Netflix has officially arrived! For the first time we are doing a Netflix-only Christmas Special at The Christmas Spot. I know the streaming company has been waiting patiently for such an honor, and I would like to thank them for the “Christmas Bonus” they sent my way to get this up.
Netflix has changed the way we consume content. While television once operated on a weekly schedule in seasonal formats now it basically arrives like an avalanche at all times of year. Netflix was first just in the business of loaning out DVDs by mail to consumers providing a new way to rent movies as opposed to heading out to Blockbuster or whatever local rental place may have been nearby. Now Netflix is a content producer and it unleashes it all upon viewers via its on demand streaming network. If the mark of a true success is imitation, then Netflix is one of the greatest success stories engineered by humanity since streaming services keep popping up like weeds all around. And for the most part, all of them resemble Netflix with little deviation. The only one to really start doing anything different is Disney+ which is trying to bring back the weekly release schedule. So far so good for Disney, but it will be interesting if consumers demand that Disney give into “The Binge” and force a change.
One of Netflix’s earliest success stories in the field of animation is BoJack Horseman. The show was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and stars Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Paul F. Tompkins, and Aaron Paul with both Arnett and Paul also receiving Executive Producer credits as well. The show takes place in a fictional version of the US in which humans live alongside human-animal hybrids. The show almost never explicitly draws attention to that fact as character’s just accept everything at face value and the various different species all seem to interbreed, though there aren’t any weird hybrids that I’ve noticed. The main character is BoJack Horseman, a former actor who starred in a Full House styled sitcom in the late 80s/early 90s in which he played the lead role of the Horse who took in three orphans. Titled Horsin’ Around, it’s understood the show was terrible, but it’s BoJack’s only claim to fame and even though it made him fabulously wealthy he’s really depressed over the fact that it’s all anyone will ever know him for.
The show recently released the first half of what will be its sixth and final season. Most Netflix shows rarely reach a sixth season so it’s not a surprise the show is set to wrap-up soon, but it comes with some bad timing since the employees at production company Tornante Television recently voted in favor of unionizing. Almost immediately, another Tornante program was cancelled by Netflix and with BoJack set to end in January it’s possible Netflix will distance itself from Tornante, which is a real shame. While the shows are a bit ugly, they’re quite smart and the minimalist animation works for the material since this is more of a sitcom styled show as opposed to some wacky, animated, adventure.
One thing I do enjoy about Netflix is its propensity for Christmas Specials. It seems like every Netflix original has a Christmas Special so when a show doesn’t it’s actually surprising (looking at you Disenchantment). BoJack Horseman is no exception as the show’s Christmas Special arrived not long after season one in the form of BoJack’s Christmas Special – “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish.” The character of Sabrina refers to a character from Horsin’ Around played by the fictional actress Sarah Lynn. This episode is basically just BoJack and his house guest Todd watching a Christmas themed episode of Horsin’ Around for their amusement, and because the two have no one else to spend Christmas with.
The episode begins with BoJack (Will Arnett) being rudely woken up by Todd (Aaron Paul) who has burst into his room singing Christmas carols while wielding a giant candy cane. He also boasts, as part of his song, that he’s pretty loaded and BoJack is quite grumpy about being woken up. He doesn’t care that it’s Christmas, and mostly just wants Todd to leave. He informs Todd he didn’t get him anything, but that’s no problem as Todd reveals he used BoJack’s credit card to buy himself a new hat for Christmas, which looks exactly like his old hat.
Todd then brings up the subject of watching a Christmas edition of Horsin’ Around as a way to celebrate the holiday. BoJack, who normally never turns down an invitation to watch Horsin’ Around, isn’t onboard as he states Christmas Specials are just manipulative pieces of trash that aren’t worth watching. Todd insists that this is the best way to spend the holiday and eventually BoJack relents. They both sit on the edge of BoJack’s bed as Todd inserts the DVD into the player to get things started.
We’re then treated to the entire opening credits of Horsin’ Around. It’s at this point I realize this episode of BoJack Horseman is probably going to largely be an episode of Horsin’ Around. After the cleverly cheesy credits finish, the sitcom begins with the Horse sitting down for breakfast. His oldest daughter, Olivia (Alison Brie), is making breakfast while son Ethan (Adam Conover) reads the newspaper. We soon learn this behavior is out of character for Olivia as BoJack’s character points it out. Anytime a bad joke is uttered there’s an over-the-top laugh track from a “live studio audience” to really make this feel like an 80s sitcom. Olivia is angling for a leather jacket for Christmas so she looks cool on some dude’s motorcycle. Ethan, by comparison, points out he sees no need for fashionable attire and would prefer some functional, warm, socks. He’s supposed to be a nerdy character with a dash of Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.
