Ranking Every Episode of BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman is my favourite show on television. I listed it as the second best show of 2015 and thebest show of 2016 on my annual year-end lists. While it first seemed like Netflix’s attempt at Adult Swim-irreverence and Family Guy-style non-sequiturs, it actually turned out to be more like something of a cartoon equivalent to Mad Men, a show about a profoundly broken individual and the seemingly-impossible quest to bridge the gap between self-awareness and self-improvement. As becomes apparent by the end of season one, this is a very dark show—it’s stunningly sad, but in ways that don’t involve death or dismemberment. (In short, this is not Game of Thrones.) It’s also hilarious, with some of the cleverest sight gags you’ll find on television.
In honour of season four of BoJack Horseman premiering today, I’ve decided to rank all 36 previous episodes of the show. The following ranking is in ascending order, from worst to best. Spoilers lie ahead, of course.
36. “Chickens” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Written by Joanna Calo; directed by Mike Roberts.
No episode of BoJack Horseman is out-and-out bad, but “Chickens,” where Todd tries to rescue a chicken meant for the slaughterhouse, is deeply uncomfortable, with a very low ratio of gags to laughs. Although the episode does explicitly address how meat works in a world where animals and humans live together with little differentiation between them, the sadness that accompanies that explanation is more disturbing than insightful. Despite one great physical gag involving Todd tripping his way over farm equipment at Gentle Farms, which sets off a Rube Goldberg-style alarm, there is little to recommend this episode. It takes an expositional question about the universe and transforms it into a gag that does more to alienate that entertain.
35. “BoJack Hates the Troops” (Season 1, Episode 2)
Written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
This episode where BoJack feuds with a Navy SEAL (who happens to be a seal) about a box of muffins embodies the kind of show that BoJack Horseman appeared to be when it was advertised back in 2014. It is a funny episode that revels in animal puns and the character’s absurd life situation, but its political commentary is too easy (having BoJack literally voice out a thoughtful liberal position on American military policy, like he’s Aaron Sorkin, is out of character) and there’s no real emotional weight to the predicament that BoJack finds himself in. This is the closest the show ever came to being the sort of Adult Swim show it originally seemed to be.
34. “BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story: Chapter One” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; directed by Joel Moser.
This pilot episode has to do a lot of heavy lifting, introducing the characters, their shared history, the stakes of BoJack’s specific predicament, and the anthropomorphised world that the characters live in. That’s a lot for a 25-minute episode to do and as such, the structure of the episode suffers. However, this is still a sturdy pilot, doing a savvy job of demonstrating what kind of character BoJack is and the sort of whip-smart humour the show would soon excel at. This is not up-to-par with the best of the show, but like all good pilots, the seeds of the show’s truest self are all buried here, just waiting for the right time to sprout.
33. “Say Anything” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Written by Joe Lawson; directed by Martin Cendreda.
“Say Anything” deals with the personal and professional failures of Princess Carolyn. Much of this is tied into BoJack, who is dejected after Diane gets engaged to Mr. Peanutbutter and pursues Princess Carolyn as a fallback option. This all makes Princess Carolyn realize that BoJack has been using her and that pursuing him for romance will always end up with her getting hurt. There is humour here amidst the exploration of delusion and dysfunction, but many of these themes would be better explored and brought to some closure in season three’s “Best Thing That Ever Happened.” At its best, “Say Anything” starts to get at how remarkable Princess Carolyn is (and how good Amy Sedaris is in her vocal performance). It also introduces Charley Witherspoon, one of the funniest recurring characters in the show.
32. “One Trick Pony” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Written by Laura Gutin Peterson; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
The Quentin Tarantino joke does not work here, but that’s a small flaw in an otherwise hilarious look at Hollywood stupidity. As BoJack films a TV movie about Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane (at Mr. Peanutbutter’s house, no less), we get Naomi Watts providing one of the first guest appearances on the show, leaning hard into a clever joke about method acting and strong female characters. In fact, the episode is solid purely for the final joke alone, which sees Todd and Quentin Tarantulino pivoting their TV movie to a bi-monthly artisanal snack basket. Anytime I see someone discuss pivoting their business, all I can think of is this gag, which brilliantly summarizes how stupid most business pivots are. More importantly, this episode starts to develop the deep bond between Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd, which becomes the show’s most positive depiction of friendship.
