How BoJack Horseman became a surprise, heartbreaking hit | Television & radio

BoJack Horseman has blossomed over the past five years from an unoriginal entertainment satire into something far richer and more profound. It has gradually freed itself of its own constraints, organically transforming into a sweet, surreal meditation on sadness, regret and the promise of redemption that lingers tantalisingly out of reach. Every new season nudged it into a new and even more unexpected space, winning yet more critical adoration with each giant step.

And then, blammo. Netflix blasts it out of the sky, thinking perhaps that a long-running show will draw fewer new subscribers than a splashy new one. At least that’s according to Aaron Paul, who reacted to BoJack Horseman’s cancellation by tweeting: “Netflix thought it was time to close the curtains and so here we are. They gave us a home for 6 beautiful years. Nothing we could do about it”. But with more dignity than it afforded The OA, Netflix has had the grace to give BoJack one final season. This is thoughtful in theory, except this approach hasn’t exactly produced the best results in the past. Think of the painful, incomprehensible final season of House of Cards. Think how Orange is the New Black drifted off into a fog of unheralded irrelevance. Remember Bloodline’s final season? Remember Bloodline at all?

Still, BoJack Horseman differs to those shows in one important way, which is that it will be going out on a high. Even for a show that produced the heartbreaking, almost dialogue-free episode Fish Out of Water, BoJack surpassed itself last series. When the time comes to look back at the show’s highlights, season five was arguably the strongest series yet.

Never a series to simplify things into black and white ... BoJack attends therapy in season six of the show.

Never a show to simplify things … BoJack attends therapy in season six of the show. Photograph: Netflix

Take Free Churro, which took the form of an episode-long monologue as BoJack delivered a rollercoaster of a eulogy to his mother. Or The Showstopper, an exploration of the consequences of addiction as hard-hitting as any drama. In The Dog Days Are Over, the show confronted itself in a surprisingly direct way about its casting of Alison Brie as a Vietnamese character. In The Stopped Shoe, it sidestepped an opportunity for a happy ending and veered off into much more ambiguous territory. Season five of BoJack Horseman wasn’t just a show that had found its feet, it was a show that seemed unstoppable.

We know now that this wasn’t meant to be. BoJack Horseman has just one season left, split into two parts, in which to wrap everything up. Which isn’t to say that it will, because ending the series with a neat little bow would be to sabotage everything BoJack Horseman has come to stand for. Weirdly – let’s not forget that this is a show about a cartoon horse – BoJack Horseman has become one of the best depictions of humanity’s messiness on TV. Things don’t get easily resolved here. They spread out and get tangled up, half-forgotten, until they creep back in and destroy everything. Easy, sensible wins are thwarted by circumstance and self-sabotage. BoJack Horseman has never been a series to simplify things into black and white, and we should probably brace ourselves for the final season to be yet another thick streak of grey. Cancelling BoJack Horseman with a final season is very Netflix. But using that final season to drive itself deeper into an existential murk would be very, very BoJack.

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