NOTE: Full spoilers for the BoJack Horseman Christmas special are present in this review.
Earlier this past Summer, we reviewed the debut season of Netflix exclusive-animated comedy, BoJack Horseman. While not a bad show by any means, it was quite disappointing, and wasn’t nearly as funny as it marketed itself to be, resulting in a lukewarm 60% score for the first season. Nonetheless, I gave the show my blessing to continue, hoping that Season Two would be an improvement, because the cast and concept behind BoJack Horseman are still good, and the show just needs to learn to tap into its true potential.
Fortunately, the surprise Christmas special that was dropped on Netflix for this Holiday is a step in the right direction. BoJack Horseman undeniably still has room to grow and improve, but by creating a tighter and more inspired standalone Christmas episode that gives us our best look yet at fictional sitcom, “Horsin’ Around”, while focusing solely on BoJack and Todd as they comment in a tongue-in-cheek way about Christmas specials, the show suddenly starts to come together more. The cynicism of BoJack is finally funny, as is the simple-minded witlessness of Todd.
It works here.
I knew that BoJack Horseman would benefit a lot from some simple audience feedback, and that seems to be the reason why the Christmas special exists. The episode itself even all but outright admits it with BoJack’s dialogue. It is an undeniably clever way to show that audience feedback has been taken to heart after the overall mixed to negative reception of the first season though, and that the showrunners have tweaked the show in the right ways for Season Two, set to debut later in 2015.
So, what is the Christmas special about? Well, it’s very simple. BoJack is predictably being a big old Scrooge who wants nothing to do with Christmas, with Todd embracing the occasion, and twisting BoJack’s arm to watch an old Christmas episode of “Horsin’ Around” with him. BoJack begrudgingly agrees if it will get Todd out, and the two watch a cliched, blatantly dated Christmas special that follows every 90’s Holiday sitcom cliche in the book. The fictional special involves BoJack’s character having to try and deal with the youngest adopted child, played by Season One’s better character, Sarah Lynn (yet again giving us an always welcome pinch of Kristen Schaal), believing that Santa Claus can give her back her dead parents if she’s good, as the three adopted children have apparently never heard of Christmas before. It’s a blatant stretch, but that’s probably the point.
Even considering the weaknesses of Season One, Will Arnett as BoJack and Aaron Paul as Todd at least had great chemistry with each other, even in an animated show. Now that they’re finally given some better material, their rapport really shines here. Even when the fictional Horsin’ Around episode drags, it’s nonetheless entertaining, since BoJack and Todd will constantly interject with amusing comments, including some hilarious revelations about the actors and where they are now, even if we already knew that answer with Sarah Lynn.
The episode actually even comes close to managing a theme, and one that services the show beautifully. Later in the episode, BoJack’s character explains to Sarah Lynn’s character that being good isn’t about pleasing some magic man that will somehow completely restore world order because of it, and you have to be good for good’s own sake. Even the overactive audience member that sometimes chimes in saying, “… What?” really worked in this scene, since it finally demonstrated that the actual BoJack Horseman show knows what it’s supposed to be about, without being too on-the-nose about it. It was very clever.
Thankfully, the special also assured that despite some of the changes, BoJack isn’t fundamentally changing as a character, and nor is Todd. Even when BoJack invites Todd to watch more specials with him at the end, finally finding a friend on Christmas, he rejects just about all of Todd’s Holiday suggestions, until they just decide to drink together. Again, it works, and is pretty funny to listen to, as well as being a great way to cap off the special.
I’m glad to see this episode turn out as well as it did, because while I was underwhelmed by the show’s first season, I wouldn’t really say that I dislike BoJack Horseman. That may sound strange, but it makes sense if one has some perspective. After all, I think we can all swallow our pride and admit that animated comedies geared towards adults, even those that are really beloved, tend to have underwhelming or downright bad first seasons. Even animated sitcom juggernaut, The Simpsons was pretty bad until about Season Three, at earliest! Family Guy and American Dad! were definitely shakier in their debut seasons, as was King of the Hill, as was Bob’s Burgers, as was Archer, as was Futurama, you name it! For whatever reason, animated adult sitcoms almost always take a season or two to hit their stride, and with the leap-of-faith model of a lump Netflix season especially, I didn’t write off BoJack Horseman after a weak first season, because it would probably have to get over the same hurdle.
This special still had a couple of flaws, mind you, namely that the Horsin’ Around episode’s blatant cliches felt like a low-hanging fruit with some of the jokes, and not every gag actually worked. Still, this was overall a funny and inspired Christmas special, and is already demonstrating some key improvements on BoJack Horseman that will hopefully be carried over to the upcoming Season Two. It’s by no means the best Christmas special you’ve ever seen, but it works. It finally works!
Keep it up, BoJack Horseman. You’re on the right track.
BoJack Horseman still has some room to grow and improve, but its surprise Christmas special was a huge improvement over the shakier first season in many respects, feeling more clever and funny overall.