31. “Start Spreading the News” (Season 3, Episode 1)
Written by Joe Lawson; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
Season three is the show’s strongest season-to-date, but it starts a little slowly in this episode, which sees BoJack doing the awards circuit in New York. In many ways, this episode catches us up to the new status quo after the game changing events of late season two, so we shouldn’t fault it for being heavier in terms of plot than other episodes. It even manages some depth in the midst of playing catch-up, particularly with BoJack’s bizarre reaction to bed talk with a journalist. As well, we are introduced to Judah, Princess Carolyn’s unwavering and deeply deadpan assistant.
30. “BoJack Kills” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Written by Kelly Galuska; directed by Amy Winfrey.
“BoJack Kills” is essentially a better version of “Chickens.” Its structure is similar, starting with advertisements that set up the bizarre animal conceit, in this case, a cross between SeaWorld and a strip club featuring sexy orcas. However, unlike “Chickens,” “BoJack Kills” is able to make the episode about something more than the bizarreness of its anthropomorphized world. In particular, the episode is able to wrap the conceit into the season’s larger preoccupations with BoJack coming to terms with his past. As well, the ending with Cuddlywhiskers explaining his detachment from the world offers an alternate way that BoJack could’ve reacted to fame and failure, without equivocally saying that it’s any less selfish than how BoJack did comport himself. This is key, as it shows that BoJack Horseman is wise enough to allow multiple answers to every question it poses, without definitively labelling either answer as right or wrong.
29. “Horse Majeure” (Season 1, Episode 9)
Written by Peter A. Knight; directed by Joel Moser.
In retrospect, BoJack’s romantic obsession with Diane is one of the weaker developments of season one, as it shows that the creators might not have figured out the key to BoJack and Diane’s connection at this point in the show’s run. BoJack and Diane are two sides of the same coin, in many ways embodying specific male and female attributes of narcissism, self-awareness, and dejection. It makes sense that BoJack would mistake his connection to Diane as romantic affection, but it took a lot for the character (and by extension, the show) to realize that romance with Diane would be foolish. Thus, an entire episode where BoJack plots to ruin her upcoming wedding to Mr. Peanutbutter plays poorer after delving deeper into the characters in the subsequent seasons. That being said, this is still a phenomenally funny episode, introducing the single best side character the show has ever invented: Vincent, the three boys disguised in a trenchcoat who become Princess Carolyn’s boyfriend. That this could’ve been a clever one-off gag but instead became the show’s best running joke only makes Vincent’s first appearance more remarkable.
28. “Prickly-Muffin” (Season 1, Episode 3)
Written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; directed by Martin Cerendara.
Kristen Schaal’s performance as Sarah Lynn is the show’s secret weapon, as she acts as a comedic fireball in any episode in which she appears. She’s also the more-damaged, more-popular, more-doomed version of BoJack, as she shared so many of the experiences that made BoJack who he is but she was also corrupted at a much younger age. This episode lays the groundwork for their relationship, which would progress over the course of the series, and offers plenty of humour and some early instances of the degenerate depths BoJack will sink to—here, sleeping with the woman he knew since she was four. That BoJack Horseman plays this more for humour than pain, as it would in later standouts like Escape from L.A., has more to do with the early season’s focus on comedy than any lack on Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s part.
27. “Still Broken” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Written by Mehar Sethi; directed by Amy Winfrey.
This episode is a bit of a minor variation on what “The Telescope” did in season one, but it still has its moments. As BoJack attends Herb Kazzaz’s funeral, we get flashbacks of BoJack’s time on Horsin’ Around and learn about how that show filled the void made by his awful parents. The funeral stuff involving Princess Carolyn, Mr. Peanutbutter, and guest-star Henry Winkler (as we all remember from Law & Order SVU) is enjoyable, although it does little to deepen these characters. The show’s best moment comes when Henry Winkler explains his reaction to Herb’s death: “There’s no shame in dying for nothing; that’s why most people die.” It’s the sort of cutting, insightful, empathetic line that BoJack Horseman is so consistent at delivering. Bonus points for the excellent gag about Todd pulling a Family Matters and pretending to be Toad, a more confident version of himself, as per Steve Urkel/Stefan Urquelle.
