TV: BoJack Horseman (Season 6)

When a show as consistently superb as BoJack Horseman nears its conclusion, it’s hard not to worry about the destination its incredible journey is building toward. Fortunately, it can now be reported that BoJack—an animated, quasi-speculative middle finger to the male antihero redemption story—totally sticks its landing. With an impressive history of wrestling with the defining sociopolitical issues of the day, this series was at a higher risk of fumbling the ball at the goal line than most. But with a firm control of its mission and messaging, creator/showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his writing team carry this story to a near-perfect conclusion, delivering rapid-fire laughs and surprisingly powerful drama along the way.

The show follows BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), an actor whose post-1990s sitcom career experienced a lull involving decades of indulgent obscurity in the Hollywood Hills. Season one begins as his comeback story, a publicity effort spearheaded by his agent Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris), who enlists idealistic young ghost writer Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) to pen his autobiography in the hopes of putting him back on the map. The book’s release does indeed kick off a career revival, including stardom in the film Secretariat and an acclaimed role in the “prestige TV” drama Philbert. But BoJack is a deeply problematic man with a history of narcissistic, destructive self-interest that, during the height of his career, led him to make numerous reprehensible decisions. A resurgence in fame and fortune not only doesn’t fill the emptiness inside him, it creates a wealth of new problems largely of his own making. In the process, his blinkered selfishness makes a mess of other people’s lives—in particular, those of the women in his life, including Diane and Princess Caroline.

The show’s final season begins at a turning point for BoJack, as he attempts to reject his former ways and put his rollercoaster acting career behind him. After years of incremental progress punctuated by dramatic explosions of relapse, he finally decides to get his shit together, once and for all. This involves an extended stay at a remote rehab facility, and ultimately, a new job as an acting professor at a university. It’s a dangerous stage in his narrative arc, the point at which lesser writers might either redeem the antihero, rehabilitating his reputation to send an upbeat message, or punish the antihero in a manner that delivers his comeuppance while also celebrating, if not glorifying, the horrible behavior that landed him in a climactic predicament. Thankfully, BoJack Horseman, while feinting towards both, does neither. The result is a nuanced and satisfying condemnation of the protagonist we’ve loved to hate while hating to love: one that neither lets him off the hook nor offers him easy release from the pain he’s caused. The clever strategy for this is deftly executed. By continuing to follow the lives of the people impacted by BoJack’s constant presence—Diane, Princess Caroline, Todd (Aaron Paul), and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins)—season six shows how much better their lives are without his toxic presence. The skeletons in BoJack’s closet, when they come back to haunt him, result not in a cathartic understanding or a moment of redemptive triumph. They instead lead to a different kind of reckoning: one in which everyone he’s damaged finally realizes the depth of that damage, and takes healthy steps to change their patterns. BoJack himself, meanwhile, is delivered to a liminal fate befitting his dubious history.

If all this thematic heavy lifting, much of it of a sociological or psychological nature, makes the show sound too dark, though, keep this in mind: the show couches its message in laser-sharp wit, colorful art, and inventive, hilarious world-building. There’s an infectious, surreal absurdism to BoJack Horseman that never lets you go too long without smiling or laughing. But part of its genius is how it makes its daffy backdrop such a perfect vehicle for such heavy themes and cutting commentary. This is a show that never loses sight of the point it’s making, and its final season delivers just the right final moments.

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