“It’s weird not having you around. I hope you’re okay, wherever you are.”
With those two small sentences in a much larger stream of voicemails that Diane Nyugen (Alison Brie) leaves BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) during the opening episode, “BoJack Horseman” (2014–) kicks off its fourth season right where it left off at the season three finale — with BoJack being lost, both figuratively and literally. To emphasize this point, BoJack doesn’t accrue one second of screen time in that entire 26-minute debut.
Isolation takes on a new name for BoJack this season, which debuted in full on Netflix on Sept. 8. Now more than ever, BoJack is forced to take on his depression, anxiety, alcoholism and struggles with fame with less and less support from the rest of the main cast. Until close to the end of the season, his own journey rarely even crosses paths with the arcs of his former best friend Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul) and former publicist Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), along with Diane and her husband Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins).
Within that lonesome journey, BoJack explores love and family, topics he typically avoided at all costs earlier in the series. Taking on the responsibility of a young horse named Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), he finds himself in a role he’s never had to take on in his lifetime — a role that fleetingly fulfills him, yet one he can’t bring himself to fully accept. This all ties into BoJack’s own family history, which is referenced more than ever before. Specifically, BoJack’s relationship with his mother is at the forefront of his arc for the season.
The rest of the cast can’t easily be forgotten, however; though their stories have much less to do with BoJack than ever before, their personal developments are highlighted perhaps more deeply than when they were connected to him. Princess Carolyn’s self-confidence is tested throughout a season of ups and downs, culminating in one of the most powerful and unique episodes in the show’s history, where the story is told through the perspective of her great-great-great granddaughter Ruthie (Kristen Bell), giving a class presentation on an awful day that Princess Carolyn once had. Todd takes on independence and learns to accept and embrace his asexuality throughout the season. Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane continue their sometimes happy, sometimes rough marriage as their work lives diverge down two very different paths.
It should be noted that the satirical nature of the show in terms of politics is on display more now than in any other season. It’s understandable, considering Mr. Peanutbutter is making a gubernatorial run in the state of California, but it does lend itself to a different “feel” for how the show implements satire in its writing. Usually, comments about the political world on “BoJack Horseman” are kept as just that: small side-references made within a plot that mostly centers around more personal topics. This started to change a little last season with episodes focused on topics such as abortion, but this season’s offering blows far past the jokes made within the aptly-named “MSNBSea” news coverage.
Issues like gun control, mass shootings, fracking and the private prison industry aren’t just mentioned in season four; they’re the basis of the episodes they’re featured in. With this dynamic in place, “BoJack Horseman” makes a point of criticizing society’s sympathetic yet ultimately useless form of condoling victims of tragic shootings, the real effects fracking has on the environment and the corrupt lobbying that takes place in politics at every level. It seems like a lot to take in for a show about a cartoon horse, but the ambition is executed perfectly while keeping everything that makes “BoJack Horseman” what it is intact.
Like every other season, “BoJack Horseman” never shies away from its unapologetic grim-yet-hopeful perspective on life, giving fans a reason to smile once they hear the ending track on the final episode. Everything that makes the show enjoyable is heightened this go around, from minor details like Princess Carolyn’s affinity for alliteration to the visualization and imagery of the twisted gears inside BoJack’s mind. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the show will have the opportunity to try and top its own genius again as Netflix recently announced its renewal for a fifth season.
“BoJack Horseman” once again proves that, amidst its heartbreaking honesty and bittersweet reflections on the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of life, it’s one of the most genuine and thought-provoking shows on television.