After “BoJack Horseman’s” phenomenal fourth season, many fans were left wondering if the show could possibly outdo itself. Season five, released in full on Netflix on Sept. 14, answers that question with an emphatic yes.
The season opens on the set of BoJack’s (Will Arnett) new television show, “Philbert,” which writers set up at the end of the previous season.
The director is a bit of a hack, BoJack complains about everything from the script to the fruit salad, and Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) tries to do fifteen people’s jobs by herself. All this is par for the course in “BoJack Horseman,” but among the familiarity, viewers are confronted by several refreshing surprises.
We learn early on that Diane (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) are finalizing their divorce.
BoJack, meanwhile, does his best to keep his life together — and, to the relative astonishment of the viewer, actually seems to be succeeding.
He copes in his own BoJack way, of course, which includes labeling a bottle of vodka with days of the week. But he sticks to his resolutions, sticks up for his friends, enters into a healthy relationship with his costar and manages to create a successful television show.
That, of course, can’t last forever. Later in the season, he finds himself beginning to flounder without Princess Carolyn, who’s busy dealing with her own issues.
Never one to be brought down for too long, Princess Carolyn takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. We learn about her humble beginnings and rocky relationship with her alcoholic mother, and through a poignant series of well-placed flashbacks we begin to understand her relentless determination and her need to care for other people.
Princess Carolyn’s flashbacks don’t stand alone as a mark of how well-crafted season five is. “BoJack Horseman” has become known for its innovative use of story structure, and it continues that legacy with episodes like “Free Churro,” which is entirely made up of one long scene wherein BoJack delivers his mother’s eulogy.
Perhaps what’s most astonishing about season five is its self-awareness. “BoJack” knows it’s in the public eye, and the show’s writers seem to have taken into careful consideration the ways in which their show can be misrepresented. “Philbert” mirrors BoJack’s life in a number of uncomfortable ways, causing both BoJack and the viewer to evaluate BoJack’s choices in the past four seasons.
BoJack’s analysis doesn’t quite land where it should, which leads to the most explicitly self-referential moment in the season. In a confrontation with BoJack at the “Philbert” premiere, Diane says, “I don’t want you or anyone else justifying their sh***y behavior because of the show” – almost certainly a jab at the thousands of people who have proclaimed their uncritical love for and identification with BoJack as a character.
“BoJack” season four was its own tough act to follow, but season five stands out as a promise to the viewer. The show knows the impact its had, and is going to work harder than ever to produce outstanding television for as long as it needs to.