26. “Old Acquaintance” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Written by Alison Flierl & Scott Chernoff; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
For once, BoJack’s failure to make amends for the past is the fault of others and not primarily himself. He essentially does to Kelsey what he did to Herb during the run of Horsin’ Around when he leaves her hanging after she’s fired from Secretariat, but he realizes his faults earlier here and genuinely tries to make amends by connecting with her in Fish Out of Water and then working with her again here. He bears some responsibility for creating the whirlwind of chaos that ultimately ruins his plans, and destroys Princess Carolyn’s agency as a result, but the blame for this particular failure lies more with Princess Carolyn and Ana Spanakopita. Like “Still Broken,” this is another repetition of an earlier BoJack arc, but with some interesting variations.
25. “Our A-Story is a ‘D’ Story” (Season 1, Episode 6)
Written by Scott Marder; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
The friendship/rivalry between BoJack Horseman and Mr. Peanutbutter is one of the show’s most fascinating relationships. Both characters are driven by similar impulses, but they react to these impulses in very different ways. Here, where Mr. Peanutbutter realizes BoJack stole the “D” from the Hollywood sign for Diane (and effectively transformed Hollywood in Hollywoo, which the show cleverly keeps up throughout), we get our best look yet at how these two characters contrast. It mostly boils down to how BoJack’s misanthropy and self-loathing contrasts with Mr. Peanutbutter’s optimism and lack of shame. Early in its run, BoJack Horseman was fascinated with setting up dichotomies between BoJack and the supporting cast to flesh out his character: BoJack and Mr. Peanutbutter; BoJack and Diane; BoJack and Todd. Later, it started contrasting the supporting cast with each other, deepening the web of relationships that drive the show. Here, we get a good understanding of who these characters are and how they are intimately connected with each other.
24. “Higher Love” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Written by Vera Santamaria; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
Has there ever been an episode of television with more autoerotic asphyxiation jokes than this one? I don’t think so. While BoJack often went dark, it rarely went dark purely for humour’s sake. Here, we get a tale about BoJack trying to get Wanda to admit her love for him by pretending to be into autoerotic asphyxiation. In the end, BoJack gets what he wants, but not without needless difficulty. This episode shows that communication and connection are BoJack’s greatest weaknesses in his relationships, and that if he were as honest in his positive thoughts as he is in his negative ones, he might mitigate some of the damage he causes to others. As well, this episode brilliant sets up the character of J.D. Salinger, who didn’t die but merely stayed in hiding until he could create a Hollywood game show.
23. “Zöes and Zeldas” (Season 1, Episode 4)
Written by Peter A. Knight; directed by Amy Winfrey.
People often point to “The Telescope” as the episode where season one turned and we started to see the darker side to this silly television show, but there are instances of depth and darkness here that are often uncommented upon. As BoJack sabotages Todd’s rock opera by getting character actress Margo Martindale to get him to relapse with his video game addiction, we first get a sense of not understanding the depths BoJack is willing to stoop to in an effort to stave off loneliness and self-loathing. The episode’s title refers to the thesis come to by Diane’s ex-boyfriend, Wayne, who posits that the world can be divided into two groups: Zöes and Zeldas, and that conflict arises not because of one group’s inherent superiority over the other, but by one type of person mistaking themselves for the other type. It’s an early moment where the show is leaning into its exploration of dichotomies and playing with notions of self-awareness being key to growth.
22. “The Shot” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Written by Elijah Aron & Jordan Young; directed by Matt Mariska.
The Nixon jokes in this episode might not be up to par with the rest of the episode, but this episode is an emotional high point for multiple characters. As BoJack plans to break into the Nixon Memorial Library to get a shot for Secretariat, he inadvertently causes multiple things to come to a head. Princess Carolyn gets entranced by a painting of a simple life and realizes that she cannot easily leave behind her job and its worries, as she’s compulsively driven to work. She ends the episode by joining Rutabaga Rabbitowitz in his new venture. Diane becomes disillusioned with her time in Cordovia with Sebastian St. Clair and flies back to Los Angeles without telling her husband. Most significant of all is that BoJack comes to realize that he can be a good actor, but he also causes Kelsey to get fired from the film, effectively closing the door on any opportunity to explore that newfound revelation. It’s tragic that in one of the few moments where BoJack actually begins to care about something and not self-sabotage, he ends up hurting those around him.
21. “Brand New Couch” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; directed by Amy Winfrey.
