Things I Loved This Year: “BoJack” Goes Deeper, and Much Darker

Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: the BoJack Horseman episode that stuck with me.

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Most year-end lists that feature the remarkable Netflix series BoJack Horseman have focused on the third season’s dazzling fourth episode “Fish Out of Water,” which has virtually no dialogue as the title character takes an emotional roller coaster under the sea. A few mentions have also been afforded to “That’s Too Much, Man!” which depicts a bender gone horribly wrong between two self-destructive friends.

Both those episodes deserve the accolades they’ve been given. But equally astounding was “Best Thing That Ever Happened,” which comes five episodes after the former and two before the latter. (Incoming: sentence I never thought I’d write.) This episode is to BoJack Horseman what “The Suitcase” was to Mad Men, and the two hit with a familiar, devastating force.

They’re not exactly the same, by any means. In “The Suitcase,” the show’s two main characters come to an understanding that wouldn’t have been possible without the night of hard drinking and deep talking that takes up most of the episode. In “Best Thing That Ever Happened,” the two main characters try to reach an understanding, but right at the end, they fail. Mad Men spent four seasons pulling the sides of the rubber band apart, and then let it spring off into the distance. BoJack pulled the rubber band apart so much that it snapped.

“Best Thing That Ever Happened” is even more of a traditional “bottle” episode than “The Suitcase” is. The BoJack episode is set entirely in one location, the lousy restaurant Elefante, which falls apart in the background even as BoJack and Princess Carolyn do the same in the foreground. BoJack and Princess Carolyn spend a few precious minutes engaging in a modicum of pleasantries before ripping into each other, cutting to the core of each other’s psychological hangups and philosophical limitations. They take things to the freezer when emotions start running too high, but the chill only further dampens the mood. The final beat of the episode — Princess Carolyn pleading as a friend for BoJack to give their partnership one more chance, and BoJack replying curtly, “No” — hurts because the show established these characters as people capable of incremental change. This was one incremental change they couldn’t bear, and it made for some of the year’s most riveting television.

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