Netflix’s adult animated comedy-drama “Bojack Horseman” is back for Season 4, and it’s clear that something has changed. Sure, the first three seasons of “Bojack Horseman” always seemed to be pushing the edges of just how far the show could go – but Season 4 is taking the show in a much darker direction, exploring themes like addiction, dementia and depression in ways that we never expected. In short, Season 4 of “Bojack Horseman” is darker than ever.
“Bojack Horseman” is no longer just a brilliant satire of Hollywood celebrity culture
When the star character of a show is a humanoid horse who’s also filled with addictive tendencies and a sense of deep self-loathing, there’s plenty of potential to explore the darker side of existence. Yet, for the first three seasons, it seems like “Bojack Horseman” was mostly willing to satirize Hollywood and celebrity culture. You basically had a washed-up Hollywood star – Bojack Horseman – trying to get back in the game and restore his once-fabulous TV career.
Along the way, we meet his on-again, off-again girlfriend (the pink cat Princess Carolyn), and watch him struggle to adapt to his current existence as a 50-something nobody without any real prospects in show biz. But here’s the thing: we as viewers believed that the show was about finding happiness, about finding redemption, and about finally making it in the end.
Season 4 has changed all that. Themes like anxiety, drug abuse and depression are everywhere. It’s not just that Bojack Horseman is bitter and depressed, it’s that he’s now sinking further and further into the cesspool of dark emotions. He is, in short, now a substance-addicted narcissist. He is not getting any closer to enlightenment, and really, he doesn’t care. That’s dark, right?
“Bojack Horseman” has some dark scenes involving family members
In Season 4, we are learning more and more about Bojack Horseman, and we are finding out that he is not a very nice horse. For example, consider the plot lines involving his mother Beatrice. He has placed her in a ramshackle nursing home in Michigan, glad to be rid of her both physically and emotionally. As viewers and fans have pointed out, he has literally turned his back on her.
And that’s not all – Bojack Horseman is not dealing very well with the fact that Hollyhock might actually be his daughter. He doesn’t want to adopt her, and is looking for a way out. He is not willing yet to take on responsibility for her, and seems to be actively looking for someone else to take her on. He seems to be just going through the motions, not yet doing the “right thing” and becoming a loving parent and adopting her with love.
“Bojack Horseman” is shifting its dark focus from Hollywood to politics
On the surface, a plot line about Mr. Peanutbutter running for political office shouldn’t be all that dark. After all, he’s just a golden Labrador Retriever, right? But even here, you can start to see how “Bojack Horseman” is now willing to take on modern politics.
Throughout Season 4, there are veiled references to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger. How did we get to this point in modern society where it’s easier for a celebrity to win political office than it is for a life-long, professional politician? There’s something cold and unsparing in this analysis, though, that has overtones of darkness.
“Bojack Horseman” continues to explore the meaning of melancholy, shame and guilt
Part of why fans love “Bojack Horseman” so much are all the goofy background gags in nearly every scene – like polar bears hanging out in Hawaiian shirts when other animals are wrapped up in heavy jackets, or all the funny word plays on signs (“I Pita the Ful”). But here’s the thing – these signs and gags have started to be less about being funny and cute, and more about reinforcing the shame and guilt that different characters feel.
As one TV reviewer noted, “Bojack Horseman” is now “a marvel of melancholy.” You might say that the show has transformed from being “biting and sarcastic“ to being “darkly funny” to now being “a marvel of melancholy.” Each season, the show seems to be headed deeper and deeper in that direction.
“Bojack Horseman” is all about broken, not flawed, characters
It might seem like a subtle difference on the surface, but there is a major, fundamental difference between being a “flawed” character and being a “broken” character. During the first 3 seasons, it was possible to see Bojack Horseman as a flawed character. Yes, he had destructive tendencies, and yes, he tended to feel sorry for himself, but you had the sense that it would all work out in the end.
Flash forward to Season 4, however, and it’s clear that Bojack Horseman is now a broken character. Some have compared him to Don Draper in “Mad Men” – someone that we initially trusted to be a true protagonist, but someone who showed that he was without true redemption. Bojack Horseman has addictive tendencies, he’s filled with self-loathing, and now he seems to be much more willing to take all this out on others.
So do we give Bojack Horseman another chance? Is a broken character like him capable of finding happiness? When he was simply bitter and jaded, we thought the answer was “yes.” Now, we are not so sure of the answer.
“Bojack Horseman” is still brilliant – but different than we remembered
It’s hard not to admit that “Bojack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg is absolutely brilliant. Obviously, the first three seasons were epic in ways that we never could have imagined. In Season 4, though, it seems like he has tried to push things further, to really make us understand the thoughts and motivations of Bojack Horseman.
And so Season 4 is somehow different from how we remembered Seasons 1 through 3. It’s still funny, and the sight gags and background props are still there, but the show is definitely darker than ever. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that Bojack Horseman is finally able to find his own personal form of enlightenment.