This is essentially a continuation of “Later,” drawing a strong throughline from the season one finale’s central preoccupations. As such, it continues to expand our understanding of BoJack by giving us extended glimpses of his relationship with his callous mother, and showing how BoJack and his self-loathing are intrinsically tied. That it ties this serious examination into the root of BoJack’s self-loathing with a humourous look at the first day on set of Secretariat and BoJack’s hilariously off-putting positivity is remarkable. BoJack Horseman might have become a much darker show by the end of season one, but it did not lose any of its absurd humour.
20. “Love And/Or Marriage” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Written by Peter A. Knight; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
As BoJack becomes a movie star due to Secretariat’s box office success, he decides to crash a wedding rehearsal with Todd, and ends up causing a lot of heartache for those he comes into contact with. The central event of the episode is that Todd reconnects with Emily, one of the most intriguing characters during the show’s run. Season three did a lot to deepen Todd, who was conspicuously the least interesting character in the previous seasons. Emily’s presence is responsible for his increasing depth as a character. As well, the B-plot involving Diane’s time with the Snatch Batch is curiously touching. I can’t think of a more affectionate or heartfelt performance of a character who could easily be a douche than what Dave Franco gives us here.
19. “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Written by Joanna Calo; directed by Amy Winfrey.
This is the spiritual sequel to “Hank After Dark,” as it takes a real-world issue head-on. However, unlike “Hank After Dark,” this episode exploring Diane’s abortion and the accidental role that Sextina Aquafina plays in the pro-choice debate plays almost entirely for laughs. This is a subtly clever episode, besides being so patently ridiculous. Although it’s clearly on the liberal side of this particular debate (the panel of all-male commentators on MSNBSea gives away the bias), it manages to undercut selfishness on one side and ignorance on the other. The song itself is an absolute blast; as far as hooks to fake songs go, “Get dat fetus. Kill dat fetus.” is about as ridiculous as they come.
18. “Later” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; directed by Martin Cendreda.
“Later” is all about setting up the conflict that’ll drive the following two seasons, but it’s more than table setting for season two. This is also a touching episode that handles some bizarre emotional territory with incredible delicacy. As BoJack lands the part of Secretariat, we also get flashbacks of Secretariat on The Dick Cavett Show answering a letter by a childhood BoJack. This not only explains BoJack’s obsession with Secretariat (BoJack never reveals that Secretariat answered a personal letter to him to anyone in the show) but also how he came by his philosophy of charging forward and ignoring past problems. As well, the moment where Secretariat kills himself is far more heartbreaking than such a patently-absurd scene ought to be.
17. “Yesterdayland” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Written by Peter A. Knight; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
This episode has a lot of great moments, not least of which are the two musical gags, both involving Wanda and a song playing on the radio that perfectly describes her current situation. Wanda is a great character and she gets a memorable introduction as BoJack bumps into her at a roller skate alley and eventually asks her to move in with him. That BoJack only begins his relationship with her because she’s unaware of his fame dooms the relationship from the get-go, as it’s another example of him presenting himself as something different than himself, continuing the exploration begun in the season premier. However, even better than Wanda’s intro is how this episode further deepens the relationship between Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter. In a show where most people have fraught relationships, that Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter are able to resolve their differences like adults (or at least like generous children) is encouraging.
16. “Live Fast, Diane Nguyen” (Season 1, Episode 5)
Written by Caroline Williams; directed by Joel Moser.
I probably like this episode more than anyone else, relishing the absurd Boston accents of Diane’s family members and the jokes about their xenophobia and working-class laziness despite the fact that they’re immigrants—”We’re as American as pho” is an incredible joke on so many levels. However, it’s the fact that this episode starts to align Diane and BoJack as two sides of the same coin that makes it so special. Despite all her protestations against connecting with him, Diane starts to realize that BoJack is an individual who genuinely knows her. Even if BoJack misunderstands this connection as a romantic one (and the writers don’t really clarify their thoughts on Diane until season two), he is correct about there being a strong connection here. These are the two people that recognize each other’s weaknesses the best.
15. “Out to Sea” (Season 2, Episode 12)
Written by Elijah Aron & Jordan Young; directed by Mike Roberts.
After the devastation of “Escape from L.A.,” “Out to Sea” can feel like a bit of an anticlimax for season two, however it does lean hard into the irony of BoJack’s existence. It’s fascinating that BoJack might get what he wants without having done anything for it, robbing him of any genuine satisfaction in the achievement of lifelong dreams. As we see in season three, this empty victory truly does come to nothing. As well, as BoJack rescues Todd from the improv cruise, we get a deeper examination of their relationship and a confirmation that BoJack’s relationship with Todd, no matter how controlling he can be in it, is one of the few sources of good in his life.
