Adult-friendly animations are more popular than ever. From The Simpsons, which is still going strong almost thirty years after it debuted, to more recent offerings like Rick and Morty and Big Mouth, cartoons packed with crude jokes and wry life observations are where it’s at. While everyone will have their favourites, Netflix series BoJack Horseman is undoubtedly one of the best. It manages to deliver on-the-nose humour while tackling issues like loneliness, failing careers and depression.
Ahead of the show’s fifth season landing, we take a look back at ten of the best episodes. So far…
“Live fast, Diane Nguyen” (Season 1, Episode 5)
As it establishes characters, the first few episodes of Bojack Horseman are understandably lighter than the rest. By Episode 5, though, things have well and truly begun to get darker.
“Live fast, Diane Nguyen” sees washed-up actor BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) and his autobiography ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), travel to Boston when she learns that her father has passed away. While there, BoJack learns that Diane had a difficult upbringing, having been teased by her four brothers and unloved by her distant dad.
Diane moved from her hometown to Los Angeles, California in her 20s but still feels guilt for leaving her family behind. It’s a great examination of how stepping away from a toxic environment can be the best decision someone can ever make, and yet still be a hard thing to do. It also sees BoJack and Diane grow close as she realises they’re more alike than she at first cared to admit.
“Stupid Piece of Sh*t” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Perhaps more so than any other episode, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” lets us inside BoJack’s head… and let’s just say, the view from up there ain’t so pretty. While we usually just watch what the titular, anthropomorphic horse gets up to, here, we hear his inner monologue: the episode is peppered with his self-flagellating thoughts.
We see Bojack do all sorts of usual, normal things; all while a little voice inside his head constantly calls him names and makes out that whatever he does, it’s never good enough. The negative thoughts just keep on coming, and it makes for a no-holds-barred examination of depression.
BoJack’s disdain for his life becomes even more apparent when he starts becoming increasingly irritated by the baby doll his elderly mother has taken to looking after and he throws it over his balcony in a rage. His mother is distraught and BoJack’s inner voice can’t agree on whether that fact makes him happy or a terrible person.
It’s wonderfully complex and illustrates how people struggling to maintain good mental health can sometimes take things out on those around them. They can do so when, deep down, they really wish they wouldn’t.
“Hank After Dark” (Season 1, Episode 7)
BoJack Horseman doesn’t shy away from using bleak material and “Hank After Dark” is one of its most sinister episodes in tone, particularly when viewed again in 2018. It begins with a flashback; depicting BoJack and sitcom rival Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F Tompkins) in competition with each other for an Animal Choice Award. They both end up losing to Mr. Peanutbutter’s idol, Hank Hippopopalous, and meet him during the ceremony’s after party.
In the present, Diane, Peanutbutter’s wife, embarks on a press tour with BoJack to promote their new book and is asked whether she thinks the tell-all autobiography will be damaging to his career. Replying that she thinks the truth is always worth exposing, good or bad, she points out that other famous names have done way worse things than BoJack throughout their time in the spotlight and haven’t suffered for it. One of the people she calls out is Hippopopalous, hinting that he assaulted a few of his former assistants. Her comments prompt a huge backlash and Hippopopalous threatens to ruin her.
It’s never revealed whether Diane’s claims are based in truth but it’s a staggering episode that presents cold, hard truths about the entertainment industry — how women are so often dismissed and how those in power can easily get away with awful behaviour.
“The Telescope” (Season 1, Episode 8)
While the fifth episode in BoJack Horseman’s first season saw the darker side of the show emerge, its eighth episode demonstrated just how integral that side of it is.
In “The Telescope”, BoJack attempts to rebuild his friendship with Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci), his former best friend who wrote the show that made him famous, Horsin’ Around. Kazzaz is dying, and BoJack, who ended up letting his celebrity status get to his head and treated Kazzaz terribly, is keen to resolve the guilt he still feels.
But things don’t quite go the way he wants them to and Kazzaz says he’ll never forgive BoJack’s behaviour, calling him “a selfish coward who takes what he wants and doesn’t care who he hurts”. The pair eventually get into a physical altercation and BoJack, along with Diane who accompanied him on the visit, has no choice but to leave.
The whole episode is fraught with tension and charged with emotion, and proves that sometimes saying sorry isn’t enough. Powerful stuff.
“The Old Sugarman Place” (Season 4, Episode 2)
There are many rather bizarre episodes of BoJack Horseman, but “The Old Sugarman Place” is among the weirdest. It is also one of the show’s most harrowing.
In it, BoJack runs away from his hometown and winds up crashing at his grandparents’ run-down house in Michigan. It’s in major need of restoration so after a few days of moping, BoJack sets about doing it up – his enthusiasm partly fired by meeting the next-door neighbour, dragonfly Eddie.
