Even in an era where the lines between comedy and drama are the blurriest that they’ve ever been, what BoJack Horseman is capable of doing is nothing short of masterful. This is a show that takes its innately silly premise of a world full of anthropomorphic animals and uses it as a platform for scathing eviscerations of celebrity and an unflinching look at living with depression. Yet at the same time, its innate silliness never subsides, the show’s darkest moments lifted up by an endless sea of puns, non sequiturs, and ludicrous circumstances. It’s a study in contradictions that also, not coincidentally, happens to be one of the best shows on television.

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Season three provides all of those things and more right at the top. While previous seasons of BoJack Horseman have established that the show prefers the slow burn approach to comedy, doling out throwaway details and building them to spectacular running gags, “Start Spreading The News” reveals that there’s more fuel for said burn than ever before. It’s a confident premiere that throws the viewer right into the action, assuring us that while BoJack the character is now a success and BoJack the television show is one of Netflix’s most highly regarded series, neither is changing anytime soon.

Things get off to a fast start as we’re thrown right into the press junket for Secretariat, the film BoJack spent his life wanting to make—and that he subsequently walked off of, only to be replaced entirely with a CGI version of himself. An Oscar campaign is the perfect narrative spine for a season of BoJack Horseman, given that the superficiality and ass-kissing that normally distinguishes show business is amplified ten-fold when awards are on the line, introducing ever more ambition and sycophants to a universe that doesn’t lack for either. And it also means that Ana Spanakopita, introduced briefly in the season two finale, gets to take on a more prominent role as the film’s PR mastermind/Oscar whisperer. Anything that gives audiences Angela Bassett’s terrifically steely line reads is serving a good cause, and she quickly steps up to fill the void left by Maria Bamford as BoJack’s take-no-shit handler.

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That’s the exact kind of handler that BoJack needs, because his feelings about a film he’s technically not even in are ambivalent at best. He’s increasingly agitated at the way members of the press junket dismiss HorsinAround as an awful show—apparently he’s the only one allowed to insult it—and while he’s cool on Secretariat he’s also incredibly aware of the buzz surrounding it. As he explains to his old friend and avant-garde New York playwright Jill Pill (a perfectly cast Mara Wilson), he explains that this is now his best shot for a legacy: “If I win an Oscar, I’ll be remembered. And then my life will have meaning.” All of BoJack’s struggles and pains come from trying to achieve something that matters against his convictions that he himself doesn’t, and establishing this award as the season’s goal creates something tangible for the conflicts to revolve around.

Reaching for this goal—any goal—is something that BoJack badly needs, especially once its clear that the fallout from the last goal he reached for has become the alpha amongst his personal demons. Last season’s penultimate episode “Escape From LA” was BoJack Horseman’s most unforgiving episode to date, and a random boat analogy during a one-night stand makes it clear that what almost happened between BoJack and Penny isn’t going to disappear into the ether. BoJack may be without self-awareness in the majority of his life, but he knows that he was wrong in that moment—and even worse, he knows himself well enough to know the most likely outcome if Charlotte hadn’t entered when she did. With every season Will Arnett solidifies this role as the best performance of his career, and once again he makes every ounce of bitterness, pain, and doubt ring true. BoJack’s always believed that he doesn’t deserve to be happy, and now he has a key piece of evidence to back this hypothesis.

But in the most telling part of the premiere, it turns out BoJack’s support network is stronger than it’s ever been—and that may not be to his benefit. His loose lips to a reporter are resolved in record time with a cold “It’s handled” from Ana, and when he tries to get his worries out, she shuts him down immediately. She tells him that no one gets to tell his story for him, only he does…. and then proceeds to tell him exactly what his story is. “You win the Oscar, the next day you go back to being you. But that night is a really good night.” It’s not really BoJack in the role of Secretariat, and it’s similarly not really BoJack’s choice to participate in this campaign. Last season he was running in circles, now he’s just along for the ride.