Sabrina (Kristen Schaal) soon enters and the Horse sees her as a vessel for some holiday cheer since she’s the youngest of the three orphans. BoJack explains Christmas and the concept of Santa to the girl who has no concept of anything, which is laughable even for an orphan, but the show plays it straight. Sabrina is the sassy young girl character, basically Michelle from Full House, and she’s armed with a catchphrase that she gets to use twice in one scene – “That’s too much, man!” It’s actually a clever little piece of writing as she first uses it as a catch phrase then repeats it when she finds out Santa is always watching. One guy in the “studio audience” really seems to like it. Ethan then tries out his catchphrase, “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to no reaction from the other characters or the studio audience. The Horse then tells the kids their Christmas will be a thousand times better than the ones they’ve had before. Since they’ve never had a Christmas, Ethan points out a thousand times zero is still zero prompting the Horse to deliver a playful noogie while imitating an Italian mob boss, a joke the show will return to.
We then shift settings with the Horse going to work. He apparently works at a law firm and as he approaches the secretary, Tracy (Nicole Sullivan), the two exchange some playful flirting that takes a bit of a creepy turn when the Horse makes a comment about his underwear. The Horse is trying to get ahead on work stuff with his boss, Mr. Liberatore (Stanley Tucci), so he doesn’t have to work on Christmas. He then starts speaking ill of his boss to Tracy as she makes gestures trying to quiet him. When he realizes what’s going on he says “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” but he’s actually not, rather he’s been on speaker the whole time and heard everything. He’s not too upset though and informs the Horse a Mr. Goldstein is coming in on Christmas and if Horse wants to make partner he needs to show that kind of initiative. When the Horse points out that Goldstein is Jewish, Mr. Liberatore reacts with surprise and then remarks under his breath that the boys at the country club won’t like that. He then tells the Horse he can spend Christmas morning with his kids, but he expects him to come to work that afternoon. As the call ends, the Horse hangs his head in despair.
Back at the house, Olivia and Ethan are reading magazines on the couch. When Olivia remarks that it’s too quiet, and Ethan agrees, that’s the cue for the wacky neighbor character to come bursting in unannounced. He’s known as the Goober (Fred Savage), and he’s essentially a male version of Kimmy from Full House who also has a crush on Olivia, so I guess that makes him a bit like Urkel too. He’s dressed as Santa and he tells the kids the Horse invited him over to help make Sabrina’s Christmas a magical one. When Horse and Sabrina enter, she sniffs out the disguise immediately and quite literally since he apparently wears a very fragrant cologne.
Todd interjects with an “Oh, Goober,” which earns him the ire of BoJack who appears to be getting into this episode of Horsin’ Around. When Todd points out as much, BoJack gets defensive and asks why they’re doing this again. Todd remarks that it’s tradition to watch bad TV at Christmas, and when BoJack disagrees Todd states “Things don’t become traditions because they’re good, BoJack, they become good because they’re traditions.” BoJack points out you can’t sound smart just by repeating things backwards, but Todd uses the same technique in response which further frustrates BoJack. Todd then changes the subject by saying he can’t believe Groober went and molested a bunch of Laker girls. BoJack, who is quite protective of his former show, gets upset and points out that Goober did no such thing, the actor who played Goober did those horrible things. BoJack then takes a swig from his flask as Todd points out this is nice. He disagrees and tells him to shut up and resumes Horsin’ Around.
Goober drops the act and goes with the old line that he actually works for Santa and can put in a good word. Sabrina has the whole gift thing explained to her again, and she starts asking for mundane items. The Horse really wants her to aim big though, so she does by asking Santa to return her dead parents to her for Christmas. Cue the sad music and dejected postures. Todd then tells BoJack he’s a really good actor which just annoys BoJack. This somehow leads to an argument about Die Hard and how John McClane’s cop helper (played by Reginald VelJohnson) was the cop from Family Matters, according to Todd. BoJack explains it was just the same actor and the cop characters are from different cities. Todd counters with Witness Protection and BoJack just screams into his pillow in frustration.
Back on TV, the Horse can’t believe he has to work on Christmas and he ends up demonstrating some dance moves for Olivia in the kitchen. Sabrina then enters after shoveling the walk and we see she’s doing her best to be extra good so Santa will get her what she wants for Christmas. The Horse tries to explain how the Santa thing works, but Sabrina doesn’t get it and still clings to the notion that Santa can return her parents. When she leaves, the Horse voices his concerns to Ethan and Olivia as he tries to figure out a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve him telling Sabrina that Santa isn’t real. When Olivia asks if they’re sure Santa can’t raise the dead, Ethan has the line of the show, “On Dancer, on Prancer, on Necromancer.”
The subject of tricking Sabrina into doing something naughty so that Santa doesn’t bring her anything is then raised by Olivia, but the Horse insists he can’t play such a trick on her. As he repeats himself over and over we eventually cut to Sabrina watching over a plate of cookies. The Horse explains they’re for Santa and needs her to guard them. He leaves her alone and then he and the other two watch from behind the door as Sabrina resists the temptation to eat the cookies. Olivia scolds the Horse for not leaving some milk as no one wants to eat cookies without milk!
