“You’re the biggest a–hole I know, and you’re the only one that makes sense to me,” someone confides during the fourth season of “BoJack Horseman.” And that sums up how I feel about the show: It can be a mess, but it makes sense to me.
“BoJack” has always been two shows in one: a darkly comic look at a washed-up ’90s sitcom star who also happens to be a talking horse, and a delivery system for bad puns like Keith Olbermann voicing a whale news anchor on “MSNBSEA.”
The fourth season of “BoJack Horseman,” which premiers Sept. 8, isn’t the show’s strongest. But its mix of Hollywood commentary, puns and absurdity are thankfully intact. And it still delivers surprisingly ambitious moments that can be both surreal and affecting.
The season opens with BoJack (Will Arnett) conspicuously absent, and it plays like a collection of throwaway B-plots from past seasons. BoJack’s friend and rival Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) has decided to run for Governor, and BoJack’s ability to rein in his crazy whims with surly cynicism is sorely missed.
But the season’s second episode brilliantly combines the beautiful and bleak with the subversive and silly. It picks up where the previous season left off, with BoJack leaving behind his life in Los Angeles.
He visits his run-down familial home in Michigan, and the show treats us to a flashback of his grandmother as a child, coping with the loss of her brother in World War II. Both stories appear side-by-side, so we can see the characters even though they can’t see each other.
It’s the start to a heart-wrenching season-long story about BoJack meeting his estranged daughter, Hollyhock. Together they set out to look for her biological mother, and BoJack begrudgingly reconnects with his own mother (Wendie Malick).
One standout episode finds Arnett doing some of his best voice work yet, delivering BoJack’s internal monologue throughout the episode. “You’re a piece of s—,” the episode opens. We see how BoJack thinks one way and acts another, except in one cruel moment when he throws a baby doll his sick mother was nursing over a balcony, to get back at her for years of neglect.
Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has a gift for slipping political observations into absurd sitcom premises. In the fifth episode, Diane (Alison Brie) discovers that holding a gun makes her feel as safe as a man. (We also get a look at the clickbait headline on her blog, including “These soups will enrage you,” “Sixty-Nine Days of 69’ing” and “I used sex lube as lip gloss.”) The episode’s payoff offers provocative ideas about American values.
While the focus on Diane is welcome, the show can meander when it focuses on supporting characters. Season 4 carves out whole episodes for Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), BoJack’s manager and former lover, and Todd (Aaron Paul), his lovable, slacker friend.
Princess Carolyn spends much of the season desperate to get pregnant. In one episode she wears a watch that tells her when she’s ovulating, and only “BoJack Horseman” would think to have that watch be voiced by Harvey Fierstein. Or conceive of puns built around the word “miscarriage.”
Todd has always felt like the best character with no reason to be on the show. This season, his pea-brained business idea is to dress dentists up as clowns… or clowns up as dentists. It’s zany fun, but is hit or miss.
If “BoJack Horseman” were just the sum of its non-sequiturs, it could still be a cult hit. There’s a female-fronted reboot of “Taken” called “Ms. Taken.” It has bits of wisdom like, “Life is like the second season of ‘Friday Night Lights.’ You have to plow forward and hope there’s good stuff ahead.”
This caliber of gleefully dumb writing is rare, and the show’s moments of greatness are worth its inconsistencies.