Review: Bojack Horseman Season One

Halfway through the first season of BoJack Horseman something remarkable begins to happen. By degrees, over a handful of episodes, the show transforms itself from a middling comedy into one of television's (or the internet's) most affecting dramas. 

For the first seven or so episodes it seems clear what kind of show this is. A witty dark comedy about a washed up actor as an initially selfish, unlikable protagonist. When, in the first episode, he is forced by his agent to work with Diane, a sensitive and funny woman who also happens to be dating BoJack's carefree rival Mr. Peanutbutter, we think we see the beats coming. There will be romantic tensions and misunderstandings before, ultimately, the incompatibility of Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter becomes apparent and BoJack can swoop in, reveal his heart of gold, and they can all live moderately happily ever after. A story of redemption with some dark undercurrents. Except, as the show rolls on we realize it has set up these expectations in order to systematically demolish them.

We wait expectantly for that moment of redemption but it never arrives. Instead BoJack's acts of selfishness become increasingly egregious and destructive as he insults, sabotages, and hurts everyone close to him. Simultaneously the show manages to make BoJack more and more sympathetic as we learn about his emotionally crippling childhood and the bad but all too human decisions that turned him into the person he is now. Finally, in the penultimate episode, BoJack asks Diane, himself, and the audience the question that has been at the heart of this whole show: is Bojack, deep down, a good person? 

We've seen his story from the inside and so we know that his intentions, while often selfish, were never outright malicious. We understand why he did all that he did and we see that it haunts him. But how much do good intentions and regret count when weighed against the actual consequences of ones actions? The show, to its great credit, is more interested with the questions than with answers, though Diane does eventually have one for Bojack. It's a good one, even though it's one that cuts to the core, but it is only her answer. It is not the answer. Because, contrary to what is often taught on television, sometimes in life there are no answers.