‘BoJack Horseman’ Season 4 Is Just as Hilarious and Inventive as Ever

Adult-oriented animation can be viewed as a linear evolution starting with “The Honeymooners” spoof “The Flintstones,” then the anti-“Cosby Show” dysfunction of “The Simpsons.” The foul-mouthed children of “South Park” push the envelope and speak truth to power, while “Family Guy” reduced similar tactics into shock value one-liners and cut-away gags. Throw in the poker-faced character-driven humor of “King of the Hill” and “Bob’s Burgers,” and you have more or less a topographical map of the most important touchstones for the animation renaissance we currently live in. In its finest hours, animation has adapted very quickly to critical trends, and even raised the bar at times.

BoJack Horseman” has all the hallmarks of such a luminary show. Perhaps the first animated sitcom to exist in a post “Louie” world, fans and critics have unabashedly fawned over the first three seasons’ blend of oddball humor, Hollywood (or, rather, “Hollywoo”) zingers, and unflinching, serious conversations about chronic depression and the morass of celebrity. The series’ self-destructive titular character (voiced by Will Arnett) spends most of his time going into or coming out of a stupor with a temperament that vacillates between jaded disinterest, powerhouse dynamism, and severe depression. BoJack has the soul of a poet and the insatiable appetites of a fiend. He is the type of gifted, charismatic, and troubled personality that the movie industry chews up and spits out. Oh, and he also happens to be an anthropomorphic horse.

BoJack’s fatalism and narcissism are definitely among the most savory aspects of the show, but they’re matched by as much ridiculous humor as possible at every turn. The show’s universe is so vividly detailed that it’s easy to forget that half the characters are anthropomorphic animals like BoJack – at least until you see a bipedal mouse walk into a diner and order nothing but Swiss cheese. That’s just the tip of the absurdity iceberg: in this season, a pork barrel state bill results in a highway being built from California to Hawaii. Mollycoddled Hollywoo actors are only ever a disaster situation away from devolving into Lord of the Flies martial law and worshiping fire as their god. Perhaps the show’s master stroke is that these preposterous incidents don’t simply reflect the absurdities of their fictional reality, they also mirror the most ridiculous aspects of our own reality – which is how the series always finds a way to resonate.

To take a step back from extolling the show’s virtues in general, this season in particular seemed like it could have fallen into a holding pattern that the series has established: BoJack starts off disinterested in a project, BoJack gets gung-ho about it, BoJack’s depression and addictions get the better of him, everything collapses around him and all the other characters. But this season avoids redundancy with the introduction of Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), BoJack’s potential biological daughter. With the search for Hollyhock’s mother central to season four’s plot, the show gets up to many of the same antics while avoiding becoming just another installment of typical BoJack self-sabotaging exploits.

Aside from a less self-absorbed (but still self-absorbed) BoJack, the show also spends more time this season exploring the subplots of characters Todd (Aaron Paul), Princess Caroline (Amy Sedaris), Diane (Alison Brie) and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). The biggest benefactor of this increased screen time is Todd, whose plotlines used to be trivial throwaways that often played more distracting than funny when weighed against the brilliance of the rest of the show. Once a dimwitted human doormat that only spoke up to say something completely irrelevant to the subject at hand, season four’s Todd has become a fully fleshed-out character. Notably, the show explores his asexuality (mostly only hinted at in previous seasons), which may be a first for cartoons or television in general. With Todd as well as the other central characters, we get a clearer vision of the issues and neuroses facing them and how each stands in his or her own way. All this makes the universe more richly three dimensional, as if the show is finding new ways to live up to the high standard it has set for itself. “BoJack Horseman” season four neither plays it safe nor sacrifices too much of its unique appeal, and binge-watching fans are likely already salivating for season five.

BoJack Horseman” season 4 premieres Sept. 8 on Netflix.