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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on BoJack Horseman

Illustration for article titled BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on iBoJack Horseman/i
Screenshot: Netflix
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“They will see you as a rude dude saying all the things polite society is too limp-dicked to say. This is your way back in. This is how you get your love back.”

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Looking back over the life of BoJack Horseman, it’s clear that one of the greatest keys to its success was how it allowed itself to grow into a true ensemble show. Starting ostensibly as a show about this egotistical former TV star and a wacky cast of supporting friends and co-workers, it shed the “supporting” label as time went on, grown into being a show about five distinct individuals trying to make their way in the heartless and nonsensical world of Hollywoo. BoJack, Diane, Princess Carolyn, Todd, and Mr. Peanutbutter could go on their own adventures and not need more than one other person to join them—and as time went on, not even that one. And more importantly, it never contrived excuses to keep its cast together, allowing relationships to change, grow, and even conclude.

That commitment is even more apparent in the final season, chiefly because it’s clear that there’s not much reason for the rest of the cast to be around BoJack anymore. After weathering one too many vengeful schemes, narcissistic outbursts, and just plain awful actions, they have their own lives to lead now and can’t put things on hold for BoJack. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. Even after plenty of times being alone, “The Horny Unicorn” is where it feels truly lonely to be BoJack Horseman, everyone else’s life going up while his is heading to another rock bottom. When your life takes you to a point that bad boy/Forgivee recipient/all-around piece of shit Vance Waggoner is the only one willing to take your phone calls, things are clearly not heading in the right direction.

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“The Horny Unicorn” gives us one of BoJack Horseman’s occasional time jumps, picking up a few months since BoJack gave his disastrous second interview and appeared to the whole world as an uncaring creep. It’s a smart narrative move to get us past the explosion and to the lingering fallout, and it has truly lingered. Sarah Lynn’s parents hit him with a $5 million wrongful death settlement and Xerox is suing him for $100 million for using their name in the interview, so his house gets sold from right under him to cover legal fees. The dean’s offer to return to Wesleyan was obviously withdrawn and Hollyhock’s not returning his voicemails. The best job he can get is as Corpse #4 on Birthday Dad, and the most media exposure he gets is a punchline on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. (If I ever established an Achievement in Real-World Animal Celebrities category, this would be a no-contest win.) Even his AA meetings aren’t safe spaces, as outing a fellow attendee as a drunk by name on national television isn’t going to win you any friends.

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BoJack’s not entirely without resources in this instance, though those resources are coming without any feeling of long-term support. Princess Carolyn, while willing to point BoJack toward a job and a place to live, can’t even work up an optimistic tone for his long-term prospects and spends more time working with productive clients like Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter. And as thrilled as Mr. Peanutbutter is to have a roommate, he’s taking his work on Birthday Dad even more seriously than when he asked what Hollywoo celebrities knew and if they knew things, rushing through breakfast to get to set and passing up dinner with BoJack to shoot his additional scenes. (More damningly, he can’t even work up a crossover episode joke in what feels like the perfect opening for one.) Neither of them seem to feel obligated, but taking care of BoJack is now just one of twenty things to do in the day, and consequently that’s all the time that they can spare.

Illustration for article titled BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on iBoJack Horseman/i
Screenshot: Netflix
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And while BoJack has fallen, his former roommate and best friend has risen. Speaking of going back to the beginning, it’s almost jarring to look back at the first season and see where Todd was, and where he’s gotten to now. At this point in BoJack Horseman Todd’s managed to complete almost every step in his personal journey, and all of them are taken to another level in this episode. He’s taken caring for Ruthie to running a daycare at VIM. He’s comfortable in his sexuality, and has now has a partner who’s eager to participate in his trademark “Has this ever happened to you?” pitches. And most significantly, after living on the couch of every other main character, he’s finally moved into his own apartment.

But Todd hasn’t fully cleared up every point in his life, with the first half of the season finally exploring the reasons why Todd had to move onto BoJack’s couch in the first place: a mother who threw him out and can’t bring herself to face him again. Parental issues and damage are an important part of the BoJack mosaic, so adding this to Todd’s character is a late development but one that feels of a piece with his development and its arrested nature. Trying to solve it gives us something that’s been missing in this last batch of episodes, a good old-fashioned elaborate Todd scheme—so old-fashioned in fact that Judah can put the whole thing together without batting an eye. It remains a charming sign that despite coming a long way Todd hasn’t grown up entirely, his ideas of responsible adult small talk including “Sir, you cannot remove your shoes inside this Applebee’s.”

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While it’s all fun and games putting the party together, that levity cracks once BoJack tries to invite himself over, and it becomes clear how much Todd has outgrown his old friend. Amy Schwartz’s script and Aaron Paul’s performance pack so much history in their delivery, the fact that Todd knows—and really, has always known—that letting BoJack into your life carries a price. It’s a price he’s no longer willing to pay with this much on the line, the clearest sign of his relative maturity in an episode filled with it. Even though his mother still doesn’t make an appearance, it feels like a more important bridge was crossed—even if paradoxically it came from burning one.

