BoJack Horseman Season 1 Episode 13 Review: “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”

BoJack Horseman Christmas Special

I think we can all agree with BoJack when he tells Todd Christmas specials are the worst – but can we also not agree with Todd when his reply to BoJack’s cynical rant is “I like it when people on TV hug each other”? Therein lies the beauty of BoJack Horseman‘s surprise Christmas special, dropped on Netflix today with no previous announcement.

And what a Christmas surprise it is: although the episode spends its entirety in the fictional world of Horsin’ Around, “Christmas Special” is very much in life with the existential second half of BoJack’s first season, when thin Hollywoo satire took a sharp left hand turn into dark character exploration. Like many of those late-season episodes, “Christmas Special” is operating on many levels, from the superficial satire of multi-cam sitcoms to the deeper, much more sobering discussion of faith and the realities of our existence, creating an absurdly clever bridge from the show’s first season, and what lies ahead in BoJack’s journey of self-redemption in season two.

As a rip on studio comedies, “Christmas Special” hits a bunch of familiar notes with the same twisted pizzazz that has become its trademark, highlighted by Bradley Hitler-Smith’s increasingly desperate attempts to gain audience favor with his “catchphrase”, landing like an absolute dud every time. The jokes are what one would expect from a satire of its type from intelligent writers; the real meaning of the twenty-minute journey into Horsin’ Around proves two-fold in the end. The obvious is in the story’s resolution: when Horse can’t bring Sabrina’s parents back from the dead for Christmas (obviously), he explains to her that Santa isn’t real, an idea manifested to coerce us into believing nonsensical things, in some abstract pursuit of “good”-ness that’s only really measurable by our own actions.

A closer look at the ending moments reveal the cynical, darker side of BoJack‘s brand of cathartic storytelling: Horse tells Sabrina that a person’s only prerogative to be good is to be good; there are no rewards that come with it, no avalanche of gifts or kingdom in the sky awaiting after a life of dedication to the art of being well-behaved. In one fell swoop, BoJack states its atheist beliefs, doubling down on the tale of redemption at the show’s heart – and it makes for a fantastically morbid resolution, when Horse exclaims “Your parents dying is the best thing that ever happened to me!”, reinforcing the inherent selfishness that many of our “selfless” acts during the holiday actually are.

Yes, the resolution is awesome; but the most interesting part of the episode is when Horse proclaims there to be no Santa, insisting that people can only be good when they want to be good. Sound familiar? It should: BoJack is a story of one man coming to terms with who he was, is, and is going to become – and for him to reconcile with himself his various failures in life (like letting Mr. Peanutbutter marry the girl he loves, or ruining the most important friendship in his life), he has to seek forgiveness from himself. As Herb, Diane, Princess Caroline, and Sarah Lynn have proved, BoJack can’t fix himself by helping others, making self-serving repairs to relationships, or sabotaging anything promising in his life: he has to sit down and forgive himself, because there’s no God in the world to absolve him of what he did.

That’s the nature of the past: what is done cannot be undone. Until we come to terms with that, it’s impossible to heal: the same rings true for BoJack, who appears to be having a minor relapse whenever post-season one this episode takes place. He’s desperately begging Todd to stay and watch more holiday episodes (which isn’t too hard to convince him to do), and he’s drinking a lot (even for a horse, who need to drink more, according to BoJack), forcing himself to revisit the time of his life that continues to haunt him in the present. It’s an act of self-torture in many ways, and BoJack subtly suggests that Todd is the only thing keeping him together during his personal crisis, the one hanging thread BoJack has during Christmas to hold onto – and in the most pleasant turn of the episode, allows him a moment of peace when Todd decides to stay with him.

Wrapped in a very funny if on-the-nose satire of Special Holiday Episodes of sitcoms (and Todd’s relentless optimism/never-ending candy cane), “Christmas Special” is another in a growing line of experimental narrative forms for BoJack Horseman – and thanks to the final five minutes, another wildly successful storytelling venture for show creator and writer for the special, Raphael Bob-Waksberg. And more importantly, it leaves me even more intrigued for BoJack to return in season two: will he finally look inward and forgive himself, or will he continue to sabotage his journey to redemption? Only time will tell; tonight, BoJack ends the most surprising show of 2014 with one of the best holiday “specials” in recent memory.

Photo via Netflix

Thanks for reading! How would you rate this article?

Click on a star to rate it!

/ 5.

Tell us what's wrong with this post? How could we improve it? :)

Let us improve this post!