Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages writer Jacob Oller.
Despite being under the “Two Drink Minimum” banner, make no mistake: BoJack Horseman is not a comedy. It may have started as one, as naive and free-wheeling and easygoing as its show-within-a-show, Horsin’ Around, but it’s gone too far to go back to those simple times. This becomes the theme of Season 3. As BoJack heads on the Oscar trail, it leads him further and further away from himself. It’s a path that he’s been told to take, which means it has nothing to offer him. Along the way, his co-stars take meandering routes to self-reevaluation while doing their best to break away from the toxic core that is BoJack himself.
This will be a three-part article covering Season 3 of BoJack Horseman. Needless to say, these will be spoiler-intensive. Now let’s connect.
Episode 1: “Start Spreading the News”
The first episode of the season opens with BoJack (Will Arnett) holding interviews with the press, covering the same tired story he’s created for himself over and over again. Escaping the fake prestige of sitcom stardom into movie stardom is a wash from the starting gun of this Oscar race. The poster behind BoJack for the entire opening scene has a tagline that sums it all up: “He’s tired of running in circles.”
BoJack Horseman has always had a knack for showing the dirty, depressing behind-the-scenes of entertainment, whether it’s the sexual power-mongering between sitcom actors near the exposed two-by-fours of their set or the regurgitation of celebrity culture by news organizations. There’s always been a need to show the puppet strings (quite literally with The Tragedie of Greg Kinglear), hoping to bring the viewer in on the creative process. Perhaps not for the first time, but certainly for the angriest time. The multiple jokes about pedophilic Hollywood child abuse make that a certainty. Did I mention that there were multiple?
Todd (Aaron Paul) hangs around in New York with BoJack, getting his first (and possibly only) compliment of the season, while Mr. Peanutbutter (the always delightful Paul F. Tompkins), Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) and Diane (Alison Brie) set everything back to square one in their stories. No more Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities — the show is interested in seriality of character not plot. So when BoJack is left alone with a journalist, it’s interesting to see, of course, if the pressure of the Oscar race will push him back into self-destructive behavior despite just coming off of the destruction of Penny’s innocence. While BoJack recoils from sex, he still manages to be nonchalantly irresponsible about what he should ostensibly care about: the Oscars. BoJack has guile in him for all the wrong things. It takes the reassurance of his puppetmaster of the week (the excellent Angela Bassett as his publicist Ana) to let him cast dignity to the wind and embrace his professional lies.
- Peanutbutter has the first and best literary “dyke” joke I’ve ever heard on TV.
- Todd has some serious New York problems when he’s lost in a hotel hallway.
- I wish that I answered the phone with the same joy Mr. Peanutbutter does.
Episode 2: “The BoJack Horseman Show”
Entirely told in flashback, this episode (set in 2007) truly shows the lives of the characters in the entertainment industry as purgatorial. The show within a show has always been Horsin’ Around, with BoJack Horseman serving as the meta-analysis of what it symbolizes. This episode, thanks to the talent of Carolyn and the interest of the suave and savvy showrunner Cuddlywhiskers (Jeffrey Wright), introduces a reactionary show that remains diegetic to the series: The BoJack Horseman Show. As BoJack backslides, so may the viewer. And with viewers already watching the cynical commentary on sitcoms that Cuddlywhiskers wants to make, one can easily be sucked into the whirlpool.
As the fear of success and the pressures of actual artistic merit close in around BoJack, self-sabotage rears its head, showing the cycle in a new position. Reaching the tail of the snake in 2016, BoJack Horseman unveils its head at 2007, while the original Horsin’ Around spiral presents the tail again. Carolyn has similar troubles, caught in the same career promise as BoJack. Her agent boss hates the job that he gives to her, which doesn’t ultimately do Carolyn any good either.
Meanwhile, Todd (seeing a nice, normal girl named Emily whose father happens to be the reason The Sopranos ended like it did) and Diane each have their lives and ambitions ahead of them, free from any damaging success or over-exertion to be in the business. Their lives are simple, full of jokes and noticeably more normal than anything in 2016 along the Oscar trail.
- The closing theme mocking BoJack’s new show is a club banger.
- Peanutbutter’s unhealthy marriage to Jessica Biel is hilarious and extremely sad, especially when a Michael Vick joke is used as a teaching moment.
- Todd and Emily hang outside a restaurant called “David Hasselhoff’s Floor Burgers.”
Episode 3: “BoJack Kills”
“BoJack Kills” is an episode with a founding statement that seems to be “how can we make a death about BoJack without entirely blaming him for it?” Despite opening with a scathing combination of SeaWorld and a strip club that is Whale World, the episode is almost a Shane Black movie. From its Christmas pageant opening to the random errands around town BoJack must perform to the circuitous plotting, his search for the person he believes is framing him for murder is just another cyclical trip of non-conclusion.
There’s a lot of driving, a lot of police mishaps and a lot of tangential Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter stuff that is about as meaningless as the show gets. They get sprayed with a skunk and let Princess Carolyn solve their problem. While it lets those characters be good at what they’re good at (whether fixing or making wrecks), it doesn’t really add to the episode.
BoJack may not be the hero of his story, but he’s definitely the heroin. This episode is about iconography and the clinging one does to legacy. BoJack’s face is on heroin distributed by his former co-star whose name he doesn’t remember. When they finally find Cuddlywhiskers, whose disappearance set this whole thing in motion, he tells them that to find happiness they must discard everything. BoJack can never lose everything because he’s so ingrained with his own career narrative. It’s all he has.
- A landscaper tackles a troublesome mole in a guy’s front yard.
- “It takes a long time to realize how miserable you truly are and even longer to realize it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Background joke: some whale stripper names include Blubbery Betty and “Boobs” Daphne.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Chicago-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.