“And a Goober in a Pear Tree!”
And with that jovial line-reading, the entire spirit of the holidays, sitcoms, and manipulative Christmas themed episodes are encapsulated. The Netflix original series BoJack Horseman stars a misanthropic, washed up television star that is going through depression. Also he’s a horse. Because he was the star of a popular 90’s sitcom titled Horsin’ Around (which ran for 9 seasons), he essentially has an endless flow of money. In the world of BoJack Horseman, where the titular star has nothing but time, he finds himself to be lonely. For this reason, he allows this dead beat named Todd to live with him rent free. Todd is mostly this chipper weirdo that shamelessly mooches off BoJack’s hospitality, and while he does have a habit of being grating at times (much to BoJack’s annoyance) he is perfectly utilized here. Todd is just one of the elements this episode handles so well, since on the whole it is a masterstroke of comedy.
The set up to this particular Christmas special is BoJack sitting down with an insistent Todd to watch the very first Christmas special his show ever produced. The episode they’re watching, and the actual name of this particular Netflix special, is “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”, and we the audience get to watch it in its entirety. While there is some amusing commentary and asides from BoJack and Todd (perfectly cast as Will Arnett and Aaron Paul respectively), the main focus is strictly on the sitcom itself. Horsin’ Around has always been an important element to this show’s mythos, and there have been short clips of it shown in older episodes of this show, but never to this extent; and holy mother of God is this an absolute delight to watch. When it comes to sitcom parodies, this show nailed it better than anything else attempting to do the same. Not only is this head and shoulders the best episode of BoJack Horseman, this is some of the best comedic writing I’ve ever seen from any show this year. It was that good, and it’s apparent why.
When it comes to doing sitcom parodies, there are two approaches that most shows go by. They go waaaayyy over the top in terms of cheesiness as a way to mock actual 80’s sitcoms, or they just throw in a laugh track to bad jokes for a couple of minutes and call it a day. What BoJack Horseman did with “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish” is its own little Christmas miracle. They managed to make a fully functioning (and mostly believable) sitcom episode, litter it with believably cheesy 80’s jokes, repetitive (and super catchy) catchphrases, and actually have some legitimately entertaining and touching moments that make you understand why Horsin’ Around became such a hit in this show’s universe. Have you ever laughed at a joke and found yourself not knowing whether or not you are laughing because “it’s so bad it’s good” or because it was just a legitimately good joke? Until I watched “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish” I never had that sensation, but upon viewing this episode there were a few killer lines that really had me wondering (“On Dancer, on Prancer, on… Necromancer?”). As someone who has watched way too many sitcoms over the years, I’m still freaking out about how well they captured the spirit of these types of shows.
The soundtrack, the usage of laughtracks, “awwws” from the audience, “oooohhhhh” moments, and just about everything else you could expect from a sitcom’s atmosphere was pitch perfect. The characterization was perfect too. Kristen Schaal as Sarah Lynn as Sabrina was absolutely adorable (even I found myself getting excited upon hearing her catchphrase “That’s Too Much Man!”), Adam Conover (whose voice I immediately recognized from various Collegehumour videos) is pitch perfect as the know-it-all Ethan, and Alison Brie is spot on as the 90’s sitcom valley girl Olivia. And of course, BoJack himself starring as the “just-too-perfect” sitcom star Horse (who successfully balances being a father, having a career, and a love life), is so much fun to watch. The character of “Goober”, a lovable goofball who’s a friend of Horse’s adoptive family is a stroke of genius. This character has been done a thousand times in other sitcoms, but I don’t think any show has parodied the goofy and unwanted guest character before like this show. Everything we need to know about him can be gathered by the catchphrase “Go home Goober” the kids all developed in response to him. One thing “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish” is definitely not short on, is laughs, both from the “live studio audience” and from anyone viewing it.
This episode makes perfect use of commentary. BoJack’s confusion on some of his younger self’s more odd lines is delightful, Todd’s Die Hard/Family Matters theory was great, and that obnoxious member of the live studio audience’s inane comments had me cracking up every single time (“FIRE THAT JEW”). But the more meaningful conversations really help capture the heart of the holidays and cheesy sitcoms in general. This line from Todd directed at a depressed BoJack says everything you need to know about the show.
“It wasn’t all dumb BoJack. The episode where Sabrina had a black friend really started the conversation about racism, and the episode where Ethan looked directly at a solar-eclipse really started the conversation about not looking directly at a solar-eclipse!”
The heart and the humour is on full display here, and the surprisingly thoughtful discussion about morality and the nature of God between Horse and Sabrina is a stellar example of that. There are so many things I loved about this episode, and as I’m typing this I’m finding it is impossible to write them all down since new reasons just keep popping in my head. The cynicism about holiday specials that was beautifully outlined in the beginning by BoJack, the overwhelming charm his old sitcom has, and the ultimate message of being able to enjoy something so imperfect for something greater just gets to me. Sitcoms, like the holidays, are about celebrating connections. When we tuned in to watch shows like Friends, we did it in to spend time with the characters. We watch them every week because on some level we want to be right there hanging out at their coffee house. We know they’re not perfect, we know they say lame jokes sometimes or are occasionally offensive, but that connected feeling speaks to something deep within us all. No family is perfect and being forced to spend time with them during the holidays can be frustrating, but in the end there is something so rewarding and nice about exploring these bonds. The episode ends with the curmudgeon-y BoJack deciding to watch the other eight holiday specials of his sitcom with Todd, and I cannot think of a more fitting end to an amazing episode (except for maybe the magnificently stupid ending in the episode within the episode). I really don’t know what else to say besides “Go watch this episode!”, since it’s really that simple. I’ve already made this a holiday tradition, maybe you will too.
Quote of the Day:
“Christmas transaction complete”
-BoJack Horseman, BoJack Horseman