Trigger warning: discussion of parental death, addiction, domestic violence, pregnancy, and misscarriage
Full of anthropomorphic animals, hard-to-swallow self-truths, addiction, generational family trauma, and raunchy sex against the glitzy backdrop of Los Angeles, this unforgettable series was never for the lighthearted. BoJack Horseman ran for six seasons, between 2014 and 2020, and has continued to be a hugely important series for many – including myself. A few months ago I rewatched all six seasons, which prompted me to ask myself which episodes were my top five. It took a lot of re-rewatching and rearranging but I finally narrowed seventy-seven brilliant and unique episodes into a top five – plus a short but essential ‘Honourable Mentions’ section.
1. Free Churro
In this episode BoJack gives an awkwardly comical (but also profoundly depressing) eulogy at what he thinks is his late mother Beatrice’s funeral. BoJack’s cold relationship with his mother means that his eulogy is not one that a loving son would give his equally-loving mother. As someone with a deceased parent, to whom they were not very close, BoJack’s realisation that his mother’s death will hurt regardless of how well they got on is heartbreaking, and a hard truth to swallow. He expresses that he had always wanted Beatrice to show him that she loved him. Even as he stands beside her casket, BoJack, aged fifty-four, says that he is still waiting for proof of her love for him. But the death of a parent brings the certainty that you will never get the perfect relationship you wanted with them, and the realisation that you still had the tiniest speck of hope that it would be a reality one day makes it all the more painful. BoJack says that even though the unpredictability of death should make us ‘more adventurous, kind, and forgiving’, it has only made us ‘small, stupid, and petty’ – which is perhaps a subtle hint that he should forgive her posthumously, but as he puts it: ‘she was a bitch.’
This episode was the only complete no-brainer for me when making this list, because it’s one I can return to when certain feelings arise. It’s a comfort watch for me and has been for years now. Although several other episodes have touched me on an emotional level, none have done so quite as personally as ‘Free Churro’. At the end of his eulogy, BoJack finally realises that he is in the wrong funeral parlour after he opens the casket, and the viewer sees that the funeral-goers are all lizards. While his mistake is somewhat funny, and earns a chuckle from me, it doesn’t diminish the sincerity and significance of his words. In fact, I think it might make them all the more powerful.
2. A Quick One, While He’s Away
Paige Sinclair, also known as ‘Front Page Paige’, is a hog with flair. Paige’s way of speaking in old-fashioned riddles and rhymes, and her over-the-top personality, makes her one of the most unforgettable minor characters in the show’s history. In this episode Paige, and her equally old-fashioned journalist partner Maximillian Banks, begin to investigate the circumstances surrounding Sarah Lynn’s fatal overdose. At the same time, we get a glimpse at how some of the women previously in BoJack’s life are doing post-BoJack. Ex-girlfriend Gina, who now hates sudden changes and doing stunts, is traumatised after he assaulted her in a drug-induced haze in ‘The Showstopper.’ Meanwhile Kelsey can’t get any meaningful work as a director since she was fired from Secretariat after she and BoJack broke into the Nixon Museum together, but as she points out her career is the only one that has suffered as a result.
The ways in which BoJack has negatively impacted the lives of several women is the epicentre of this episode, and it makes for a very meaningful probe into the very real fact that women routinely suffer at the hands of men. I think that this episode makes a bold and thought-provoking statement about gendered issues and experiences within the wider context of patriarchy – making every single minute majorly important. This episode also sets up an arc in which BoJack must confront his past, as with Paige and Max on his tail his wrongdoings begin to catch up with him and make him sweat. This resurgence of the past is contrasted with the depressing present(s) and uncertain futures of Gina and Kelsey, who are just some of the women he has harmed. And with Max and Paige’s insistence on talking in convoluted metaphors and rhymes, the comedy in this episode is as consistent as always.
