I won’t ever forget the feelings surrounding those early days: I had just started my Junior Year of college, I felt like I was in a good place, and my fellow swimmers filled up a good chunk of two floors in our dormitory. We all had developed a love for bizarre cult animation shows, with South Park and Rick and Morty serving as required viewings, as well as a love of absurdist television, such as Community, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and especially Arrested Development. So when Netflix announced an animated series, seemingly in the vein of Family Guy about a horse who used to be an actor, featuring the vocal talents of Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Aaron Paul and the then-unknown to us Paul F. Tompkins, my friends all leapt at the opportunity, planning an entire weekend devoted to drinking and watching this show. I, on the other hand, wasn’t sold. I’m not a fan of Family Guy, I thought. Why would I want to watch a basic show filled with tired gags titled BoJack Horseman?
The show premiered on Netflix, and we all watched the first episode separately. Meh, I thought to myself. We elected to watch the second episode as a group. We gathered around the TV and tuned into BoJack’s shenanigans and his misanthropic views on society. My friends chuckled throughout at what they dubbed “such an unlikeable character,” but it was clear they were losing interest in the show. I, however, perked up at this episode, for two reasons. First, BoJack’s views on society veered closely to my own, in a way I didn’t think anyone else was capable of thinking. Second, and most importantly, I detected something in that episode, something ominous. There was something lurking beneath the surface of this supposed Seth MacFarlane wannabe, and I wanted to figure out what. My friends mostly gave up around episode 4, which is a shame, because those that stuck around were treated to one of the greatest shows I have ever seen.
I’m pretty sure that BoJack Horseman was written solely for me. Every minute is filled with jokes that only a true film lover could possibly comprehend, the vocal cast is an amalgamation of all of my favorite actors and comedians (ranging from the humorous Ron Funches and Maria Bamford to the serious Stanley Tucci and Daniel Radcliffe, the latter being a standout), and, most importantly, around the halfway mark of Season 1, the show reveals its true colors-a dark dramedy dealing with the daily struggles of depression. It is one of the most quiet, heartbreaking, and incredible experiences I have ever had, and by the time I recovered from the end of the first season (and my subsequent returns as time passed), Season 2 was premiering, which burrowed further into the rabbit hole of unhappiness, in an incredibly intelligent way.
Season 3 is going to premiere this Friday, which is perfect timing because I have only just recovered from the end of Season 2. While early reviews are indicating the show has a bright future, I want to take this time to look to the past, with today’s Wednesday Listicle focusing on ranking the first 24 episodes of BoJack Horseman. I will provide the entire list below, but I will only provide a write-up for the Top Ten, defending my positions.
Before we even reach the list, I would like to give Special Consideration to the BoJack Horseman Christmas Special, Sabrina’s Christmas Wish. The episode takes the form of BoJack (Arnett) and his roommate Todd (Aaron Paul, in what is most certainly a spoof of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad) watching the Christmas special of BoJack’s former show, Horsin’ Around (think Full House by way of Charles in Charge-did I mention that the show features hundreds of send-ups to the late 80s/early 90s TGIF lineup?) Mystery Science Theater-style. The rest of the show takes place inside a late 80s sitcom, complete with a live audience that at best is dumb, at worst is sexist and racist, a confusing ending that contradicts the entire message of the episode, cheesy dialogue and plot points, and ends with a shockingly sobering message about our place in the universe and the point of being a good person. It’s so incredibly bizarre, but completely sums up why this show is so great.
And now, the list:
24. Chickens (2.5)
23. Still Broken (2.3)
22. Yesterdayland (2.2)
21. The Shot (2.9)
20. Live Fast, Diane Nguyen (1.5)
19. Zoës and Zeldas (1.4)
18. Horse Majeure (1.9)
17. Out to Sea (2.12)
16. BoJack Hates the Troops (1.2)
15. BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story, Chapter One (1.1)
14. Yes And (2.10)
13. Say Anything (1.7)
12. Prickly-Muffin (1.3)
11. Higher Love (2.6)
10. One Trick Pony (1.10): There are certainly darker or funnier episodes of BoJack in existence. However, what makes this one so great is how brilliant it is at satirizing the filmmaking process in Hollywoo* In the episode, BoJack has been cast in the leading role of the next big rom-com. The problem is that he is playing his archrival, Mr. Peanutbutter (a dog played to perfection by Paul F. Tompkins) in the story of how Peanutbutter wooed the girl BoJack’s fallen for. The film is to be directed by Quentin Tarantulino (a spider version of Quentin Tarantino, and the spoof is absolutely perfect), who has become enamored with Todd’s terrible ideas. And through all of this, BoJack has a fling with Naomi Watts (playing herself), who laments why Hollywoo doesn’t make “two-dimensional female characters judged solely on their looks” anymore. If you can’t understand the beauty of that sentence, I’m not sure we can ever be friends. Like most great episodes of this show, the episode builds with joke after joke before delivering a gut punch in the final scene. This episode is the perfect example of the level of satire this show is working at.