14. “The BoJack Horseman Show” (Season 3, Episode 2)
Written by Vera Santamaria; directed by Adam Parton.
A flashback episode is always a risky proposition, but at this point in BoJack Horseman’s run, the show was confident enough to pull it off. Aside from the hilarious references to our recent past (Uggs!), the episode does a compelling job of showing how Princess Carolyn and BoJack’s relationship came to be. It also answers an unspoken question about the show: namely, what BoJack did in the years between Horsin’ Around and Secretariat. Most importantly, it meta-textually examines a lot of what makes BoJack Horseman such a fascinating and difficult show: its anti-humour, its aggressive confounding of sitcom tropes, and its formal innovation. Just as BoJack becomes more self-aware as a character, the show that bears his name becomes more aware of what exactly it’s doing in the realm of comedy, and whether there is virtue in its approach.
13. “Yes And” (Season 2, Episode 10)
Written by Mehar Sethi; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
BoJack’s breakup with Wanda is devastating. There’s no way around it. It also marks the most self-loathing moment in BoJack’s life to that point. Although the relationship was doomed from the start, his line that what happened to their relationship is the “Same thing that always happens. You didn’t know me. Then you fell in love with me. And now you know me.” is especially indicative of how BoJack approaches all things in life. For him, his own personal failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s smart to tie the devolution of their relationship into Diane’s presence at BoJack’s house because it makes clear that she is his female equivalent. In lighter terms, the episode’s digs at improv comedy are ruthless and entirely justified.
12. “It’s You” (Season 3, Episode 10)
Written by Vera Santamaria; directed by Adam Parton.
Todd usually opts for passive opposition to BoJack, but here he makes his thoughts known in an explicit speech about how BoJack is the source of all his failures. BoJack says most of the things Todd says all the time, however without any real desire to reflect on what he’s saying. It’s key that it’s BoJack’s most passive friend who breaks through his shell of self-pity and wakes him up to the reality of how he treats people; otherwise, the message wouldn’t stick. While this episode ends on a very dark note, the build up is positively delightful, with BoJack thinking he got nominated for an Oscar and engaging in colourful partying, before we learn that Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd made up all the nominations after hilariously losing the only envelope of the nominees. Mr. Peanutbutter is always good for hilarious antics, and his subplot is one of the best.
11. “Stop the Presses” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Written by Joe Lawson; directed by Adam Parton.
“Stop the Presses” displays the show’s increasing confidence in structural gambits. Mid-season, the show slows down for a sober examination of BoJack’s relationship with Ana Spanakopita as he gets advice from a customer service expert for the Los Angeles Times, played by a wonderful Candice Bergen. For many people, this episode could seem like filler, but there’s a power in the obvious confessional conceit of the episode. It allows a character who has no stake in BoJack’s life to reflect honestly on his life and circumstances, while BoJack is able to confess to someone who he is incapable of hurting. It was inevitable that BoJack Horseman would do a therapy episode at some point, but that it was this thoughtful and came about the matter sideways is brilliant.
10. “Hank After Dark” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Written by Kelly Galuska; directed by Amy Winfrey.
What a doozy. The first time I saw “Hank After Dark,” I was gutpunched. By translating the Bill Cosby sexual assault scandal into a story about Mr. Peanutbutter’s comedy idol, Hank Hippopopalous, the show transformed a whirlwind of media coverage into a challenging episode of comedy. Beyond bridging the gap from news to emotional storytelling, this episode manages to deal with the issue in the best way imaginable. For instance, while the influence of Cosby on the plotline is obvious, the details of Hank’s transgressions and Cosby’s transgressions do not line up one-to-one. Instead, the issue become specific to the show and these character’s interests. As well, the show brilliantly makes us consider both Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane’s two sides of the equation. While in a larger moral sense, Diane is entirely correct about needing to call out Hank’s transgressions, Mr. Peanutbutter is not incorrect that she went against her word to him, or how she feels the need to personally take down Hank herself. That this show is able to make both an intelligent episode exploring one of the ugliest celebrity scandals of all time and a fascinating look at a fraught relationship where you sympathize with both sides is remarkable. Also, that final moment—”Smile.”—is devastating.
9. “Let’s Find Out” (Season 2, Episode 8)
Written by Alison Flierl & Scott Chernoff; directed by Matt Mariska.