While he’s living there though, we see flashbacks revealing that BoJack’s mother’s childhood was horribly scarred by the death of her soldier brother, CrackerJack. Her mother was never able to get over his passing and her father, unwilling to help his wife process her emotions, eventually has her lobotomised. In her ‘half a brain’ state, BoJack’s grandmother tells his mum as a little girl to “never love anyone as much as she loved CrackerJack”, which partly explains why she has always been so cold and abusive to BoJack.
“Escape from L.A.” (Season 2, Episode 11)
“Escape from L.A.” is one of the best episodes of BoJack Horseman because it doesn’t shy away from illuminating BoJack’s flaws – something that many shows opt to do in order to make their protagonist likable. It’s a very sad episode too, highlighting just how desperate BoJack is for any kind of human connection.
It sees BoJack flee Los Angeles and pitch up at an old acquaintance’s house in New Mexico. Charlotte Carson, a deer whom Bojack has carried a torch for since they met when they were young, now lives with her family. She seems content, and invites troubled BoJack to stay with them for a while.
He does and bonds with Charlotte’s daughter Penny, eventually taking her to prom. But his gesture confuses Penny and she tries to have sex with him later on during the evening. Rejecting her, BoJack then confesses to Charlotte that he has feelings for her but she explains that they barely even know each other. BoJack crawls back to Penny, only for Charlotte to discover them in bed together. Basically, the situation is one big mess and it makes for a gut-punching episode.
“Time’s Arrow” (Season 4, Episode 11)
Like a couple of the episodes mentioned here, “Time’s Arrow” takes us back to a different time period and aims to offer up some answers as to why BoJack, and his family, ended up the way they did. Much of it is set in the 1950s, when BoJack’s mother Beatrice was just a small girl.
It details how she was bullied at school and suffered health problems, something that her father blamed on her almost-catatonic mother. She witnesses their arguments and her father’s hateful attitude towards her mother scares her.
Later, it reveals how Beatrice first met Butterscotch Horseman, BoJack’s father, and their encounter isn’t a particularly nice one. Butterscotch is very manipulative and subtly abusive, explaining to Beatrice that her sarcastic humour is ugly. It continues to work through the few ups and several downs of their relationship and eventual marriage, as well as BoJack’s first few years and how Butterscotch resented his son for disrupting his life.
It also reveals that Butterscotch slept with the pair’s nanny, getting her pregnant. Seeing what an awful life she had, it helps audiences understand why Beatrice struggles to be a good mother.
“The BoJack Horseman Show” (Season 3, Episode 2)
Any episode of any show that revolves around time travel is fun, and while this doesn’t actually involve the characters whizzing back to the past, it does take the audience back to 2007, allowing us to discover all sorts of interesting things.
Not only do we see how Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter met and what Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) and BoJack’s relationship was like when they were romantically involved, the episode also shines some light on what the latter got up to work-wise between starring in Horsin’ Around and Secretariat.
The era-based gags – shaming generic, auto-tuned pop songs; BoJack buying a “new HD-DVD player”; There Will Be Blood’s release; that Uggs shout out – wind up being super fun too.
“That’s Too Much, Man!” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Substance abuse is frequently seen in BoJack Horseman. Since the show’s pilot, multiple characters have used alcohol or drugs to block out what’s happening in their everyday lives. In the penultimate episode of Season 3, BoJack goes on a destructive bender with actor friend Sarah Lynn. The results are nothing short of tragic.
It starts as uncomfortably as it ends, with BoJack convincing Sarah Lynn to get wasted just days before her nine-month sobriety anniversary. After she downs a bottle of vodka, the pair get up to all sorts including crashing an AA meeting, bothering BoJack’s former publicist Ana Spanakopita (Angela Bassett), breaking Diane’s wrist and visiting Penny at college.
Their activities are punctured by BoJack’s blackouts and it soon becomes apparent that the pair have been intoxicated for several weeks. Before long, Sarah Lynn starts to open up to BoJack about how much she hates her life and how she has always struggled with growing up famous. She claims everything about her feels “fake”.
The episode shockingly concludes with the increasingly disheveled duo visiting the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium where Sarah Lynn dies. It’s so dark and leaves a lasting memory.
“After The Party” (Season 2, Episode 4)
For all the things it talks about, BoJack Horseman focuses most obviously on relationships and how they change, grow and sometimes break over time. “After The Party” is an episode that demonstrates how expertly the show tells those stories.
Centred on a surprise birthday party for Diane, it follows her as she fights with husband Mr. Peanutbutter while the rest of the episode concentrates on BoJack’s doubts over his fast-moving relationship with owl girlfriend Wanda and the breakdown of Princess Carolyn’s romance with child-pretending-be-an-adult Vincent.
Even the smallest things can drive wedges between people and this episode showcases that. There’s no big blowouts and overstated drama, just some cracks beginning to show.
Bojack Horseman Season 5 premieres on Netflix on September 14.