You might not have thought a cartoon about a talking horse could warrant an entire list of heart-rendingly emotional moments, but here we are.
The thing is — for all its scenes of hilarity — BoJack Horseman is also an incredibly poignant show. It makes you laugh, and then it catches you off guard. It’s got way more in common with comedy-dramas like Master of None than it does with shows like Family Guy.
Anyway, what good is misery if we can’t at least revel in it? In the list below we’ve broken down 11 of the show’s most memorably emotional moments — from the crushing isolation of LA to the family trauma that gets passed down through the generations.
1. Princess Carolyn’s 40th birthday (Season 1, episode 7)
This is probably the first time the show really ups its emotional ante.
In “Say Anything”, Princess Carolyn goes to huge lengths to secure BoJack a job, only to get bluntly dismissed by him when she calls to tell him the good news.
As she finishes another long, totally fruitless day by staring out of her office window into the darkness of LA, her phone pings:
“Happy birthday, Princess Carolyn.”
“Thanks, phone,” she replies.
“You are, 40.”
It’s an understated, poignant insight into her life made even more sob-inducing by the addition of this perfect song choice:
2. Charlotte telling BoJack to leave (Season 2, episode 11)
BoJack’s attempt to outrun his unhappiness by staying with Charlotte in New Mexico has a particularly bleak ending — and the scene in which Charlotte kisses BoJack before asking him to leave is particularly desolate.
“Please don’t make me go to back to LA,” BoJack begs.
“I don’t care where you go, BoJack, but I can’t have you around here,” Charlotte replies. “You make me too sad.”
3. Todd and BoJack falling out (Season 3, episode 10)
In the show’s earlier seasons, Todd is more of a comic relief character — a whipping boy for BoJack to take out his daily frustrations on.
In Season 3, though, there’s a power shift. And after Todd discovers BoJack has slept with his friend Emily, it’s fitting that he’s the one to tell BoJack some home truths.
“You are all the things that are wrong with you,” says Todd. “It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the shitty things that happened to you in your career, or when you were a kid — it’s you.
“Alright? It’s you.
“Fuck, man. What else is there to say?”
4. Sarah Lynn’s death (Season 3, episode 11)
There’s a horrible, horrible inevitability to the Sarah Lynn episode in Season 3.
You know something bad is going to happen, but you’re not quite sure what. When it finally does, though — as BoJack and Sarah sit beneath a field of stars in the Griffith Observatory’s Planetarium — it’s done in exactly the type of subtle and disarming way that makes BoJack Horseman such an agonisingly brilliant show.
5. BoJack watching the horses run (Season 3, episode 12)
Each Season of BoJack Horseman has a memorable closing scene, but the final moments of Season 3 — when a deeply depressed BoJack slams on car brakes to watch a group of running horses in the desert — is touching in a way that’s hard to pin down.
6. The history of BoJack’s grandparents (Season 4, episode 2)
Normally any flashback scene involving BoJack’s family is fairly miserable, but the extended backstory of BoJack’s grandparents in Season 4, episode 2 is particularly upsetting.
It’s also very revealing. We finally see exactly why BoJack’s mother is so damaged, and understand part of the reason why she’s so unpleasant towards BoJack during his own childhood.
7. Hollyhock asking BoJack about the ‘tiny voice’ in her head (Season 4, episode 6)
This is the first of two examples in Season 4 of the show cleverly subverting the theme of an episode by adding a poignant little twist at the end.
This one centres around the voice in BoJack’s head that’s constantly telling him what a “stupid piece of shit” he is. In the final scene, as he joins Hollyhock by the pool, she describes how she suffers from exactly the same thing.
Then she asks him for reassurance that the voice will go away when she gets older.
And, of course, BoJack lies.
8. Princess Carolyn’s method for dealing with bad days (Season 4, episode 9)
Another theme-with-a-twist-ending episode, and another very bleak insight into the world of Princess Carolyn.
Throughout “Ruthie” we see glimpses of a miniature cat in the future giving her classmates a presentation about Princess Carolyn — her distant relative who, Ruthie says, managed to come out on top even after having one of the worst days of her life.
It’s only in the episode’s final scene that we get the dismal truth: Ruthie is nothing but a fantasy Princess Caroline uses to help herself cope. The happy ending isn’t going to come.
9. BoJack comforting his mother (Season 4, episode 11)
“Time’s arrow” is probably the single most devastating episode of the show so far.
It’s a disturbing insight into the world of someone suffering with dementia, but it’s also a demonstration of just how complex the show’s characters are; there’s no black and white, only grey. BoJack’s mother Beatrice isn’t an evil witch, she’s damaged; and BoJack, despite how badly his mother treats him, still isn’t immune to seeing her suffer.
The final scene, in which he spins a story to try and make her happy, is perhaps the most poignant moment in the entire show.
10. Mr Peanutbutter’s surprise for Diane (Season 4, episode 12)
This scene pretty much sums up Diane and Mr Peanutbutter’s relationship. Despite their love for each other and their best intentions, they’re fundamentally just very, very different.
After Mr Peanutbutter’s attempt to surprise Diane with her dream library goes badly wrong, she compares their marriage to a magic eye poster.
“It’s messy, and at first glance it doesn’t seem to make sense, and it’s hard to figure out,” she explains. “But sometimes, if you squint at it just right, everything lines up and it’s the most perfect, beautiful, amazing thing.”
“Yeah,” replies Mr Peanutbutter. “I know what you mean.”
Then, inevitably, Diane delivers the killer blow:
“But… I’m so tired of squinting.”
11. Hollyhock’s telephone conversation with BoJack (Season 4, episode 12)
After all that bleak, crushing sadness, we may as well end on a positive note.
The final conversation between Hollyhock and BoJack in Season 4 is very emotional, but this time in a good way.
Hollyhock ultimately accepts BoJack as a brother, and his expression before the end credits roll may well signify the biggest message of hope — at least for BoJack — that the show’s offered so far.
Still, Season 5 will almost certainly put paid to that.