BoJack Horseman is one of the busiest shows on television. Between the level of effort that goes into designing the world, the sheer number of background sight gags, the narrative developments that often don’t pay off until three or four episodes later, and the fact that there are five main characters who all have their own season-long arcs, there’s a lot packed into each half-hour of television. It’s a grand achievement in plate-spinning, where whenever one of the plates cracks the impression it’s almost always intentional, the writers deciding to break them over the viewer for their emotional investment.
Fittingly for an episode where one of those main characters is being pushed to their breaking point, “The New Client” is one of the busiest installments of BoJack Horseman in recent memory. Last season saw Princess Carolyn achieve her long-held dream of having a child, and now it’s time for her to wake up from that dream and seemingly never sleep again. Along the way there’s shade thrown at society’s impossible standards for career women, digs at flailing network television, and possibly one of the most brilliantly tasteless jokes ever seen on this show. It’s an episode about trying to have it all that almost manages to have it all itself.
“Having it all” is a long-standing cliché goal for career women in television, from Mary Richards to Liz Lemon, and Princess Carolyn has long been a proud member of that sorority. Adopting a baby was obtaining the last piece of that puzzle, and she’s brought her porcupine daughter Untitled Princess Carolyn Project home—only to be so overwhelmed with new parenthood that she can’t even remove that placeholder. The haze of exhausted multitasking is one that’s familiar to anyone dealing with an infant, and director Amy Winfrey and the animation team frame it brilliantly by splitting Princess Carolyn into mirror images of herself to take on task after task. Series composer Jesse Novak further heightens it by looping the sound effects of Princess Carolyn’s tasks and building it as they multiply, a beat that only gets catchier as she’s further beaten down by her obligations.
And it’s a beatdown that’s not getting support from where you’d expect. Manatee Fair’s editor Amanda Hannity is putting together a photo shoot of ultra-successful women, a photo shoot Princess Carolyn tries to put off—and then jumps back on when it includes longtime rival Vanessa Gekko. Christine Baranski and Kristen Chenoweth are welcome returns to BoJack, both gifted with the perfect voices to sound outwardly supportive but with a cutting undercurrent of judgment. It’s the acknowledgment of society’s implicit bias against women who are outwardly successful, that even amongst their peers they can get chewed up for not checking every single box. Princess Carolyn can’t just produce a movie, it needs to be empowering to women. She can’t just host a get-together for working moms, it needs to be a Fugees reunion gala. And as she does so, there’s more and more photocopies being produced to multitask, somehow making the original even more faded.
Princess Carolyn is obviously taking on more than she can handle, and the way that writer Nick Adams showcases that is as vivid as the visual choices. BoJack writers have been open that challenging Amy Sedaris in the recording booth with various tongue-twisters is one of their favorite pastimes, to the point that I’ve chided them for occasionally making it feel self-indulgent. Here though, they’re expertly deployed as a sign of Princess Carolyn’s increasing mental breakdown, a word salad of celebrity names and dietary restrictions that tax an already overtaxed mind. Sedaris puts a great frenzy into every last one of them, and you can hear Chenoweth relish the option to join the fun. (Personal favorite: “Also, it turns out Marion is pescatarian and Meagan is no longer vegan.”)
Something’s eventually got to give, which it does when Princess Carolyn falling back on the one task that she’s most familiar with: trying to help BoJack out of a situation that’s annoying him. Going back to the idea of BoJack Horseman introducing details and then paying them off later, this is a great execution of that. Princess Carolyn’s alliteration and assonance has now made its way to incoherence, and raising a baby porcupine is covering her with needle pricks up and down her arms, all of which are the things the staff at Pastiches keep an eye out for. (Also keeping an eye out for her debit card, another pointed dig against the idea of for-profit rehab.) It’s sadly appropriate for her to wind up in this situation, especially given how BoJack walked back in after his misadventure in “A Horse Walks Into ARehab.” At least he was self-aware enough to know he needed a break.
When she wakes up, things get interesting, as “The New Client” turns into a completely different episode of BoJack Horseman. Flea Daniels’ complaint about mixing flashbacks together with the present-day scenes becomes meta foreshadowing, as we go all the way back to the cold open and Mr. Peanutbutter in the Birthday Dad editing bay. If an overtaxed Princess Carolyn is well-worn ground, a guilt-wracked Mr. Peanutbutter is something new, still weighed down by sleeping with Diane and asking Pickles to marry him so he didn’t have to admit the truth. Paul F. Tompkins takes a few points from Sedaris here, a new edge to his voice as he assails his on-screen presence for the things he did off it and psychoanalyzes the distracted boyfriend meme.
You can tell he’s nearing rock bottom when he decides a source of stability would be BoJack Horseman in rehab, darting off for a visit faster than you can say “What is this, a crossover episode?” As with Princess Carolyn, it’s another character in rehab who can’t recognize they need at least some of what it provides. Mr. Peanutbutter swiftly repeats his trick from “INT: SUB” and makes rehab all about him, pillorying poor Doug as much as he did Birthday Dad. (Two episodes in, Doug’s turning into the Jerry Gergich of Palisades.) It leads to a role reversal, BoJack now the one trying to talk Mr. Peanutbutter off a self-destructive course—one that he can clearly see, which doesn’t bode well for Mr. Peanutbutter’s efforts to keep this from Pickles.