Illustration for article titled BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on iBoJack Horseman/i
Screenshot: Netflix
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Diane’s also keeping herself at a remove from BoJack, albeit one that’s easier to retain with half a country between the two of them. The time jump of “The Horny Unicorn” means we’re to the point that Ivy Tran: Food Court Detective is complete and to the proofreading stage, and Princess Carolyn’s already pushing for the follow-up. Here’s where things drag a bit, as Diane continues to remain stubbornly reticent to being a YA author and suggests she’d rather follow it up with a book about Eleanor Roosevelt. (Princess Carolyn, when hearing the pitch: “Interesting!” Diane: “I didn’t even tell you the thing.” Princess Carolyn: “I know, I was interested in you not telling me.”) Even though having second thoughts is in keeping with the character, seeing her drag her feet feels antithetical to what seems to have been three months of feeling good about herself.

Those second thoughts do pay off in the episode’s second-best interaction, when after scenes of being a jerk last episode and this, Sonny admits that he’s read her book. and beyond having a few general pointers—you can’t call Schaumburg officially part of Chicago, god, Diane—he manages to get across that she’s written a good book. It’s a sweet interaction to witness, an encouraging sign that she’s both found a way to strengthen her connections to Guy and that Ivy Tran might be more of a valuable method for getting her message across than she first thought. A children’s book that manages to be a delivery system for pro-feminist messages that penetrate the thick skull of a high school lacrosse jock? Eleanor Roosevelt wishes she had a weapon that effective.

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Illustration for article titled BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on iBoJack Horseman/i
Screenshot: Netflix

So with all his support systems busy supporting themselves, who’s the one person willing to stand beside BoJack? Surprise (and it is a surprise), it’s none other than Vance Waggoner, making his non-triumphant return from “BoJack The Feminist.” Once again, he’s the perfect avatar for your average monster in Hollywoo, his crimes against basic decency so over the top as to be funny but still containing an uncomfortable kernel of truth. (“That guy’s got more domestic assault convictions than Sean Penn! Now you’re thinking, did Sean Penn get convicted of domestic assault or was it just alleged? I gotta look that up later!”) It’s a true indictment of how far BoJack has fallen that Vance sees him as a peer in need of support, and a sign of how far away everyone else has drifted that he takes him up on the offer.

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With everyone drifting away from him, BoJack finds himself drifting to an ever darker place. A bullshitting session that’s the antithesis of Ivy Tran’s positive messages—and that drives away everyone in the adjacent booths—leads Vance to excitedly pitch BoJack a comeback film that shows him being an unapologetic jackass, leaning into his toxic persona even more than The BoJack Horseman Show did. And when a supposed mission of mercy turns into a father-daughter screaming match over an Instagram like, BoJack finds support for his plight amongst an audience for that film, college bros who are sick of PC culture. After so long trying to do the right thing, he’s being pulled back into the tar pits of wrongness, validation for all the wrong reasons.

Illustration for article titled BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on iBoJack Horseman/i
Screenshot: Netflix
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“The Horny Unicorn” doesn’t even leave BoJack’s one hypothetical lifeline, and yanking it away is the hardest thing to see in a season that’s had no shortage of competition for the title. All episode BoJack’s in possession of a letter from Hollyhock, his only contact save a series of unanswered voicemails, and his hands shake even harder holding it than they did Jamison’s water bottle of vodka. He finally opens it at his lowest point, possibly thinking things can’t get worse—and in Schwartz’s cruelest joke of the episode, doesn’t give you any clue what she says to him. Only that after reading it the letter and his face fall at the same time, he walks right back into the house—a house whose couch and stairway framing feel a hell of a lot like the Horsin’ Around set—and time blurs around him.

An awful thing to witness, even when someone puts a beer in BoJack’s hand in the episode’s final beat. Given everything we’ve seen this episode, it’s hard to imagine a circumstance that doesn’t end with him taking one long pull from the bottle. It’s a devastating coda to a devastating episode, more proof that as much time as the first half of the season spent building BoJack up, the second half is tearing him down.

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Stray observations:

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: It’s our second repeat in a row, as Bobby Cannavale gets more material as Vance Waggoner on his second go-around and makes a meal of the character’s inherent awfulness. Winning line: “My daughter sucks, which is a surprise because I did such a good job of raising her.”
  • We get a glimpse of Courtney Portnoy walking in the background at the studio, clad in blue and white Spandex with an ice theme to it. But wasn’t she under consideration for playing FireFlame when Kelsey was brainstorming the project, a role that would imply a much different color palette? Interesting...
  • Judah reaching down to let one of Todd’s daycare kids take his finger is adorable. Also adorable, his housewarming party gifts: a sourdough starter and a haiku written on a grain of rice and suspended in a bottle.
  • The “real friends” Todd invites to his housewarming party include Emily and her latest fireman boyfriend, and the couch gentleman from the What Time Is It Right Now? days. Good to see that Todd’s managed to keep some of his friends close.
  • “His tie is all loosened up, which is like the universal sign for having a shitty day.”
  • “I don’t think it’s smart to be burning Bridges at this juncture.” “I’m sorry, I just don’t like Beau.”
  • “And I said: but Doctor, I am Sad Dog.”
  • “It’s the stock photo that came with the frame. My wife kept asking me to put in a picture of our family, but I was always too drunk.”
  • “Usually at this stage I hate everything I’ve ever written and I feel like a worthless hack.” Me too, Diane. Me too.
  • “Maybe I’m just a crazy old birthday person, but I think war is bad.”
  • “Your last spon-con post for L’Oreal? It came off as disingenuous!”
  • “I’m not here to be your cool story later.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Illustration for article titled BoJack is sponsored but not content as things get worse on iBoJack Horseman/i
Screenshot: Netflix
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Les Chappell is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. He drinks good whiskey and owns too many hats.

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