3. Fish Out of Water
BoJack spends almost the entire episode underwater at the Pacific Film Ocean Festival, where his movie Secretariat is premiering, so there is little to no dialogue, with BoJack only speaking in the opening scenes and at the very end of the episode. While underwater BoJack tries to work up the courage, and means, to apologise to Kelsey (the original director of Secretariat, who is also at the festival) but somehow he ends up stranded with a lost newborn seahorse (that he actually helps deliver on a bus) that has been seperated from it’s father. Together the pair rob a store, briefly get chased by a shark, dance through a neon seascape, and blow up a taffy factory all in pursuit of the baby seahorse’s dad.
In the final minute of the episode, after handing Kelsey an illegible handwritten apology note, BoJack discovers that his breathing helmet has a speaker option, a fact that would’ve made his day much easier. But the lack of dialogue actually says a lot here, and we get a visual story that is well-told and full-fledged. Body language and facial expressions do all the talking and BoJack’s look of awkward sadness as he feels jealous of the seahorse family, and waves goodbye to them, feels rather poignant. Also profound is how he looks at and acts around Kelsey as he longs to apologise to her. A lot is said in this episode without anyone actually saying anything at all.
The popular ‘Surprise Party Gone Wrong’ trope can feel pretty unoriginal after a while but this episode, with its’ own unique BoJack Horseman take on it, is anything but. At their own ‘surprise wedding’ orchestrated by Todd, Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles argue about him cheating (with his ex-wife Diane, unbeknownst to her) while the guests (including Diane) quite literally hide in plain sight (please see the above picture). Meanwhile, Princess Carolyn and Todd chase baby Ruthie around, and BoJack interrogates Diane about her decision to move to Chicago. In the midst of their arguing Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles also complain about their ‘well-hidden’ guests, and Pickles hilariously yells that she’s going to tell everyone about Mr. Peanutbutter cheating on her because ‘she’s a Gemini’, totally unaware that he’s already broken the news for her. To say that this episode is hectic is a serious understatement.
‘Surprise!’ is so full of jokes, both verbal and visual, that it’s probably one of the show’s funniest episodes ever. With main characters Diane, BoJack, Princess Carolyn, Ruthie, and Todd trapped with the unhappy couple they actually perform acrobatics just to stay in hiding. Although comedy makes up the vast majority of this episode, there are some fleeting tender moments: like when BoJack says that he wishes Diane could have seen him get his two-month sobriety chip, or when Diane says that she needs to know BoJack will be okay before she can leave LA, and he insists that he will be. ‘Surprise!’ is a masterclass in comedy, and gently weaving the occasional emotional moment into said comedy, making this episode one of the show’s best.
5. The Showstopper
This episode reminds me a lot of ‘That’s Too Much, Man!’, mainly because BoJack, in a drug-fuelled haze, plays a major role in the harm experienced by a woman close to him. While filming for his latest show Philbert with his co-star and girlfriend Gina Cazador, BoJack falls deeper and deeper into his addiction to painkillers. He soon starts to lose his grip on reality, and the line between Philbert and his real life starts to blur beyond recognition – the same way it does for the fictional character Philbert. At one point he mentions that he has a ‘rancid itch’ that something isn’t right, as if something is lurking beyond the horizon – he glimpses a giant balloon version of himself in the distance as he says this.
Eventually Gina confronts BoJack about his addiction, and he flashes between seeing Gina as his live-in girlfriend and seeing her as Sassy – her character on the show. Suddenly, as BoJack begins to strangle Gina, we realise that they’re actually on-set and filming an episode, and that Gina walked out on him once she found out about his addiction. There is a nauseating moment when the film crew delays helping Gina, for the sake of good TV, and we can hear her faintly choking in the background. It’s only a few seconds but it’s one of those moments where it feels like time stretches on without an end in sight. After he is pulled off of Gina by Mr. Peanutbutter and members of the film crew, in a scratchy and emotional voice, Gina asks BoJack “what the fuck is wrong with you?” Immediately after BoJack envisions himself staring up at the giant balloon of himself – indicating the very same thing that was lurking in the horizon, the thing that wasn’t quite right earlier in the episode, is him. This episode is an incredibly well-done exploration of addiction and the impact it has on people’s relationships with those closest to them. It’s honestly quite amazing that the show managed to cultivate such a raw and uncomfortable scene between an animated woman and an anthropomorphic horse.