And if that plot wasn’t enough, then we have to loop back to fill in the blanks of Todd-day, where Todd’s walked away unscathed in the wake of the Henry Fondle debacle. (Winner for best interaction this episode: “Have fun failing upwards!” “I always do!”) There’s no new ground covered here as Todd bounces from meeting to meeting, somehow talking up Untitled Princess Carolyn Project into an untitled Princess Carolyn project that long-suffering Pinky Penguin—always a welcome sight—decides can fill the holes of their Milwaukee-set Dick Wolf franchise. And in the way that only Todd can, he finds a way to coax success from failure. Princess Carolyn pulls a reverse Mulholland Drive and turns the re-edited Birthday Dad into a television pilot directed by Lee Daniels, its open-ended questions exactly the sort of thing networks think their audiences want. (Or not. Honestly, they’ll take anything.)
It’s a neat balancing act—almost a little too neat, which is the main qualm that I have with “The New Client.” After going from frantic point to frantic point, everything is tied off without qualms. Nothing bad happened to Untitled Princess Carolyn Project under Todd’s watch, Mr. Peanutbutter’s onto the next step of his career, and Princess Carolyn’s breakdown didn’t do anything to stop the gala from succeeding off-screen. The inherent goofiness of switching to Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd after so much time on Princess Carolyn’s disintegration undoes some of the effectiveness of that first half of the episode, shifting without as firm of a grip on the clutch. Similarly, as fantastic as the last phone call between BoJack and Princess Carolyn is, it’s a tonal shift that doesn’t feel like it comes organically from what we saw out of BoJack or Princess Carolyn in prior scenes. It comes because viewers (like me) love those conversations where only a few words show the decades of history between the two.
Then again, that might be the point. Princess Carolyn has worked herself into such a frenzy, convinced that doing it all and having it all are the same thing, that she lost sight of the fact that not everything needs to be the most important thing. Things don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be done, and sometimes you need other people to make that happen. And somehow it takes Vanessa Gekko, her worst enemy—at least to Princess Carolyn, a twist that feels perfect for her hyper-competitive mind—to remind her of it.
And it reminds her of one other thing, in the most magnificent payoff of the entire episode. Vanessa’s encouragement that Princess Carolyn needs to be “ruthless” in dealing with motherhood is an excellent callback to season four’s “Ruthie,” closing the loop on what was arguably the best Princess Carolyn episode of the last few seasons. She’s finally connected the dots that she no longer needs to imagine a future great-great-great granddaughter talking about how everything worked out in the end, and there’s a “Ruthie” right in front of her that she can tell about all the things that didn’t work out. It’s a beautiful realization to reach, and a moment of grace to an episode where it seemed that was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Baranski and Chenoweth are welcome returns, but director Lee Daniels takes the gold as Flea Daniels. From his rage at Mr. Peanutbutter to his commitment to The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein—whose bad taste he confronts more quickly than he did on Lee Daniels’ The Butler—every delivery is great. And given this is a show that featured Quentin Tarantulino, Cameron Crowe (actually a raven), and David Pincher, it’s surprising he’s the first director to voice his Hollywoo equivalent.
- How about those new opening titles, huh? I’ve never resented Netflix’s “Skip Intro” option more than when I’m marveling at watching the film of BoJack’s life flash and burn before our eyes, reminding us of the series’ greatest hits.
- Further praise to Jesse Novak for his latest version of the BoJack Horseman theme with the nursery take playing over the closing credits. If you play that for your own children, I take my hat off to you.
- Mr. Peanutbutter thinks that he can get more movies out of roaming the greeting card aisles, with heroes like Detective John Getwellsoon and Officer Mike Condolences on the table. I’d love to see those meetings with Ralph Stilton.
- BoJack once shouted an assistant out of the business for bringing him a room temperature Capri Sun. Harsh, but arguably justified. Those don’t taste good even when they’re cold.
- BoJack, hearing Untitled Princess Carolyn Project crying in the background of a call: “Sorry, I can tell I’m interrupting your meeting with David O. Russell, so I’ll make this quick.”
- “The photo shoot is for women who do it all. The kids are part of the ‘all.’ Otherwise we’re just women who do.”
- “Less man, more Leslie Mann! Cut out what you need to. If it makes sense, that’s a bonus.”
- “How could this man who claims to love her betray so flagrantly? That is a very sad meme.”
- “Let’s get some good seats!” “We’re sitting in a circle. They’re all good seats!”
- “I’m in! Name your price.” “Uh... Jonathan?”
- “Turns out audiences are not interested in a whole night of Milwaukee.”
- “Are you okay? You’re not your usual medium-clever self.”
- Today in Hollywoo signs: