12 reasons to love 'BoJack Horseman' season 2
It's been a week since Netflix released season 2 of "BoJack Horseman." After watching the season's first six episodes, I raved about how the show continues to maintain an improbable balance of surreal comedy and unflinching melancholy, and that balance remained steady throughout the season's second half.
(Spoilers following, for those of you who have watched the whole season.)
It was at times ridiculous, at times tragic, and the show remained unflinching in its commitment to portraying BoJack himself as a character we can feel sorry for while also being aware — as he eventually becomes — of how awful he is to those around him. That the show could pivot from BoJack making out with the teenage daughter of an old unrequited crush to BoJack and Todd having an improv comedy battle at sea with Todd's kidnappers, and have both episodes feel like part of the same show, and story, is remarkable.
As is always the case with a pre-season review, I couldn't go into too much detail about some of the things I loved, so for the benefit of everyone who's finished the season, here are 12 jokes, scenes, or story ideas from "BoJack" season 2 that made me very happy, even amidst all the sadness of the lives of BoJack, Diane, and everyone else:
We finally got a Vincent Adultman spotlight. Sort of.Photo Credit: Netflix
The season's wonderful fourth episode, "After the Party," presented a triptych of stories about the complications of adult romance. The first of these brought back the best of the show's minor recurring characters, Vincent Adultman, in a circumstance where Princess Carolyn should have finally figured out that her boyfriend is really three little boys hiding under a trenchcoat, but instead fell for every single piece of sitcom dual identity schtick going all the way back to "I Love Lucy." The sequence is shameless in how it busts out all the tired old tropes of this kind of story, and it works because Princess Carolyn is having a very serious reconsideration of this relationship, and because Alison Brie's voice work as Vincent is so charmingly childlike.
Todd made two phones kiss.Photo Credit: Netflix
Nested inside the Carolyn/Vincent story from that episode was a quick, hilarious riff on "Her" and every other sci-fi story about computers gaining sentience, as Todd discovers that his phone has fallen in love with Princess Carolyn's work phone, and is asked to facilitate an affair between the two. The whole thing escalates very quickly, all to Todd's utter bewilderment.
The show finally addressed where food comes from in a world with human-like animals.Photo Credit: Netflix
The season's fifth episode, "Chickens," explains that when chickens are born, they're divided into "friends" and "food," with the latter group pumped so full of hormones that they don't develop the intelligence of their fowl bretheren. It's horrifying (even described in the gentle tones of guest star Ron Funches), and adds several layers of pathos to the otherwise silly story of Todd's attempt to hide a "food" chicken, whom he names Becca after the sound she makes, from the authorities.
J.D. Salinger became an Aaron Sorkin hero.Photo Credit: Netflix
Everything about the show's use of Salinger — still alive, well, and played memorably by Alan Arkin — was delightfully weird, from his hiding place in a tandem bike shop to his dream of producing a game show that he dubs "Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities, What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let's Find Out." The season's eighth episode, set on the launch of Salinger's project, turns into a dead-on parody of Aaron Sorkin shows, with walk-and-talks, monologues about the importance of television, and even a character (voiced by Tatiana Maslany) named Mia McKibbin who recites her resume at Todd and is sure to include Sorkin's favorite Gilbert & Sullivan lyric about being "never ever sick at sea."
Character Actress Margo Martindale turned master criminal again.Photo Credit: Netflix
Martindale's recurring role as herself (and always referred to as "Character Actress Margo Martindale") was one of the first season's highlights. It was great to have her come back to help BoJack plot another crime, which this time culminated in her shooting it out with the Yorba Linda PD because the cops could identify her work (they loved her on "Justified") but not her name.
(One complaint about her appearance; they say she won a guest acting Emmy, when in fact it was for drama supporting actress. Then again, this is a parallel universe, where her "Justified" co-star was probably Timothy Elephant.)