“Let’s Find Out” is the best episode of pure comedy the show ever produced. The mere notion of J.D. Salinger’s Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities, What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out! is so ridiculous and convoluted as to be brilliant. That the episode progresses as it does, with an increasingly-arbitrary set of rules confounding BoJack and leading him to ultimately answer the final question wrong to spite Daniel Radcliffe (what a sport, here), burning $500,000 in the process, is a testament to the show’s comedic abilities. As well, this episode allows Mr. Peanutbutter and BoJack to get some closure on their rivalry in season one, once again demonstrating how similar and yet how crucially different they are.
8. “Best Thing That Ever Happened” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Written by Kate Purdy; directed by Amy Winfrey.
BoJack and Princess Carolyn’s relationship is arguably the most complicated on the entire show and “Best Thing That Ever Happened” does an incredible job of breaking down the foundations of that relationship and revealing all the misunderstandings and assumptions underpinning so much of their business and romantic relationship. This is essentially a bottle episode, but like all good iterations of that sort of television storytelling, it forces emotional conflicts to come to a head and pushes two characters up against each other until the status quo is shattered. After this episode, BoJack and Princess Carolyn’s relationship can never be the same again.
7. “The Telescope” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Written by Mehar Sethi; directed by Amy Winfrey.
This episode stunned a lot of people, revealing to them that BoJack Horseman was a far darker, sadder, and more complex show than they had initially given it credit for being. As BoJack goes to meet Herb Kazzaz and confronts the reason their relationship disintegrated, we get the first good sense of how BoJack misunderstands himself and the reasons for his failures. He sees himself as cursed, but he doesn’t realized that his emotional defeat precludes him from fixing any problems or pursuing reconciliation with people when it’s not convenient for him. The episode also lays out something of a template for future seasons, clarifying the ways that BoJack ruins relationships and the specific methods of betrayal and abandonment that he uses on others because he himself feels abandoned by any familial affection. Even if the early episodes of BoJack Horseman are more complex than typically thought, this episode broadens the show’s emotional palette in a radical way. It begins to clarify that this show isn’t just a comedy, but also a genuine tragedy.
6. “Downer Ending” (Season 1, Episode 11)
Written by Kate Purdy; directed by Amy Winfrey.
Hallucinogenic episodes of television so often fall short of the zaniness of actual drug use. This is one of the few that does not. After firing Diane, BoJack attempts to write his own version of his memoirs with help from Sarah Lynn and a crap-tonne of drugs. What starts as another Sarah Lynn-fueled comedy episode quickly spirals out of control and turns into the show’s greatest formal innovation prior to “Fish Out of Water.” The drug-induced hallucinations that BoJack experiences, specifically where he breaks down into mere pencil sketches and is eventually erased, are the sort of things that you might find in classic Looney Tunes, bridging the gap between cartoonish madness and meta-textual profundity. As well, this episode gets at the source of BoJack’s depression: his aching desire to have a loving family. That he imagines an alternate life with Charlotte is misguided (especially after he pursues that life in “Escape from L.A.”), but it is also deeply sad. Of course BoJack would cling to Horsin’ Around so passionately: it’s the only happy family he has ever known.
5. “That Went Well” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Written by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; directed by Amy Winfrey.
This episode could easily be at the top of this list for what it accomplishes in the final minutes. Most of the episode deals with the fallout of Sarah Lynn’s death and brings the season’s major threads to a conclusion, much as any good finale would. Princess Carolyn starts a new management business. Todd sells Cabracadabra. Diane starts working for a blog. Most satisfyingly, Mr. Peanutbutter saves the residents of Pacific Ocean City with his stockpile of spaghetti strainers and fleet of orca drivers in one of the greatest long-building gags in recent television history. However, most satisfying here are the final moments, where BoJack contemplates killing himself while driving into the desert, letting go of the wheel as he cruises past 60mph and closes his eyes, only stopping himself because he notices wild mustangs running towards the horizon, sweat dripping from their brows. Nina Simone’s “Stars” plays on the soundtrack. BoJack stops and watches in admiration and for a moment feels at peace. This is perhaps the most profoundly-moving moment in the show. It’s also an absurd image rendered indelibly and executed with sympathy and affection. Simply put, this ending to season three should be stupid, but it’s heartbreaking.
