Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

BoJack Horseman’s take on abortion is bold, nuanced, and funny

TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

While the majority of its attention is focused on taking down the artifice and shallowness of Hollywoo, BoJack Horseman is also a show that isn’t afraid to wade into deeper controversies. It took its first step in that direction right in its second episode “BoJack Hates The Troops,” which led BoJack to steal a meal from Neal McBeal (the Navy SEAL) and got into a discussion of supporting our troops even when one of them is kind of a jerk. And they doubled down on that with last year’s “Hank After Dark,” a ruthless take on Bill Cosby-style scandals and the way society would rather turn victims into villains than believe the worst about its heroes. Raphael Bob-Waksberg and company are unafraid to use their strange and dark show to say something important, and have the right attitude that no topic should be off limits.


“Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” is the latest of these controversy episodes, and the show’s bold and unapologetic approach to life is at its sharpest here. Once again, they take a topic that most other sitcoms would prefer not to talk about, and not only do they talk about it but they go for the jugular in order to find something real to say about it. And true to form, they say so in a manner surreal and outrageous, with an emotional core that somehow works in tandem with these ideas. This is an episode of television where a pop star dolphin sings about how baby killing makes her horny as a video shows laser cannons eradicating a giant fetus, and yet it still has more to say about abortion than any sitcom episode in recent memory.

What’s most refreshing about this narrative is that “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” avoids every traditional route for a story like this to go: There’s no question of whether Diane wants the baby or if Mr. Peanutbutter’s going to talk her into keeping it. For every one of their problems, Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are on the same page here in not wanting children, their only exception being the possibility of a “streetwise but soulful teen” trying to get into Julliard. (“We’d support his dancing and let him stay in the guest room.”) Writer Joanna Calo takes a matter-of-fact approach that reminds me of the excellent film Obvious Child, treating abortion as a reasonable adult decision rather than a loaded issue. Diane makes her choice, Mr. Peanutbutter is behind her, and there’s nothing more to say about that.


Well, there’s a lot more to say about it, when a distracted Diane inadvertently tweets “I’m having an abortion” from the Twitter feed of pop singer Sextina Aquafina. So much of BoJack Horseman is about the unflattering magnification that Hollywoo places on the most trivial things, and this story leans into that brilliantly. Diane thinks they can take advantage of the trending to make a real statement, Sextina decides she wants to sell records instead, and Princess Carolyn is thrilled at the chance to make a move that could save the struggling Vim. It’s a smart move for BoJack, pivoting away from Diane’s abortion specifically to a faux-bortion that exists on a grand scale, which keeps the series from repeating the same pattern of attacks she underwent in her crusade against Hank Hippopopalous last year.


All of this leads to Sextina’s brand-new single, “Get That Fetus/Kill That Fetus.” It’s utterly unapologetic, interwoven with sci-fi and post-apocalyptic imagery and scripted with lyrics like “I’m a baby killer/baby killing makes me horny/Aliens inside me/Gonna squash it like Sigourney.” It’s a sight that “audacious” doesn’t even begin to describe, but the hilarity of how far it goes feels like exactly the right way to get the issue into the spotlight. If you’re going to start a conversation about a hot-button issue, you might as well set that button on fire before anyone gets a chance to push it and have the conversation on your terms. And it also helps that the song is hilariously catchy, leading to a memorable war of sound effects in Sextina’s limo.

As is typical in the BoJack Horseman universe, the mouth of this outrage is MSNBSea’s Tom Jumbo-Grumbo, who responds to all this abortion talk by assembling a panel of old men in bow-ties. This entire scene is a straight-up glorious “fuck the patriarchy” moment, presenting clearly defined models for everyone who’s taken a stance on a woman’s right to choose and showing just how callow and hypocritical those opinions are. (Example: “I can say that with confidence because I’ll never have to make that decision, so I’m unbiased.”) It nails the worst part of abortion debates, how they’re so often had by those who have no business talking about it.


What works so well amidst the audacity of “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” is that it never loses sight of the person who’s actually getting the abortion, and Diane’s personal griefs get as much space as Sextina’s public ones. Her doctor at Planned Parrothood walks her through the necessary steps preceding it, which include hours of cute puppy videos and learning what the favorite color of her potential puppies would be. (Probably blue.) It’s a devastating take on all the laws passed over the last few years to shame women getting an abortion under the guise of informing them, another joke where the real punchline is in how infuriatingly how close it is to reality.


It also successfully adds something to a relationship amongst the central cast that’s not typically featured. Princess Carolyn and Diane are generally distant from each other—Princess Carolyn felt the need to clarify how they knew each other in the season one finale, and in the season two finale she tried fixing Diane’s problems instead of her own—and the argument the two have is the most substantive connection they’ve had to date. Diane’s principled and always looking to take a stance on things that are important, and the personal connection only amplifies. Princess Carolyn is concerned with the optics for her business, and after the albino rhino gyno wino (you know) made the point in the previous episode that Princess Carolyn is unlikely to have children herself, it’s no surprise she’d be in a position to be nastier to someone still in a position to make this choice. It’s an argument not about the right to make the choice, but the acknowledgment that there’s no one-size-fits-all reaction to it.