Diane had a "Serial" ringtone.Photo Credit: Netflix
The series is peppered with wonderful throwaway jokes, particularly involving celebrities who are animals in this universe (Maggot Gyllenhaal, or Matthew Fox and Scott Wolf as hairy awards show presenters). Among the best of these in season 2: when Mr. Peanutbutter calls Diane in the finale, her ringtone is the theme from "Serial," with narration from Sarah Koenig ("... and the story it's telling you, is to answer your phone").
The show used a hippo to attack Bill Cosby.Photo Credit: Netflix
The season's seventh episode, "Hank After Dark," turns Diane into a "BoJack" universe analogue for Hannibal Burress, as she casually mentions the alleged sexual crimes of beloved TV personality Hank Hippopopalous, much to the dismay of his adoring fans and a news media that (as essentially happened with Cosby) has no interest in changing the narrative on a pop culture icon unless forced to by overwhelming evidence. It's a pretty scathing take on the situation, and the show's best use so far of Keith Olbermann in his recurring role as Tom Jumbo-Grumbo, the whale of a news anchor for MSNBSea.
The show also used improv comedy to attack Scientology.Photo Credit: Netflix
This was shooting fish in a barrel on some level (Level 8, maybe?), but the "yes and" culture or improv worked surprisingly well as a stand-in for the various details of Scientology that we know well thanks to "Going Clear."
Todd went up against Disney — and won.Photo Credit: Netflix
Todd's attempt to build his own version of Disneyland — because BoJack had convinced him the actual Disneyland was no realer than Santa Claus — was one of the season's more impressive comic set pieces, as the whole place is a death trap. ("And this is Gabe Jr., the Grease Fire of the Caribbean!") And how does Todd get the legal right to keep the place open when the Walt Disney Co. lawyers object? His wild guess that the original trademark may have had a typo turns out to be correct (the papers say "Diisneyland"), to the dismay of his powerful opponents.
Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter made a pitch for The Bagel Catcher.Photo Credit: Netflix
Disneyland wasn't the only one of Todd's terrible business ideas with surprising appeal. The scene that opens episode 6, "Higher Love," is one I have watched an embarrassing number of times since the season debuted, just to appreciate the growing horror of Mr. Peanutbutter's accountant as he realizes he's trapped in the middle of a bad pitch ("Has this ever happened to you?" "Nothing has ever happened to me!") for yet another product that has brought his client to bankruptcy. And, as so often happens on the series (see also Diane's job on the "Secretariat" set to tell people not to trip over the wire), it keeps paying off later, as people lament the absence of a product that would allow them to safely catch bagels as they come out of the toaster.
Princess Carolyn lived inside a Thomas Kinkade painting for a while.Photo Credit: Netflix
The series has a wide spectrum of taste in cultural references — Henry Winkler in this universe is best known for a guest spot on "Law & Order: SVU," while at the start of "After the Party," Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter talk about having just attended, "Women on the Wall: An Exploration of Gender in Text and Media: Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer in conversation with Helen Molesworth" — and its fondness for mixing high and lowbrow comes together beautifully when Princess Carolyn decides to avoid the chaos of Character Actress Margo Martindale's caper by imagining herself inside the peaceful world of a Thomas Kinkade painting. It is, like Princess Carolyn's relationships with Vincent Adultman and Rutabaga Rabbitowitz, a commentary on the loneliness of her life, but also a welcome change of pace from the criminal mayhem all around her.
BoJack and his director pushed each other.Photo Credit: Netflix
BoJack's chance to finally play his idol Secretariat in a biopic formed the spine of season 2, and the show got a lot of mileage out of his complicated working relationship with director Kelsey Jannings, who was looking at the Secretariat movie as a way to get out of making more "small, critically-acclaimed movies about lesbians who recycle." Played by Maria Bamford, Kelsey was a funny commentary on the trap so many art film directors can fall into, even as her ability to get a great dramatic performance out of BoJack — which would ultimately be replaced by a computer-generated simulation of him — helped increase the feeling of tragedy to the whole story. If turning out to be a great actor while playing his hero can't make BoJack feel happy, what can?