9. Hank After Dark (2.7): When your show is on a hot streak, the best course of action is to play it safe and avoid controversy. So, naturally, BoJack’s second season opts to go after Bill Cosby. That’s right, in the seventh episode of season two, an offhand remark by Diane (played to proper exasperation by Alison Brie) causes a nationwide uproar over allegations that Hank Hippopopalous (something of a combination between Bill Cosby, Milton Berle and David Letterman, and played by dramatic actor Phillip Baker Hall) did something illegal and sinister with his female assistants. Naturally, the nation is divided, as no one wants to believe that “Uncle Hanky” could do such a thing. Diane’s quest for justice brings her scorn by the media, her friends and even her husband, as she finds that no one wants to believe that their hero is a monster, and in the end Hank gets off scot-free while Diane must flee the country to escape the death threats by the (mostly male) supporters of a serial rapist. The episode is striking in its take on a current issue, the way the media treats women (don’t think for a second the show is letting Keith Olbermann off the hook just because he plays himself as a whale-the whole thing plays as a joke that the former MSNBC reporter doesn’t seem to be in on), and what women who stand up for themselves still deal with in 2016. It’s important to note that as hard as it is to see Hank win at the end of the episode, at the time the episode aired in 2016, Bill Cosby was still not charged, and received a pass from many fans and media outlets.
8. Brand New Couch (2.1): Brand New Couch isn’t an overly complicated episode. Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter are given very little to do. The episode simply follows BoJack’s attempts to convince himself that he is happy, even though it is harming his performance in his dream role. Throughout the episode, flashbacks show us his relationship with his mother, which audiences already know is strained. However, I give this episode the number eight slot because of the last five minutes, when BoJack receives a call from his mother, who apologizes to him for passing on “a curse” that is heavily implied to be depression. “You were born broken,” she tells him. “And nothing you can do will ever fix that.” Wendie Malick delivers a knockout in this performance, and watching it shake BoJack to his core is absolutely painful to watch. But it’s moments like these that give this show the humanity it needs to thrive.
7. Later (1.12): The last episode of season one begins after one of the darkest episodes of any television show I’ve seen. If you are binge watching it, then you are hoping for something, anything to give you a reprieve. Instead, you get John Krasinski as Secretariat (here portrayed as a track star) who answers BoJack’s fan letter about depression by saying “Keep running from it. Don’t ever stop,” and then proceeding to jump off a bridge in disgrace. It’s a haunting opening to an episode, and one that will probably make you need to take a break to deal with your emotions. However, while the show contains a melancholic attitude throughout, there are extreme moments of hope scattered about. BoJack wins the Golden Globe (in a scene that perfectly satirizes the mostly-useless Golden Globes) and wins his dream role as Secretariat, Diane receives a job changing lives oversees, Princess Carolyn (played to perfection by the greatest comedic talent currently working, Amy Sedaris) is in a happy relationship with Vincent Adultman (television’s greatest character, Vincent is literally three boys standing on each other’s shoulders in a trench coat, something that apparently only BoJack seems to notice), and, most excitingly, Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter decide to become business partners. If you didn’t think that the kid from Breaking Bad had talent as a comedian, watch him play off of veteran Paul F. Tompkins. It’s magical. In the end, BoJack isn’t any happier than he was at the start of the show, but he knows he has problems, and he is willing to work on them. And that’s enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
6. After Party (2.4): Shows that focus on three different vignettes are either trite clichés or serious character introspection. And if you expect anything but the latter from BoJack Horseman, then you have underestimated the show. The episode begins in medias res, as Diane’s 35th birthday party ends in disaster. The show then jumps to three (well, maybe four) different couples to provide an introspective look at love. The first is Princess Carolyn who, while driving home with Todd, notices a boy who looks a lot like Vincent Adultman. Assuming that he is married with children, Carolyn gets into a fight with Vincent that ends with her realizing that their relationship can’t work. All throughout this sequence, Todd helps two cell phones in love in a spot-on spoof of Her. God, I love this show. The second vignette shows BoJack begin to panic in his newfound relationship with Wanda Pierce (an owl played so lovingly and delicately by Lisa Kudrow), which focuses on the importance of time and patience in a relationship. And finally, we witness an all-out, ten-minute argument between Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter that is filled with hopes, fears, anger, happiness and finally, acceptance. It is truly a beautiful sequence, and it helps to create one of the greatest reflections on love put on television. There is also a cameo in the last thirty seconds of the show that pretty much justifies the entire episode by itself. I won’t spoil it here, but you won’t be disapopointed.
