If William Shakespeare had ever dared to explore the animal kingdom, he might have come up with “BoJack Horseman.” Even in a long line of TV narcissists — Archie Bunker, Frasier Crane, Barbara Walters — BoJack stood out, insisting he was still riding high in the saddle when he was really just an ex-sitcom star with serious addiction problems, threatening anyone in his orbit.
So, to be or not to be? That is the question creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg should be answering in the animated show’s final eight episodes, which dropped this past Friday on Netflix.
Viewers have plenty of reasons to root for the title character, despite his self-centered nature, sexist impulses and habit of always wearing the same sweater. As we’ve learned over the course of six seasons, he suffered a traumatic childhood. He has financially supported man-child Todd Chavez, the most annoying roommate since Felix Unger, and Diane Nguyen, a freelancer suffering from a lifetime of writer’s block. At times, he’s tried to better himself. In this last batch of stories, a newly sober BoJack has taken a job as a drama professor, if only to mend fences with his estranged sister. Just hearing the voice of the golden-throated Will Arnett makes you want to smile — and go out and buy a new car.
But for every hoof up, there’s two hooves back.
In Season 2, BoJack’s journey of self-discovery took a horrid detour when he crossed the line with an ex-girlfriend’s underage daughter. Much of Season 5 dealt with BoJack learning firsthand what it’s like to be sexually objectified. But the lesson didn’t stick. During a psychotic break, he nearly chokes his girlfriend to death.
And our “hero” only checked himself into rehab to escape the enormous guilt he felt from talking his former co-star Sarah Lynn into a drug binge with fatal results.
As BoJack gallops toward the finish line, it’s Bob-Waksberg’s job to decide if his protagonist is headed for redemption or ruin.
He doesn’t fulfill his duty.
Those who haven’t binged to the end of the series may want to stop reading now. (Are they gone? Good, let’s move forward.)
At one point, the show appears to have determined the character’s fate. During a relapse, BoJack breaks into his former house and proceeds to do an impersonation of William Holden’s corpse in “Sunset Boulevard.” In the penultimate episode, BoJack finds himself at a dinner party surrounded by deceased friends and family (and Zach Braff as a butler) followed by a surreal variety show that’s more painful to watch than the “Star Wars Holiday Special.” It’s a disturbing, shocking journey — and instantly ranks among the most brilliant episodes in the show’s history.
But Bob-Waksberg can’t quite commit to the darkness. In the very next installment, BoJack is still with us, at least enough to direct a production of “Hedda Gabler” behind prison bars.
In the final scene, the temporarily released horse finds himself lying on a rooftop with Diane, who is also still stuck at the crossroads.
“Life’s a bitch,” Diane says. “And then you keep living.”
OK — but just what kind of life are these two crazy kids going to lead?
Bob-Waksberg could be trying to emulate the ambiguous ending of “The Sopranos.” Maybe Netflix balked at the idea of banishing one of its most popular characters to hell. Either way, fans of the most brilliant animated series of the decade deserved a better ending — even if it meant putting BoJack out of his misery.