A ridiculous season premiere proves BoJack Horseman can succeed even with out BoJack Horseman

Picture: Netflix
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Main as much as the discharge of season 4 of BoJack Horseman, Netflix launched a promotional image illustrated in the style of Where’s Waldo? It’s a visually dense collage of the landmarks and residents of Hollywoo, with one noticeable exception: the show’s self-loathing heavily addicted main character is nowhere to be found. It’s building a mystery out of the quasi-cliffhanger that season three concluded on, as BoJack Horseman—fresh off the loss of both an Oscar nomination and his co-star/hookup/drug partner Sarah-Lynn—abandoned his life in Los Angeles, got into his Tesla, and drove out of California to parts unknown.

The ad campaign is designed to build an air of mystery around BoJack’s fate, but it has an interesting side effect. Looking at all these characters, all these callbacks and memories, you realize that in a way BoJack Horseman may not even need BoJack Horseman to be successful. In three seasons BoJack Horseman has created an marvelously fleshed-out universe, an entire world where the characters are well-designed, the casting is beyond strong, and the creative team is willing to go to equal lengths for a stupid joke or devastating realization. Confidence in Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Lisa Hanawalt, and others is currently so high that if an episode took any combination of one major character and three or four random characters on this image, the odds are still high that it would be a quality episode.

“See Mr. Peanutbutter Run,” the season four premiere, adds some fuel to the theory that BoJack may be incidental to his own show. For one thing, he doesn’t appear at all save at the very end, and even that one appearance is just via a confused voicemail inbox message. And for another, his absence doesn’t keep it from being a terrific premiere. It’s saturated in all of the things that make BoJack Horseman such a delight, all the verbal flights of fancy, non sequiturs, and existential dread that keep it in the conversation for best show on television.

Image: Netflix

Season four picks up a few months after the events of “That Went Well,” and while BoJack remains MIA life hasn’t stopped for anyone that he left behind. Mr. Peanutbutter’s now fully on board with his ex-wife Katrina’s gubernatorial recall efforts, and has turned his entire house into campaign HQ. Diane’s working as a blogger for GirlCroosh, and Princess Carolyn’s kept both her management agency and her relationship with Ralph Stilton going. And Todd’s still a font of constant good cheer and ill-conceived ideas, only now he’s relocated from BoJack’s couch to Mr. Peanutbutter’s.

The story that sucks up the most airtime in “See Mr. Peanutbutter Run,” and the one positioning itself as the major arc for the fourth season, is the California gubernatorial election. This idea had a lot of potential back when it was introduced in the third season finale, but real life has gotten in the way to an extent, and the idea of an unqualified easily distracted former reality TV show host achieving major political power isn’t as funny as it used to be. While the season was scripted prior to the 2016 election, the issues that followed it into 2017 are hanging over its head and hit uncomfortably close to home in certain moments. It’s hard not to cringe for the wrong reasons when Mr. Peanutbutter, at his umpteenth success out of failure, cheerfully admits he never expected to make it this far.

But unfortunately timed parallels aside, the BoJack creative team is making it work. Mr. Peanutbutter’s given a perfect foil in Governor Chuck Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz, the deadpan perfection of Andre Braugher deployed in full force against Paul F. Tompkins’s insurmountable cheerfulness. Woodchuck is such a self-serious character that the absurdity of both this universe and this campaign are guaranteed to create results when they crash together, and we get those results early. Mr. Peanutbutter’s recall flames out and he decides to go with a big gesture instead, challenging the governor to a ski race instead. It’s a move the captivates the media and takes Katrina on a brilliantly illustrated Schoolhouse Rock-style montage (sure to be the first of many visual experiments BoJack undertakes this season), ratifying that absurdity into the state constitution.

Image: Netflix

Given it’s only the first episode of the season, it feels like a foregone conclusion that despite Mr. Peantubutter’s ineptitude he’ll take the lead over Woodchuck’s Dartmouth-educated form. Yet his lead has nothing to do with his own abilities: Todd’s heretofore unconnected drone ride leads him over the finish line first, and he resigns immediately after inauguration to set up a special election. It’s the sort of perfectly constructed randomness that BoJack shines at, tying together its loose elements and finding ways to subvert the expected sitcom tropes in a way that makes you want to stand up and applaud. (Thought it is a little disappointing we won’t get at least one episode of the Chavez administration.)

The political story also works for the way it turns up the focus on Mr. Peanutbutter. In an inspired opening scene we see the beginning of his career on Mr. Peanutbutter’s House—or as it was known in development, Untitled Horsin’ Around Knockoff—and learn that he literally just walked off the street and captured the attention of the studio audience over current star Vincent D’Onofrio. (D’Onofrio, voicing himself, joins the ranks of BoJack’s self-mocking celebrity cameos: “This D’Onofrio has had enough-frio!”) Mr. Peanutbutter’s been able to coast through life, and “See Mr. Peanutbutter Run” renders that coasting in a series of great scenes. He walks onto a set and engages in a gloriously meta off-the-cuff monologue. He’s able to complete ski school in a matter of days as BoJack runs through the plot of an underdog sports movie in less than two minutes. But this election is a challenge to his greatest quality—his likability—and there’s signs in the tone of his speech that a popularity contest of this magnitude may not have the greatest effects on his personality.