4. “After the Party” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Written by Joe Lawson; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
I was always fond of this episode, but I didn’t realize how brilliant it is until the recent rewatch. Not only does it bring three storylines to a head simultaneously, but it’s also a stunning look at how relationships live and die. In many ways, it’s BoJack Horseman’s version of “Far Away Places” from Mad Men. The episode shows three different fallouts from a surprise birthday party for Diane: one follows Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane as they fight about a seemingly-innocuous comment Wanda made at the party; another follows BoJack and Wanda as BoJack tries to manufacture a fight; and the third follows Princess Carolyn breaking up with Vincent. Together, they create a unified portrait of how wonderful relationship can be, but more importantly, how easily they break apart.
3. “Escape from L.A.” (Season 2, Episode 11)
Written by Joe Lawson; directed by Amy Winfrey.
This episode is heartbreaking. There’s no other way to describe it. As BoJack flees Los Angeles for New Mexico, he shacks up in Charlotte’s driveway and creates a bond with her family. The bond is only short-lived though, as he takes her daughter, Penny, to the prom and ends up in bed with her afterwards, only for Charlotte to walk in on them before they have sex. While the larger theme of the episode seems to be how BoJack longs for family but will ultimately destroy whatever happiness he comes across, it’s really more about his aching loneliness and how that loneliness will lead him to do terrible things to assuage it. BoJack does a lot of awful things in the show’s run, but this is probably his worst individual moment.
2. “Fish Out of Water” (Season 3, Episode 4)
Written by Elijah Aron & Jordan Young; directed by Mike Hollingsworth.
So many of these episodes near the top of my list focus on BoJack’s weaknesses. This remarkable episode that mostly plays as a silent film plays on one of BoJack’s strengths: his affection for children. As BoJack attends the Pacific Ocean Film Festival, he heads beneath the waves to the land of fish and other sea creatures and has to wear a bubble around his head to breath. This removes his ability to speak, making most of the episode occur without dialogue, with only physical actions and music to carry the story. It’s arguable that BoJack Horseman’s greatest strength is its dialogue, its ability to spin a clever joke about Hollywood excess or articulate the depths of loneliness a lot of people feel in the modern world. So for BoJack Horseman to mine the depths of its characters and demonstrate a story of connection and loss all without dialogue is remarkable. “Fish Out of Water” makes you reconsider what you’ve assumed were the show’s strengths. It offers a broader picture of how remarkable this show is.
1. “That’s Too Much, Man!” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Written by Elijah Aron & Jordan Young; directed by J.C. Gonzalez.
This episode never shows up on the lists of best episodes for BoJack Horseman, which is baffling. In terms of formal innovation, “That’s Too Much, Man!” is second to none. As well, it takes a character who often seemed little more than a joke about Hollywood screw-ups and makes her achingly human, only to have the show take her from us just when we like her most.
The plot concerns BoJack and Sarah Lynn’s weeks-long bender, which results in her death at the Griffith Observatory and Planetarium. The hallmark of the episode is the blackout structure, which has the episode jump forward in time at random intervals to coincide with BoJack’s stunning levels of inebriation. In “The BoJack Horseman Show,” we’re introduced to BoJack’s second show that broke all the rules and was punished for it in the ratings, going down as one of the great television failures of all time (even the creators of Cavemen got in their potshots). Here, the show returns to that time period in some flashbacks and comments on how all the meta jokes and formal innovations of that show ruined it for the audience. Just as the show openly mocks aggressive innovation and meta comedy, BoJack Horseman is breaking all the rules of the comedy show, messing with chronology, showing punishing levels of self-destruction, and openly commenting on it every step of the way.
This isn’t the only reason “That’s Too Much, Man!” is remarkable. This is also a stunningly sad, but in ways that don’t just repeat past misbehaviours we’ve witnessed. At one point, BoJack and Sarah Lynn go to Ohio to stalk Penny, the girl BoJack almost abused in “Escape from L.A.” Shocked at his inebriated actions, BoJack tries to write “Don’t follow her” on his hands, but only ends up with “Follow her” on one hand and “Donut” on the other. Like a twistedly comedic version of Leonard in Memento, he has gaslit himself into self-destruction. I can’t think of a better image to encapsulate BoJack as a character, or a better episode to capture the emotional depths of the show as a whole. I said earlier that the real tragedy of BoJack is that his unhappiness is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In “That’s Too Much, Man!” we get our deepest examination of just how self-sabotaging this horseman is.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg; starring Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Thompkins, and Aaron Paul.