The Amelia Earhart Story
Princess Carolyn (A.K.A. PC) is one of my favourite characters, so I love any episode where she’s the star. She’s a determined, career-focused gal who wants to have it all and this exploration of a younger and more vulnerable PC five-seasons-deep is pretty enlightening. PC goes to North Carolina, where she grew up in poverty, to meet Sadie – a pregnant teenager who is putting her unborn baby up for adoption. Although by the end of the episode Sadie decides to keep looking for adoptive parents. Through flashbacks we learn more about Princess Carolyn’s experiences with pregnancy, and that she had her first miscarriage as a teenager after she accidentally fell pregnant by Cooper, the son of the wealthy Wallace family. Cutie Cutie Cupcake (PC’s mother) is ecstatic at the prospect of them getting money as a result – despite PC’s unhappiness about it all. But before things can really progress, PC miscarries and Cutie initially blames her, telling her that she has blown their chances and that ‘miscarriages don’t just happen,’ though she soon retracts this and instead comforts her daughter.
This episode completely reframes Princess Carolyn’s previous experiences with pregnancy and miscarriage in the series – in ‘See Mr. Peanutbutter Run’ she told her then-boyfriend Ralph that she had a miscarriage, but some time after it had actually happened. PC later starts fertility treatment but even though she successfully gets pregnant, she sadly miscarries again in ‘Ruthie’. Cutie’s reaction alone in this episode highlights that PC has probably always felt pressured to pursue motherhood, as women often are. Despite the moments of humour and silliness, this episode realistically and thoughtfully addresses the delicate topic of miscarriage. Although Princess Carolyn is an animated, talking pink cat she feels intrinsically human and is so relatable that it’s both impressive and touching. The show’s exploration of miscarriage through Princess Carolyn has even been called ‘so realistic it hurts’ by Jezebel, making this episode a brilliant one for PC fans like myself.
That’s Too Much, Man!
During my rewatch a particular Sarah Lynn quote stood out to me. In Season 1 Episode 3, ‘Prickly-Muffin’, she says “I’m at a place right now where I never need to grow as a person or rise to an occasion because I can constantly just surround myself with sycophants and enablers until I die tragically young.” These words make the tragedy that is this episode sting even more. It starts with swelling, angelic music in the background as Sarah Lynn tries desperately hard to be a better, sober version of herself; from her balcony she even sings to the ‘buzzy bees’ and her gardeners. But all it takes is BoJack, with an invitation to party, for her to start downing alcohol first thing in the morning.
Over the course of a few months the pair go on an intense drug-fuelled bender, abusing cocaine, alcohol, and heroin, and blackout several times. As the viewer we blackout with BoJack – the screen suddenly flashes black and then they’re in a different room, or location entirely, having a completely different conversation. They drive under the influence, all the way to Ohio one point, eat doughnuts at an AA meeting, attempt to make amends to those they have wronged, and end up in a grimy motel. As they sit in that dingy motel watching the Oscars, Sarah Lynn is announced as an Oscar winner, which prompts her to realise that she doesn’t like anything about herself and wonders if she is doomed. In an attempt to console her BoJack takes her to the planetarium, which Sarah Lynn kept asking to go to, and they watch the stars together. As BoJack tells her that all that matters is the precious moment they are sharing together, she stops responding, with BoJack repeatedly asking “Sarah Lynn?” She never does respond. Her death is so unbearably sad, especially since it’s painfully obvious that had BoJack respected her sobriety, instead of capitalising on her vulnerability, it’s more than likely that she would have never died – and maybe she could have even become the architect she always wanted to be…