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‘BoJack Horseman’ Season 3 Premiere: Can ‘Bad’ TV Be Better Than Oscar Movies?

"BoJack Horseman" gets off to a superb start in Season 3, pushing plot quickly in order to dig into the deep emotional moments — all while asking a question too many people (and animals) readily dismiss.

BoJack Horseman Season 3

Netflix

[Editor’s Note: “BoJack Horseman” Season 3 is a feat of storytelling on both a serialized and episodic level. To honor the impressive accomplishment, IndieWire will be reviewing all 12 episodes over the next few weeks. Below, we delve into Episode 1.]

READ MORE: ‘BoJack Horseman’ Review: Season 3 Deserves an Oscar (And Every Other Award)

Is “Horsin’ Around” Better Than “Secretariat,” and Is TV Better Than Film?

The most important takeaway from the premiere of “BoJack Horseman” is that BoJack already knows an Oscar may not make him happy. This could’ve been a realization made much later in the season, but creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg wastes no time in Season 3. He’s got big fish to fry, and each episode takes on far more than just the requisite plot developments. By putting BoJack’s motivation into question already — for an arc that will still last all season — Bob-Waksberg shifts the conversation to a bigger topic for this half hour: Should BoJack be prouder of “Horsin’ Around” than “Secretariat”?

Clearly, the answer is, “yes.” Considering BoJack wasn’t actually in his Oscar vehicle (he was digitally replaced) and he became a star from “Horsin’ Around,” the TV series is what he can and should be proud of, even if modern audiences see it (and him) as a relic. Yet outside of BoJack’s choice, the comparison between TV and film — especially the sitcom vs. the Oscar contender — launches a compelling conversation about perspective in the arts. Specifically, can a ’90s sitcom be better than an Oscar-contending film? More broadly, can successful TV be better than prestigious film?

By making BoJack’s answer “yes,” it would be easy to assume that Bob-Waksberg’s answer is the same. And, as we’ve come to learn, he’s an avid supporter of TV sitcoms:

I have a lot of affection for those old shows. You can put on an episode of “Full House” or “Family Matters” or “Growing Pains” now, and I’ll watch it. I’ll totally enjoy it. I heard people comment on the Christmas special like, “Okay, I get it, it’s a bad sitcom, but why would I want to watch a bad sitcom for a half an hour?” I was like, “Oh man, you don’t get it.” It’s great. I genuinely think it’s good. [laughs] I would love to just watch episodes of “Horsin’ Around” if I could. There’s a cheesiness that I don’t think is bad. There’s a texture to those shows that I actually find really enjoyable and really good. And you cannot convince me that they’re not good because I love them in all of their badness.

This is an argument worth having, especially in an era where multi-cam sitcoms with laugh-tracks — aka, the bread and butter of network TV for decades — are now regarded as garbage, even when the good ones (“The Carmichael Show,” for one) are still among the best TV has to offer. While “BoJack Horseman” will offer more commentary on the general silliness of art competing against other genres of art as Season 3 progresses, the resounding point is that perspective, value and quality are all subjective choices, and the collective nose-thumbing of older favorites usually comes back to bite you. Remember, there was a time when all films were widely-regarded as “better” than all TV shows. Today, the opposite is very nearly true. So don’t go hating on “Horsin’ Around.”

The Joke You May Have Missed, In a .gif

BoJack Horseman Season 3 Episode 1 - Todd Hallway gif

OK, so maybe you didn’t miss the visual satirical comparison above of Todd being lost in a hotel with so many random schmo’s being lost in New York City, but those signs man — those signs! We had to revisit this — and remind me you of a few more: Make sure to read all of Princess Carolyn’s book titles when we see her office. And here’s a special shout-out to the signs on the NY diner’s wall, including “Lost Human” and Giraffrey Lewis & The Junkyard.

Best Pop Culture Reference

Serial Sarah Koenig

“Is my name Sarah Koenig? Because I’m about to get ‘Serial’!”
– Todd

Oh, Todd. We missed you. There’s something about a smart show using dumb puns that makes them spectacular, and this was the smartest, dumbest pun of them all. Delivered to utter perfection by Aaron Paul in a flashback sequence building on ridiculous event after ridiculous event, this throwaway one-liner was so good some critics couldn’t even wait for Episode 1 to air before sharing it (not that we blame her at all).

Key Foreshadowing

BoJack Horseman Season 2

By now, viewers know they need to pay close attention to “BoJack Horseman” every single time they watch (and fans also know to watch more than once). So viewers should know the premiere is chock full of foreshadowing, both starkly obvious and utterly isolated.

For non-bingers: The clearest bit of foreshadowing comes when BoJack suffers from erectile disfunction when his reporter-turned-lover mentions “I’m a mermaid, baby, gonna climb up onto your boat.” This leads to a confession of guilt from BoJack, who’s still struggling with what may be his ultimate indiscretion: nearly sleeping with Charlotte’s kid, aka his best friend’s underage daughter.

“I keep asking myself, ‘If her mother didn’t walk in, would I have done it?’ And part of me is sure that I couldn’t, but another part knows that’s a lie. How do you make something right when you’ve made it so wrong you can never go back?”

Winning an Oscar won’t help BoJack here, meaning he’s going to have to revisit this issue again eventually.

For bingers: Take note of the painting above BoJack’s bed in the hotel room. Those denim-wearing horses aren’t there by accident.

Character Actress Margo Martindale Award for Best Celebrity Guest

BoJack Horseman Margo Martindale gif

Credit where credit is due: Considering every L.A. awards panel worth its weight in gold is hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell, the fact that Raphael Bob-Waksberg went out and got the man himself to guest star (voice and likeness) is such a great pull. Would we have rather seen an IndieWire moderator host the “Secretariat” screening, like, say, Michael Schneider? Of course. But we can’t fault the choice, especially since BoJack is trying to distance himself from TV (could’ve gone with Anne Thompson, though.)

Guest Voice MVP: Greg Kinnear as Greg Kinglear in “The Tragedie of Greg Kinglear: A Theatrical Immersion” by Jill Pill

READ MORE: ‘BoJack Horseman’ Review: Season 3 Deserves an Oscar (And Every Other Award)

BoJack Is Actually Smart, You Guys

We know the show is smart, but BoJack’s self-sabotaging antics, lack of awareness and support of “Horsin’ Around” as a “good show” can make you forget he’s actually pretty smart, especially when it comes to history. In the premiere, he reminded us when Diane made an inaccurate pun regarding Joseph Stalin’s predilection to waste time.

“What’re you—? If anything, Stalin was ruthlessly efficient! Get your head out of your ass, Diane!”

An important reminder that even dictators only reach such lofty status by being good at something.

Quote of the Week

“You know what the real tragedy of Greg Kinglear is?
It’s that he’s a marionette, and he doesn’t even
know someone else is pulling his strings.”
– Jill Pill

Jill Pill’s quote pairs nicely with what Spanikopita, BoJack’s publicist voiced by Angela Bassett, points out later on:

“No one else gets to tell you what your story is.”
“What is my story?”
“I’ll tell you.”

But unlike Greg Kinglear, BoJack is all too aware of his puppet masters. Not only is his publicist bending over backwards to craft a story that will help BoJack win an Oscar — not necessarily BoJack’s actual story — but he was digitally replaced in the film he’s campaigning for. He became the digital equivalent of a marionette when VFX experts rebuilt his performance from nothing. Now, he’s being asked to act as though it’s really him, and — for all the bad shit BoJack has gone along with — this already feels like a step too far for our antihero. Those strings are bound to snap, one way or another.

Grade: A

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