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A modern fable for world-weary adults

The new season of BoJack Horseman is available on Netflix.

It doesn’t take long to forget that BoJack Horseman is literally a horse. His non-human facade ceases to be jarring two-thirds into season one, like a crack on the wall that starts to look merely like furniture. He’s just your regular washed-up celebrity desperately clinging to the remnants of his distant glory days while dealing with childhood trauma that makes him incapable of being in a relationship that he doesn’t somehow eventually self-sabotages. You know the type.

The Netflix series BoJack Horseman, when plainly described, sounds like a regular live-action comedy series. It’s about the everyday struggles of a former sitcom star and of the people around him: Todd Chavez, the bum who lives with him for some reason; Princess Carolyn, his on-and-off lover and agent; Diane Nguyen, his biographer; and Mr. Peanutbutter, his ultra-cheerful frenemy. Everything sounds normal except for the fact that 50 percent of the aforementioned characters are actually animals.

It’s unclear why BoJack Horseman needs to be set in a universe where animals talk, walk, and hold jobs like humans. The irony is there, laid out casually and pointed out rarely; a couple of cat-and-mouse jokes here, a few bird gags there. BoJack’s agent is a cat, his old flame is a deer, the bum who sleeps in his house is a real human person. It’s all very random and unnecessary since the comedy is very human and not reliant on animal jokes anyway. The conceit serves more as a parody of the format in which the series exists.

It’s not the interaction between animals and people that needs getting used to in BoJack Horseman; it’s the interaction between absurdist comedy and deep psychological drama. This is a show where the lovable dim-witted loser and perennial butt of jokes Todd Chavez is the one who gives BoJack the series’ biggest truth bomb: “You are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol or the drugs or any of the sh*tty things that happened to you in your career or when you were a kid. It’s you.” This is a show where a hilarious weeks-long bender with a damaged former child star ends in an unfunny tragedy. BoJack Horseman is the only TV comedy that can make you cry with a poignant breakup scene between a woman and her Labrador Retriever husband.

In season four, the mood scales tip further to melancholy. There is still plenty of comedy to go around — the “Underground” episode is one of the series’ funniest and most ridiculous — but two dramatic storylines easily overwhelm any attempt at humor. One centers around BoJack’s mother, her painful childhood, and the ways in which she passed down the hurt to her only son. This may seem like weirdly heavy stuff for a cartoon series but it actually leads to one of the most mesmerizingly beautiful TV episodes of the year. In the episode “Time’s Arrow,” the show, with its built-in surreality, captures what it must feel like to suffer from dementia, focusing on BoJack’s mother as she relives the horrors of her past while continually losing grasp of the present. Meanwhile, the other storyline leads to an uncharacteristically hopeful season finale, where a long-lost relative offers BoJack the redemptive familial love he never knew he needed.

The series’ unexpected drops of wisdom and earnestness have become more and more expected with every season and it has produced quite a lot of meme-ready moments. It is, in fact, the world’s reality now; whether or not it’s a case of social media spilling out into the real world or the other way around. But there is no question that BoJack Horseman is tailor-made for these times. In a world gone mad, a talking horse can actually make a whole lot of sense.

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