No other show on television today grips me emotionally quite like BoJack Horseman does. With each season, it maintains its hold on wacky visual gags, language games, and smirking satire while picking and probing at each main character’s personal vulnerabilities and failings. In Season 5, which dropped on Netflix this past weekend, BoJack is at work on a new television show called Philbert on which he plays the lead role, a morally compromised detective. During this time, BoJack copes with the death of his mother and his own, ever-present self-loathing, increasingly relying on alcohol and, later, prescription painkillers. Meanwhile, Diane Nguyen (Allison Brie), coping with the fallout of her divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), catches wind of BoJack’s Season 2 near-sexual abuse of his friend Charlotte’s teenage daughter, and wrestles with how to confront him about it. It would all make for an oppressively dark season of television if not for the show’s requisite embrace of the absurd. In Season 5, this means leaning even more heavily into the kinds of experimental storytelling the show has attempted before.
Indeed, narrative risk is inevitable with a show like BoJack Horseman. A world full of anthropomorphic animals leading human lives alongside human beings can get dicey quickly, but the show pokes fun at the ethical rifts that emerge, like inter-species sex and the distinction between "human" animals and food animals (like Season 2's chicken dilemma). The show gets even more daring when it eschews narrative conventions to test how much it can push our emotional investment. In the eighth episode, for example, we learn about the annual Halloween party that Mr. Peanutbutter has thrown at BoJack’s mansion for the past 25 years. The show often plays with fragmented timelines and flashbacks, and in "Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos" it takes that playfulness into overdrive, cutting and collaging four years of house parties into a elegant examination of Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship patterns. We all have our own methods of shirking emotional development and growth, masking our own feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. And as we see from the contrasting scenes of Mr. Peanutbutter at the annual party with his ex-wives and new girlfriend, Pickles the pug, his method is repeatedly pursuing young, emotionally immature women. "I don’t know why this keeps happening," he tells Diane in a rare moment of disappointment in himself. "I take these amazing women… and I ruin them." On the other hand, for BoJack, as we’ve seen time and again, that coping method means falling into a routine of partying and risky alcohol use.