulder hoping to get his approval. Todd, meanwhile, is still Todd. He has no respect for Mr. Sorkin’s tropes, nor JD Salinger’s grand vision for Hollywoo Stars: What Do They Know?: Do They Know Things?: Let’s Find Out! His parting words to esteemed novelist and aspiring game show producer JD Salinger (this is a fun show): “Viva Toddfoolery! Suck a dick, dumb shits!” Not quite Sorkinese, but poetry nonetheless.
In that respect: I’ve spent a significant amount of time during this season’s review getting into the existential whatever of it all, but this time, I want to end with some of the sillier things from this episode. Most BoJack episodes reward a rewatch for all the bits you missed the first time around, but Alison Flierl and Scott Chernoff’s script has so many asides, pointed pieces of wordplay, and absurdist twists that it would be exhausting to point them all out. There’s the delightful Daniel Radcliffe, who plays yet another unflattering version of himself as an oblivious star (“And you said your name was…Chadwick Boseman?”). Then there’s the game show itself. It features the usual grab bag of television tricks like wacky sound effects and nonsensical bonus rounds, but in the BoJack universe, the show kicks off with an official “small talk round” and cues segment changes with a distraught person shrieking, “they’re all dead! I watched them all die!!! Death from above!!!” This episode is also a good time to acknowledge BoJack Horseman’s lead designer Lisa Hanawalt, who collaborates with Mike Hollingsworth to bring us sight gags like the montage of BoJack and Daniel Radcliffe tackling an increasingly ridiculous series of games. Not a single element of this episode slacks off, and for that, J.D. Salinger should be proud. After all, nothing is more important than television, and no one is more important than the people who make it.
- We’re getting towards the end now, so the temptation to talk about the finale or whatever in the comments will be great. Resist that urge. In BoJack’s words: don’t be a dick.
- There was just no time for me to address them, but Lisa Kudrow and Amy Sedaris were spectacular in this episode. Princess Carolyn’s flashback to an early aughts poker game was just about perfect, and Kudrow in particular nailed the turn from Wanda’s fascination with the app (“queefburglar69—he’s their leader”) to forcing Mr. Peanutbutter to get his shit together.
- Where can I find Mr. Peanutbutter’s glittery pink suit? Asking for a Michael B. Jordan, who should be wearing it always.
- Too many good Radcliffe lines, but I lost it at, “…that painter was Banksy, and that color was green.”
- “I’m J goddamn D goddamn Salinger, and I want rain!”
- Today in Hollywoo signs, starring math: