When BoJack Horseman rips tales from the headlines, somebody’s sure to get harm

Picture: Netflix

Todd: “I do know. It’s complicated. Not the bimonthly which means twice a month, the bimonthly which means each different month, and every time it’s a unique field of snacks.”

Quentin: “That is the way forward for cinema.”

Mr. Peanutbutter: “You guys. Lastly. My story has been informed.”

Lead

For a present whose bread and butter is Hollywoo satire, BoJack Horseman has spent comparatively little time on the precise manufacturing of TV and films. It’s chosen to deal with the enterprise and the egos surrounding stated enterprise, all of the individuals who obsess about getting roles in these initiatives and the little issues that hold these initiatives from getting made. BoJack hasn’t labored in years, Mr. Peanutbutter doesn’t appear to want to work a lot (past pitching the occasional reality TV series), and while Princess Carolyn clearly moves heaven and earth to get her various clients in projects there’s rarely a need to spend time with any of those projects.

But production is still a fertile ground for comedy, and “One Trick Pony” finally sees BoJack Horseman claim some of that territory. Unsurprisingly, it’s a terrific move. The blend of absurdity and pathos that the series has been gradually perfecting translates well to the hectic environment of a movie set, enough chaos and excess that events are guaranteed to spiral out of control between takes.

“One Trick Pony” makes the transition easily as the action focuses on something we’re all familiar with: the theft that changed the town from Hollywood to Hollywoo. As promised in “Say Anything,” Princess Carolyn’s organized the shooting of a movie based on the events of “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story,” and she’s secured BoJack the lead role of Mr. Peanutbutter. It’s a star-studded event, with Quentin Tarantulino (Kevin Bigley doing his best Quentin Tarantino impression) directing and a few real-life stars willing and able to poke fun at their own careers. Wallace Shawn’s playing BoJack because he needs the money for more Rothkos (“I have a disease!”) and Naomi Watts is playing Diane because she wants a change from playing “complex characters in highly acclaimed movies.”

Image: Netflix

Mr. Peanutbutter’s Hollywoo Heist is introduced as your standard “based on a true story” film, and it hits a major issue right away: there’s no truth to the original story. Every day BoJack’s on set playing Mr. Peanutbutter is a reminder that Mr. Peanutbutter took credit for the theft of the D he stole, trapping him in a bizarre logic loop of pretending to be the person who pretended to do what he himself did. It’s another step in BoJack Horseman’s willingness to beat up on its main character, putting him in a position where the only rebellion he has left is wearing a different kind of t-shirt. (And Mr. Peanutbutter will not let him—or Donna in wardrobe—forget that it’s the wrong one.)

Fully aware of the cognitive dissonance that the story engenders, “One Trick Pony” makes the ground even shakier thanks to directorial edict that all actors play themselves at all times. This produces the expected string of Who’s On First misunderstandings and miscommunications throughout the episode, characters unsure who they’re referring to or even at some points forgetting who they are. And while they’re played for laughs, they also use that connection to reinforce that the issues “Horse Majeure” appeared to solve haven’t gone away. Watts’s increasingly mad commitment to the role of Diane gets us to the root of things, first when Diane admits her wonderful wedding set her up for disappointment, and then when the “deep well of sadness” she absorbed from Diane leads her to tantric trysts with BoJack atop the craft services table.

That confusion radiates out, as even without any context Tarantulino can feel that something’s off with the story. That opens the door for Todd to throw out a suggestion—and unexpectedly, that leads to him getting the director’s full ear and mandibles and all of his suggestions treated as genius. Once again Todd serves as a delivery system for full absurdity, though “One Trick Pony” manages its absurdity carefully by starting small and building to the hilarious conclusion. It can’t go straight to the bimonthly curated box of snacks, you have to start with the seven-minute dramatic speeches from Watts and then build to making the BoJack character the “Evil Emperor BoJackitron Horsemaniac,” and then you get bimonthly curated box of snacks. (After you reject the series of interrelated fortune cookies and hat that if you turn it upside down it’s a boat, of course.)

Image: Netflix

The sheer degree to which the film collapses makes Todd’s reveal that this wasn’t a betrayal of BoJack all the more impressive. Todd began the series as one of its least defined characters, and he’s since become one of its most versatile player. In “One Trick Pony” he manages to embody both sides of the episode’s strengths, its mad descent into bad idea territory and the swirling emotions that drove the whole mad caper in the first place. And in a movie set that’s steeped in the past and reminders of who and what BoJack did, he’s able to do the one thing his friend seems incapable of: move on.

But Mr. Peanutbutter’s Hollywoo Heist isn’t the only thing that’s not turning out like anyone expected. The time jump of a couple of months since “Horse Majeure” means that Diane’s had the time to finish BoJack’s biography, and in the process of writing it turned into something completely different. Titled One Trick Pony, it’s less a memoir than a first-person chronicle of what spending six months with BoJack was like for Diane—and given that we’ve seen what most of those six months were like over the course of the first season, it’s not surprising the book isn’t flattering to him. Witness BoJack opening the book with wholly untempered expectations, only for his expression to collapse and have to read chapters while hiding behind the drapes.

Image: Netflix

One of Diane’s more trenchant insights is that BoJack is “smart enough to recognize his many personal failings but unwilling or unable to take the steps required to fix them.” That observation is right in line with BoJack’s reaction, which goes from mortified to enraged in no time flat. BoJack can’t see the merits of any of her arguments or that he’s more interesting as a complicated character, all he can see is that he’s not being depicted in the light he feels he’s deserved. Diane, for her part, proves that she’s fully capable of being as petty as he is, leaking a couple of chapters to Wayne for publication on Buzzfeed. (“I got something that’s gonna get you a shit-ton of hearts or digs or smileys or whatever the hell you measure your journalism with,” makes for a particularly harsh cut.)

Amidst all of the lies and distractions and snacks, “One Trick Pony” does find one point of truth: BoJack and Diane understand each other better than either would admit. There’s a reason that BoJack was so quick to accept Watts’ proposal for him to pretend she’s Diane, there’s a reason why Diane’s book cut so close to who BoJack was, and there’s a reason why neither of them even tried to address the gulf that appeared between them after BoJack’s desperate kiss. And now, with two episodes to go and two words from BoJack, that relationship is this close to ending up as ash. At least there’s curated snacks.

Stray observations:

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: If Character Actress Margo Martindale set the template for actors using cover of BoJack Horseman to poke fun at themselves and their profession, Naomi Watts sets the target for all successive guests to shoot for. From her obsessive speech about getting into Diane’s skin to the way she dives into BoJack’s sour cream-related fetishes, she’s having fun in the recording booth and it shows. Plus, her last name means we get a joke that could be lazy in normal context but in fact pays off BoJack’s early reactions to being told he was in love with Diane: “Naomi WAAAAAAAAAATTS?”
  • On that topic, one wonders if Netflix heard Watts gripe about being treated as a respected actress, took those satirical lines seriously, and decided to give her a Netflix drama of her own where no praise existed.
  • Quentin Tarantulino is the most ambitious character design BoJack Horseman’s rolled out to date, and it’s an encouraging sign for future experiments. Though the mandibles affectionately working Todd’s head gave this arachnophobe the shivers.
  • BoJack and Princess Carolyn are 100 percent right: Honeydew is garbage fruit.
  • “Ha ha! You said words!”
  • “Ooh, speaking of Mr. Peanutbutter, I’ll be back in a jiff, Skippy.”
  • “When I was little, I dreamed of getting a MacArthur grant for my ‘zine about how all the girls at school were bitches.”
  • “I’m sick of this dog and pony show.”
  • “Why is it that 90 percent of our conversations these days revolve around plotting sabotages?”
  • “I’m so deep down a well of sadness that Baby Jessica is like, ‘Damn.’”
  • “You ruined my rock opera by using Character Actress Margo Martindale to trick me into playing an addictive video game. And saying it all together like that, it all sounds kind of ludicrous.”
  • “Don’t look at me! I’m well-adjusted! You all want my life!”
  • Today in Hollywoo signs:
Image: Netflix

Horsin’ Around DVD Commentary:

  • Mr. Peanutbutter’s Hollywoo Heist is the production appetizer for BoJack Horseman, as season two’s action revolves around the production of Secretariat. That production will be similarly doomed to not survive in its original format, though it’ll take a second director to get it there.
  • Diane’s dismissal of Buzzfeed’s rating system may end up mattering in season four, with her new position as a staff writer for GirlCroosh.

Tomorrow: BoJack decides to takes matters into his own hands and write his own book, with the help of a lot of drugs—a process that’s guaranteed to only produce a “Downer Ending.”

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