5. Let’s Find Out (2.8): Let’s Find Out is so many things rolled into one. It’s a spoof of game shows, it’s a spoof of Aaron Sorkin, it’s a satirical look at the worst traits of game shows, it has Academy Award winner Alan Arkin playing a J.D. Salinger (of Catcher in the Rye) who has faked his death and is realizing his one true dream of creating a game show, and it has Daniel Radcliffe playing himself in a hilarious send-up. There’s so much to love about this episode that even if it didn’t feature the airing of grievances between the perennially happy Peanutbutter and perennially depressed BoJack, it would still land in the Top Ten. As a side note, the ending of the episode features a display of arrogance, vanity and stubbornness like none I have ever seen before, and one that my brother described to me as “the most Travis thing I have ever seen on a television show.” I’ll take that as a compliment (I shouldn’t, though).
4. The Telescope (1.8): BoJack Horseman’s eighth episodes can be summed up as “the one where all of the grievances are aired.” In Season 1, we get to witness the exact moment BoJack lost his humanity, choosing his career and a movie that never got made over his oldest and closest friend, the creator of Horsin’ Around. When Herb Kazaaz (played impeccably by Stanley Tucci) is outed as gay, the studio fires him, and BoJack is given a choice by the president of the studio (a vicious and merciless Anjelica Huston) to pick his career or his friend, and BoJack chooses fame. It is in this moment that our broken antihero was born. BoJack takes a trip to see a dying Herb and apologize, but Herb refuses to grant him that privilege, telling him that in his death, BoJack will lose any chance at redemption and happiness, shaking him to the core. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the broken BoJack makes a pass at Diane, whom he has fallen for, in order to feel something, only to be rejected. It’s a heartbreaking episode, and one in which you realize the show refuses to turn back from the road its on, ready to see the depression plotline through to the end. However, while this episode serves as the point of no return, it was not the start of this journey. That honor belongs to…
3. Our A-Story is a “D” Story (1.6): If I had to pick a favorite episode of BoJack Horseman, this would be it. It’s funny, it’s dark, it’s satirical, and above all, it’s human. BoJack has realized his feelings for Diane, and wants to make a grand gesture to prove it. However, his frenemy and her boyfriend Mr. Peanutbutter will do anything to stop that. What follows is a series of one-upmanships and laugh-a-minute jokes, all building up to a finale that is absolutely heartbreaking to watch. It is the first time the series pulls this switcheroo, and it most certainly was not the last. This is the episode that sets the tone for the rest of the series, and when people ask me how to best describe the show, this is the episode I tell people to turn to. It is nearly flawless storytelling, and it was the moment I was officially hooked. As a side note, I don’t know whose idea it was to tell the “Two Dates to the Prom” sitcom trope as two prison gangs, but that person is one screwed up individual, and I applaud him for it.
2. Escape From L.A. (2.11): Of course, any true BoJack fan can tell you that the series is renowned for its eleventh episodes. The same way that Game of Thrones saves its big moments for the second-to-last episode (i.e. the beheading of Ned Stark, the Battle of the Bastards, the Red Wedding), so too does BoJack save its biggest moments for this episode. And if each episode serves as a punch to the gut, these episodes throw you down a flight of stairs, kick you repeatedly and steal your lunch money. Controversially, I’m going to put “Escape from L.A.” in the #2 slot, despite many people thinking it is the best episode of the series. I do not mean this as a knock against the episode, however, it is absolutely brilliant. Realizing the last time he was happy was when he was friends with Herb and Charlotte (voiced with panache by Olivia Wilde), BoJack decides to leave L.A., quit his film career and move in with Charlotte’s family in a desperate bid to steal her away from her husband. He ends up bonding with teen rebel Penny (voiced by Broad City’s Ilana Glazer), and becomes a mentor to the family. I won’t spoil anything else about this episode, but I will say that the ending is shocking, BoJack is left seeming unredeemable, and some of the greatest animation in history is utilized as BoJack travels through the New Mexican desert, silhouetted by the setting sun, embracing his lack of goodness and humanity and completely giving up on life. This is one of the hardest episodes I’ve ever had to watch of any television show, but it is also one of the best.
1. Downer Ending (1.11): This is the episode that changed everything. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in, all building to a perfect thirty minutes of television. Disappointed in the warts-and-all book that Diane has written about BoJack, BoJack takes it upon himself to write a book himself. The first ten minutes of this episode are what you would normally expect in a sitcom involving writing, and it seems fairly basic. And then the drugs kick in. And BoJack is taken on a surrealist journey throughout the inner workings of his mind, filled with laughs and jokes, until a sobering conclusion that leads to a near-humorless final five minutes that leaves you in need of a security blanket and tissue box. There is not one moment of this episode unnecessary or thoughtless-creator Raphael Bob-Waskberg knows exactly what he’s doing, and he pushes Arnett to his breaking point with each line delivery. If the last line of this episode, and the silence that follows, doesn’t chill you to the core, you are not a true human being.
So that’s my Definitive Ranking of the Episodes of BoJack Horseman. And I would like to point out that if “Chickens” ends up being the worst episode of the entire show, then BoJack Horseman has ended up having a perfect run. May this show provide us with laughter and tears for many more seasons to come.
*Note that during the course of this show, Hollywood is renamed Hollywoo. I won’t spoil why, but it is hilarious and brilliant.