The abortion storyline is so well-executed that it overshadows the other parts of the show, which is a shame because there’s a lot of entertaining developments on the Secretariat front. Awards season is rolling around and the front-runners are set: BoJack and a bunch of professionally handsome white guys with ludicrous names and mawkishly titled films. Head of that class is Jurj Clooners (Jay Mohr) of The Nazi Who Played Yahtzee, Hollywoo’s biggest prankster who takes BoJack aside after the Golden Snowflake awards and break it to him that the deck’s rigged against him. (“Jurj, Bread, Mitt? Those are names. Real names.”) If previous episodes this season have given the impression that BoJack has started to learn something from his various misadventures—or at least enough to serve as a self-aware cautionary tale—his reaction here proves “classic BoJack” is still in play to answer with a prank that’s not really a prank.


Said prank, which involves taking over Clooners’ limo and hitting him with a bat, goes south once BoJack sees Ana climb into the limo with him. Ana turns out to be a quintuple agent, representing all five of the most likely Best Actor nominees. By getting into the awards game BoJack Horseman is doubling down on its earliest hints that Hollywoo is a rigged system, enough people operating behind the scenes that the actual performances don’t matter. And for a BoJack whose performance is entirely the product of a computer, that disparity has to gut him twice.


Ana’s ruthless approach to the business also makes her visit to BoJack’s home to announce he’s her sole client doubly upsetting, as she goes from reassurance to literally having him by the balls. (It’s not exactly Silicon Valley in terms of horse cock imagery, but it’s equally unambiguous in what’s going on.) BoJack thinks he’s asserted himself, but all he’s done is further complicate matters by making this award matter more to someone other than him, further taking this pursuit out of his hands.

BoJack may have entered a devil’s partnership, but the real relationship that grows out of this is Diane and Princess Carolyn taking steps to being friends. Diane recovers from her abortion at Princess Carolyn’s apartment, getting the one piece of reassurance that even Mr. Peanutbutter couldn’t give her, and they’re able to work as a team for the first time in the series when they need to pivot off Sextina being pregnant for real. And of course they can sell it, because “Everyone loves a baby!” It’s a perfect punchline to an episode that subverts every expectation, one that finds a way to laugh at a serious topic and start a conversation as a result.


Stray observations:

  • Achievement In Voice Acting: In a rare bit of BoJack recasting, Sextina is now voiced by MADtv’s Daniele Gaither, making a seamless transition from Aisha Tyler’s work in the first two seasons. Gaither masters Sextina’s shallowness, audience savvy, and occasional moments of awareness.
  • Todd spends the episode in typical Todd fashion, whether it be making a giant taco out of a pizza and hot dogs or trying to find his own shadow (“It was here a second ago”). His stint as BoJack’s new publicist is charmingly idiotic, especially when he confuses BoJack with Bo Jackson: “You didn’t used to play baseball and football? Uh, I think I googled the wrong guy.”
  • BoJack’s main competition for the Best Actor Oscar on the awards circuit: Mitt Dermon in Midnight Hole, Bread Poot in City Of AIDS, Lernernerner DiCarpricorn in The Haberdasher’s Peanut, and Jurj Clooners in The Nazi Who Played Yahtzee.
  • Highlights of the MSNBSea crawl: - Obama declares country simply must see Hamilton. - Person writing news ticker headlines wasting life, sources say. - U.S. celebrates three days without mass shooting—this just in: never mind.
  • R.I.P. (maybe?) A Ryan Seacrest Type. He (possibly) died doing what he loved: schmoozing on the red carpet.
  • Of everything audacious in this episode, Mr. Peanutbutter’s “It’s A Boy borted” balloon is the one that made my jaw drop.
  • Also in Diane’s social media snafus, tweeting “Shut up BoJack” under Cynthia Nixon’s account. BoJack: “I buy it. She is not a fan. And for good reason.”
  • “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘uterus,’ there’s only ‘us.’ And ‘U,’ and another ‘U,’ but that’s the U in ‘us,’ so I already said that U.”
  • “Its time for Tom’s Rant! … Wait, does that say Tom Srant? … Randy, don’t look at Jessica. This is on you.”
  • “Leggo my preggo!”
  • “Millennials today think everything is N.B.D. N.B.D. of course stands for ‘No B.D.,’ referring to B.D. Wong, who teens think is a very big deal. So if something’s not B.D., it means it’s not a big deal.”
  • “If that idea was a Dillon brother, it’d be a Kevin, not a Matt.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:

Share This Story

Get our newsletter