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Movies & TV

13th Sep 2018

A look back at BoJack Horseman’s ‘Fish Out Of Water’, one of the greatest episodes of TV ever made

We don't make that statement lightly.

Rory Cashin

We don’t make that statement lightly.

The new season of BoJack Horseman arrives en masse on Netflix this week for viewers to consume as quickly or as slowly as they like, but we would recommend that you go back a season to reacquaint yourself with the show.

BoJack Horseman isn’t your typical animated series, and can’t easily be identified alongside The Simpsons or Family Guy.

BoJack is dark. And while some other animated shows have tackled darkness in their way – Rick & Morty comes immediately to mind – none deal with it so regularly and, perversely, so realistically as this show about a washed up celebrity talking horse.

Netflix comedies have done a tremendous job of highlighting and normalising mental health issues – it is very clear that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress syndrome, Lady Dynamite hinges on the central character attempting to get a handle on her bi-polar disorder, and we’re not entirely sure if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been properly diagnosed yet but there’s definitely a reason why she descends into musical hallucinations once or twice an episode – and BoJack Horseman is another example of that.

By the time we get to ‘Fish Out Of Water’, we’ve already been with BoJack for two and a bit seasons, and by this point, the once-famous, then-washed up sit-com star is back on the rise with his comeback movie getting a lot of Oscar attention.

The plot of the episode finds BoJack talked into accompanying his movie at a big international film festival, which just happens to be at the bottom of the ocean. Once he gets down there, BoJack realises he doesn’t speak the language, not that it would matter anyway, because he’s wearing a soundproof helmet that allows him to breathe while he’s down there.

That should give you a heads up as to why ‘Fish Out Of Water’ stand out from the rest of the brilliant series – a show that sells itself on clever scripts and A-list voice actors, gone completely mute. The artistic merits of attempting to pull this off are through the roof, but the heartbreaking story it manages to get across without saying a word is why the episode is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Anyone who has ever seen Lost In Translation will probably find a lot of similarities (complete with oddly translated adverts), but this goes beyond that, by not giving BoJack an equally submerged ally, and his new circumstances take away everything that would normally help him deal with a situation he is ill-equipped to deal with: alcohol just floats away, cigarettes can’t light and won’t get into his helmet anyway, and there’s nobody around for him to understand the insults he wants to fling at them.

For that is what ‘Fish Out Of Water’ is really dealing with: the things left unsaid.

BoJack ends up getting caught up with a baby seahorse, and with the newborn (and equally incapable of speech), he tries to reunite it with its father, only for the parent to nonchalantly shrug it back into the family, barely noticing that the baby had been missing in the first place.

Looking for another emotional outlet, BoJack tries to apologise to an old friend (who, in other episodes, is voiced by Maria Bamford, the lead actress in Lady Dynamite) that had taken a career risk by hiring him for the now awards-baiting movie, but the letter he tries to write, while filled with some fully blown epiphanies and heartfelt revelations, are also left unsaid as the ink runs and smudges and the apology note is left completely unreadable.

BoJack is a character that deals with alienation and isolation in his everyday life by the own walls his puts up to those who attempt to get close to him, so when dumped into a world where the walls are forced to come crumbling down, that same sense of alienation and isolation bring the best out in him: reuniting a family and apologising for past mistakes.

And then, just as you think the episode is done making its point, BoJack is in a queue for a taxi, and another bottom-of-the-sea dweller angrily snaps at him. With words. And BoJack realises that there was a button on the side of his helmet, one that would have allowed him to talk this entire time.

Attempting to describe to someone just why ‘Fish Out Of Water’ was among the greatest episodes of TV of 2016, of the last decade, or of all time (depending on just how strongly you felt about it) is next to impossible.

22 minutes of practically no dialogue, telling the story of a horse who tries to find himself at the bottom of the sea sounds like the kind of arthouse nightmare most people would try to stir clear from.

In this case though, it just proves how forward-thinking, emotionally-powerful and yet, somehow, still hilarious BoJack Horseman is.

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