By Rathi Anandu
The premiere episode of “Bojack Horseman”’s sixth season starts right where we left off with last season’s finale: the image of a starry sky, a nighttime nothingness trapped in the infinite galaxy to remind us how small we are relative to the universe, of how little we know.
Throughout this season, we see Bojack witness flashes of the cosmos while jesting his way through rehab. But jokes aside, Bojack is taking the process seriously. He’s just cracking jokes to numb the guilt from the pain he’s caused others, especially to TV daughter Sarah Lynn, who died from an overdose in a planetarium. A planetarium bespeckled befittingly with stars.
“Bojack Horseman” has consistently challenged the conventions of animation, as a funny show that chooses to cover topics like alcoholism, addiction, and depression. And while this Netflix sad-com has always had a penchant for the darkest storylines, the saddest thing about this two-part season is that it will be the last, with the second half debuting in January.
Yet in this first eight-episode trek, things seem to be looking up for Bojack. He’s on a path to recovery, trying to kick bad habits for good in a season that’s funny and a tad more cheerful. The show’s dark horse is finally learning how to overcome self-interest and find ways to take care of others.
Take the instance when Bojack stops by Princess Carolyn’s house to deliver a gift for her new baby daughter, Ruthie — a painting of Bojack staring at an image of himself in a swimming pool.
“Look what Uncle Bojack brought you, Ruthie,” Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) says sarcastically. “It’s a 1970s pop-art interpretation of the Narcissus myth. How appropriate for a baby.”
“Narcissus?” Bojack (Will Arnett) answers. “I thought the painting was about me.”
In this case, we’ll say Bojack is still working on his ability to put others before himself. And while our equine anti-hero is on a journey towards self-improvement, so are many of his friends. Diane Nguyen has entered her first healthy romantic relationship in a long time, forcing her to question her future and how she copes with her depression. Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn’s trying to juggle her demanding job with being a good mother, so much so that she feels like slipping in and out of her body, an experience depicted so vividly (and cleverly) in the second episode. Todd is still the same Todd laying around Bojack’s house in the hills of Hollywoo, but even he has begun to find meaning in caring for little Ruthie. For once, it’s nice to see these characters in upward rebound, rather than downward spiral.
But if you think this means that “Bojack” may be getting too soft or warm or fuzzy, then you’d be wrong. The sixth season is as socially sharp as it’s ever been, drawing on the razor-edge satire about the entertainment industry that defined its former seasons.
There are jokes about social media influencers, “Deadpool,” corporate consolidation, Felicity Huffman and one very pointed jab at a director. “I can tell I’m interrupting your meeting with David O. Russell, so I’ll make this quick,” Bojack deadpans to Princess Carolyn over the phone, after he hears the bawling of a baby.
There’s even the ongoing premise of Hollywoo assistants going on strike for better treatment and better wages. During contract negotiations, the assistant states, “We’d like to not be treated like garbage,” to which producer Lenny Turtletaub (J.K. Simmons) responds, “I’m afraid we’re at an impasse.”
And yes, amongst these gags and witty quips, there’s also plenty of tension and dramatic moments waiting to unfold. “Bojack Horseman” is known for its portrayal of vulnerability and narcissism, with a complicated character whose impulses spring from an abusive family and are fueled by an industry of fame and celebrity.
But as the series winds down, the heart of its narrative centers on the question of whether we can truly forgive. While everything seems to be getting better, a reckoning is coming for Bojack and the harm he’s unleashed on others: a reckoning that will require him to face the inner demons he’s just begun to ward off- demons that could lead him back to the dreaded bottle.
For now, we can take solace in how far Bojack and the show’s characters have come while we wonder how much further they can go. Because like the cosmos, the question of forgiveness is a question that we don’t have an answer to. So we’ll just have to wait until January to see if Bojack will have a shot at redemption or if, like for many others, it’s too late for him.
Contact Rathi Anandu at rathi29 ‘at’ stanford.edu