Doing a lot less coasting is Diane, who’s outwardly positive to his ambitions and in a setting of near-hysterical rants in her voicemails to BoJack. Our glimpse of her work at GirlCroosh is limited, but enough to see that so far it’s not the fulfilling career leap she was hoping for, articles about refugee girl kickball teams losing traffic to ones about the outlines of Chris Hemsworth’s penis. Diane’s still trying to figure things out, and while that search is often tough for her it’s regularly great for the series. And in BoJack’s absence, she’s also the best vehicle for BoJack-related emotions. She injects some of BoJack’s trademark caustic attitude into the episode when she imagines what he’d say to this ridiculousness, and provides also another reminder that BoJack’s unannounced departure from Hollywoo was selfish to more people than the ones working on Ethan Around.

Image: Netflix

Princess Carolyn doesn’t get a lot of screen time this premiere, but it sets up an intriguing arc for the season. When you see Princess Carolyn vomiting regularly, television logic dictates what the next step in the process—but BoJack Horseman considers television logic only as far as it can subvert it, and she goes from pregnancy to miscarriage faster than you can flip over a greeting card. But neither “See Mr. Peanutbutter Run” nor Ralph dwell on that sadness, and he suggests they try it on purpose this time. Over three seasons the emphasis has always been on Princess Carolyn’s devotion to her professional life, and with Vim in a stable enough position, narrowing the focus to her personal life is a good change. And once again, any reminder that Ralph is the best is appreciated.

Of the main cast, Todd spends most of his time inside his comfort zone in the premiere—though given that comfort zone is wackiness, this means he spends it on a drone-mounted throne with a giant bag of kettle corn, which is to all our benefits. But his character development at the end of “That Went Well” isn’t forgotten, as Emily admits that while she’ll always be Todd’s friend she needs something more out of a serious relationship. (Emily: “Sometimes, labels can be helpful.” Todd: “Whoa. Well. Then I would label this conversation ‘rough’.”) It’s a sad moment to witness but also an honest one, as BoJack Horseman has never shied away from the truth that some relationships just don’t work out. His discomfort in defining himself as asexual plays a big part in his decision to abstain from the governorship, and is a promising sign that BoJack isn’t going to shy away from exploring this shade of the human sexuality spectrum.

Image: Netflix

It’s a safe bet that it won’t take BoJack too long to rear his head up again—altered closing theme song aside—and when he does, he’ll find a world that’s left him behind. That’s a startling thing to consider, but also an exciting one. Raphael Bob-Waksberg said in interviews that he felt the story reached the end of a chapter at the end of season three, and “See Mr. Peanutbutter Run” gives an encouraging feeling about the new one we’re stepping into. There may not be a BoJack right now, but it’s still BoJack Horseman.

Stray observations:

  • Welcome to coverage of season four of BoJack Horseman! We’re jumping right into things after our season one catch-up (thanks to everyone who read along there), and continuing our daily schedule.
  • To those who’ll be finishing the series before that point, or those of you who were up at midnight and already did, here’s your reminder to please not discuss the events of future episodes in the comments. We’ll get to them in due time, have no fear on that score.
  • Achievement in Voice Acting: A lot of great returning talent gets more time in the spotlight this year—Raúl Esparza’s Ralph, Lake Bell’s Katrina, Abbi Jacobsen’s Emily—but the first gold star of the season goes to Braugher’s Governor Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz. Four seasons and counting of Brooklyn Nine-Nine have proven the epic comedic powers of Braugher’s deadpan, and it’s a huge get for BoJack to have it in its armory. Best line of the episode: “I can’t defile the legacy of my predecessors, who built the Golden Gate Bridge, irrigated the Central Valley, and played Mr. Freeze in a Batman movie.”
  • And yes, that was the real David Chase in the cold open as the showrunner of Untitled Horsin’ Around Knockoff (a truth which was made canon all the way back in “Zoës And Zeldas”). I wonder what he thought of “The BoJack Horseman Show” explanation about what happened to the real ending of The Sopranos.
  • The opening credits have been tweaked for the new season. BoJack’s house remains a broken and empty shell, the Secretariat opening is now a kaleidoscopic vision of BoJack wincing at the sight of those he’s hurt in his life (Princess Carolyn, Todd, Kelsey, Herb and the Horsin’ Around kids), and Katrina replaces Sarah-Lynn in the background party scenes.
  • I hope someone on the BoJack creative team has trademarked Paul Blart 3: Til Death Do Us Blart. That sounds way too close to feasible.
  • Diane’s officially adopted BoJack’s style of leaving voicemails. “This is Diane, by the way. Nguyen. Obviously.”
  • A Ryan Seacrest Type survived his limo collision back in “Stop The Presses” and is back to Hollywoo schmoozing. Survival of Character Actress Margo Martindale remains uncertain following the boat crash of “That Went Well,” according to the MSNBSea news crawl.
  • Also according to the MSNBSea news crawl: Man bumps into woman, woman apologizes – Monkey sees, monkey does – A rising tide lifts all boats, claims oil lobbyist at climate change summit – Giraffe CEO breaks glass ceiling
  • Could Princess Carolyn and Ralph’s journey to have children take them back to the albino rhino gyno wino? (I know.)
  • Judah: “I never developed a signature. I find them unnecessarily ostentatious. But I can print my name.” Katrina: “Thank you Rain Man-Bun, that will do nicely.”
  • “I want your face on billboards, you beautiful, nonsensical clown prince.”
  • “You diabolical Thin Mint!”
  • “I’m astounded that it has come to this.”
  • “A strange boy fell out of the sky and went over the line first. They’re swearing him in now.”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Image: Netflix

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