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Things aren’t much better for the rest of the people in BoJack’s orbit either, as the little triumphs enjoyed at the end of “Out To Sea” are proving to be short-lived. Princess Carolyn might be at the top of her own agency, but she’s drowning under the responsibilities of Vim—and cats hate drowning, we remind you—leading to missed calls and important clients walking out the door. (Lost to the newly formed Gekko-Rabitowitz no less, a throwaway line that reveals her two biggest enemies have combined forces.) And while Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane are back together after the latter’s Cordovia misadventure/depressive spiral, there’s plenty of signs that not all is well, one misunderstanding about who’s in New York triggering multiple affirmations of feelings that sound like the product of many a marriage counseling session. BoJack’s name might be in the title, but this is very much an ensemble show, and it’s rewarding to see it hasn’t lost sight of said ensemble’s problems in the new season.

And once again, despite the high emotional stakes that exist, it’s all floated by way of brilliant comedy. All of those previously mentioned fissures are explored through the framework of an unintentional conference call, heading down a rabbit hole—or Rabbit, Run hole as it were—of electric wordplay as new players chime in once they realize who else is on the line. Even when it stops, it moves into follow-up conversation, an explanation of where BoJack’s ex-girlfriend Wanda went keeping the momentum going to a point that you expect someone to say the toppings contain potassium benzoate. This cast enjoys a terrific rapport with each other, and the characters are all so fleshed out at this point, that the show can feel comfortable just turning them loose for a scene like this.

Plus, what would BoJack Horseman be without some wacky high jinks? With Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! off the air (along with its Chris Hardwick-hosted follow-up show) Mr. Peanutbutter is back to looking for get-rich-quick schemes, dragging his long-suffering accountant along for the ride. And his usual partner in crime Todd is off in New York, appearing in BoJack’s suitcase and shrugging off any requests for details: “Beats me. Sometimes I just am places.” While both plots are slight ones, they remain afloat with the manic energy that Paul F. Tompkins and Aaron Paul bring to the roles and the particular narrative detours—spaghetti strainer hats, for example—that they lead to. Todd’s plot in particular hits the high notes, a search for the ice machine leading to noir-level world-weariness.

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And that’s not even touching on all the other little details scattered throughout the episode. Jill’s play Greg Kinglear about the Shakespearean tragedy of Greg Kinnear’s play, with a marionette voiced by the real Kinnear? A bird woman trying to jump off a building and commit suicide only to remember she can fly? A Hamilton poster with a pig’s head? Mr. Peanutbutter’s beleaguered accountant begging his son not to listen to his favorite—and Kathleen Hanna’s least favorite—Harry Chapin song? (“The lyrics are too relevant!”) It’s comedy that’s simultaneously brilliant and dumb, the perfect trimmings to the show’s raw emotional core. Welcome back, BoJack Horseman. We missed you.

Stray observations:

  • Welcome to season three BoJack Horseman regular coverage! I’m simultaneously ecstatic at the chance to get into one of my favorite shows on TV, and nervous to take over after Caroline Framke did such a bang-up job last season. We’ll be on an every other day schedule. (And to those of you who’ve already finished the season, this is your first of many friendly reminders to keep spoilers out of the comments.)
  • As I’m sure I’ll be saying over and over in these reviews, the voice acting on this show is tremendous. Highlights of this episode include Bassett’s expanded role, Wilson’s first appearance, Kinnear’s cameo, and Another Period’s Natasha Leggero as the Manatee Fair reporter. Indeed, we’re going to introduce a new recurring feature to deal with this very thing…
  • Achievement in Voice Work: Wilson is fantastic as Jill Pill, channeling her Welcome To Night Vale work as The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home with a wry, otherworldly detachment. She’s perfectly at home asking a waitress to have the chef whisper dreams into her omelet, or pitching BoJack on an off-Broadway play that features him naked and covered in milk. (It’s symbolic of his rebirth.)
  • Callback: BoJack’s endlessly repeated line about running in circles became the tagline of Secretariat.
  • BoJack on the movie press junket experience: “It was endless. It was like the second act of a Judd Apatow movie.”
  • BoJack: “Your stink is one of good intentions and youthful exuberance.” Todd: “Hooray, compliment!”
  • “Is my name Sarah Koenig? Because I am about to get cereal.”
  • “I don’t have time for this! It’s already three hours later!”
  • “That TV show? It wasn’t me. This is me.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:

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