What’s up: Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” is an animated comedy entering its final season. This sixth season focuses on BoJack Horseman, a wealthy, alcoholic, former sitcom star finally trying to change and find forgiveness. The character lives in “Hollwoo” (he stole the “D” from the Hollywood sign as a romantic gesture in Season 1), Los Angeles and the animated world includes both humans and anthropomorphized animals. BoJack Horseman is, well, a horse-man. Netflix broke the final season into two parts ― the second half will debut on Jan. 31, 2020.
This season begins with a shot of the cosmos (imagery that recurs throughout the next few episodes and ultimately becomes important to the narrative). After focusing on the stars, the show has a flashback to the night that BoJack’s former co-star and somewhat mentee dies after the two go on a bender together. BoJack calls out her name, “Sarah Lynn,” twice in voiceover. Eventually, BoJack drives in his bottle-filled car with broken windows to the hospital and speaks with Lynn’s family. He also talks to a cop, who has no interest in hearing BoJack’s confession. BoJack returns to his car, opens the door, and bottles spill out. He picks up a bottle of fernet, opens it, and in a silhouette against the cosmos, this shadow of a black horse figure chugs and chugs.
The main voice cast includes Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Amy Sedaris and Paul F. Tompkins.
The first half of this sixth and final season runs eight episodes of roughly 25 minutes each.
Sum-up: In these final episodes, the show teases that the cast of depressed characters may finally be figuring out a thing or two internally, even as the world around them gets bleaker than ever. Gone is the early premise of having sad characters frustrated that they’re sad in sunny, cheery Los Angeles. Now, most surrounding characters have gotten on the same page that contemporary American life brings daily horrors of systemic inequalities, unchecked capitalism and political malfeasance (the show doesn’t mention President Donald Trump, but does imply his presence). The only path to happiness will be making the best out of bad, or at least, suboptimal situations.
Even after all these years, “BoJack Horseman” continues to experiment with new forms of storytelling ― such as inventive use of animation to illustrate the daily juggling the Princess Caroline character has to do to balance her career with motherhood. Throughout a Princess Caroline-centric episode, the character passes through the world with multiple shadow-clones of herself completing (and failing to complete) other tasks at the same time. This ultimately leads to burnout and the incredible need for a cat nap (the character is a cat-person).
Along with the darkness, the show still packs in the pun and reference-heavy jokes that it has used in past seasons. Early in this season, these jokes culminate in an ambitious scene that has the characters BoJack, Diane, Todd, Princess Caroline and Mister Peanutbutter on a five-way phone call. Mister Peanutbutter describes an apocalyptic mess he has created with a drone (while standing in the remnants of this mess) with tons of references, such as former VJ Downton Julie Brown and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Princess Caroline responds in an impressive tongue-twister that ropes together all the details of Peanutbutter’s long-winded story:
Wait. You’re telling me your dumb drone downed a tower and drowned Downtown Julie Brown’s dummy drumming dum-dum dum-dum, dousing her newly found, goose down, hand-me-down gown?
This season is full of magical moments like this that break up the inescapable doom.
Heads up: By this Season 6, the writers have figured out the engine of the show and deftly balance drama with comedy, darkness with light, and showy hijinks with internal reckonings. I don’t have major issues to point out, so I’m just going to nitpick about an episode set in my home of Chicago. The writers repeatedly get certain details about the city wrong that seem to come from Los Angeles-based staffers just Googling city details. To get extremely nitpicky, the show has an outdoor scene on the platform of the CTA blue line at the Clark/Lake stop. The CTA blue line at the Clark/Lake stop is indoors! So egregious. I do need to praise an extremely solid Chicago-based joke on the anthropomorphic animal concept ― instead of the Chicago Cubs, the baseball team is the Chicago Baby Humans. I also appreciated a bull person wearing a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey and a polar bear person wearing a Brian Urlacher Bears jersey.
Close-up: A scene early in the season showcases the rich blending of plot with background jokes made possible by this stylized world. While BoJack struggles to not drink at a mansion party, he encounters a mosquito woman making out with a man, causing itchy mosquito bites to appear on the man’s face. Behind this make-out duo, what appears to be an authentic Frida Koala (instead of Frida Kahlo) self-portrait hangs on the wall of the mansion.
In the next scene, as BoJack has a fairly serious talk with another character in the foreground, two women in “Spring Breakers”-esque outfits of bright-colored clothing and ski masks steal the Frida Koala painting in the background. Even more subtle, these thieves wear Groucho Marx mustache-glasses over their ski masks to further disguise themselves. Packing all these jokes into the frame gives the viewer so many reasons to pay attention, which ultimately helps carry the darker, more emotional narrative arc of BoJack’s internal reckoning. Also, this is only semi-relevant, but at another point in the season, a Vincent van Goat portrait hangs in BoJack’s rehab center.