Christmas morning arrives and Ethan is quite happy to receive sensible winter socks. Olivia excitedly opens her gift and the Horse teases she’ll need it for when she rides on that motorcycle, only she opens the box to find a helmet. Sabrina opens her gift and finds a playset she had initially asked for before she was provoked into thinking bigger. She’s disappointed, and as it looks like she’s about to cry that smart ass Ethan chimes in with a “And cue the water works in thirty, twenty-nine…” prompting BoJack to hit the fast forward button on the remote. When Ethan’s absurdly long countdown is concluded, Sabrina discovers a letter on the tree that’s apparently intended for her. She somehow knows that, but then reveals she can’t read! She hands the letter to the Horse who reads it aloud for her. It’s a letter from her parents in Heaven, and they’re sorry they can’t be there, but they love her and all of that stuff. This only makes things worse as Sabrina gets angry and reminds everyone she wanted her parents, not a letter. She then tells everyone she hates Santa, and Christmas, and a bunch of other stuff as she storms off to her room.
The Horse enters Sabrina’s room for the big talk. You know, that contrivance that ended basically every episode of Full House. It progresses like the usual sappy talk but then takes an odd turn when the Horse admits that Santa is made up after he becomes frustrated with Sabrina’s misunderstanding of the whole scheme. He tells Sabrina that Santa comes from good intentions, but since he’s fake he can’t bring her parents back. Sabrina takes it all in stride, and really she should since a few days ago she had apparently never heard of this Santa fellow. Then the conversation takes a dark turn. As the Horse explains how he never expected to be in this situation, but wants to express that he’s happy he ended up this way, he basically says he’s glad her parents are dead. Sabrina then shockingly agrees, and the two hug it out. The Horse then gives her a present from him, some pencils with her name on them which was her initial gift request. She reveals in the moment that she can’t even read her own name, which is rather sad since my three-year old can pull that off. Sabrina then heads back downstairs, but before the Horse follows he calls his boss to tell him he won’t be coming in at all today. Mr. Liberatore is proud of the guts the Horse displayed in calling him and gives him a promotion to partner in return because it’s Christmas! He also says Goldstein can work somewhere else if he wants to work on Christmas prompting the excitable member of the studio audience to scream, “Fire that Jew!”
Back downstairs, Sabrina is happily playing with her new pony toy and her pencils. Olivia asks the Horse how he got her to come back down and he returns to the Italian mob boss voice and says he “Made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.” They have a laugh and Ethan tries his catchphrase again. He once again gets no reaction from the studio audience, while the actors look embarrassed for him. Olivia then compliments the Horse on his idea for writing a letter from Sabrina’s parents. He tells her he didn’t do it while she and Ethan deny responsibility. The camera then pans to the star tree topper and we hear a “Ho ho ho!” as the episode within the episode ends.
Todd then expresses confusion to BoJack about who wrote the letter. He points out the laughter at the end suggests Santa wrote it which further confuses Todd as he asks if Santa is real in this fictitious world. BoJack then gets frustrated and says they were all on cocaine when they made the show. BoJack then says he can’t believe he wasted nine years of his life on that show. Todd tries to cheer him up and points out two episodes in particular in which Sabrina befriended a black person and Ethan learned a valuable lesson about not staring directly into a solar eclipse. He then says he liked spending part of his Christmas with BoJack and wishes him a Merry Christmas. He gets up to leave when BoJack points out there are eight other Christmas episode of Horsin’ Around. He somewhat shyly asks Todd if he wants to watch more. Todd finishes off his giant candy cane and then pulls out another as he’s eager to watch more. They climb into bed to and Todd then asks if they can do other Christmas things and lists them off: get a tree, make snow angels, drink eggnog, etc. BoJack says no to everything except drinking bourbon as the credits hit.
No one would watch an episode of Full House and call it a well-written show. However, there is an artform to writing intentionally bad scripts with sincerity. That’s why this episode of BoJack Horseman ultimately works. Horsin’ Around comes across with an authentic earnestness that makes it believable as a corny sitcom. The bad jokes are ironically funny and the character archetypes are well-executed parodies to the point where they feel natural. The only joke within the joke I felt got old was the one audience member who would shout out the obvious. That part felt like a Family Guy gag, but I’ll admit he got me with his “Fire the Jew!” remark so I guess he proved his worth in the end.
And speaking of the end, that final conversation between the Horse and Sabrina helped make the episode. Seeing the two stumble into a conversation that included the phrase “I’m glad your parents are dead and never coming back,” is well-executed dark humor. They play it so straight leading up to that point and after that it works as a piece of shock humor without feeling cheap. It helps that Todd and BoJack, who interject little comments all episode, don’t even react to it and draw attention to it further selling the show’s attempted sincerity by implying that its audience is totally accepting of it.
The Todd and BoJack dynamic from season one is on full display here. It’s a pairing that worked really well in the show that is sadly no longer really a part of the later seasons. Todd annoys BoJack and appears to be a leach since he just lives in BoJack’s house rent free. The relationship is more like the other way around though as BoJack needs Todd around to hide from his own demons and provide a distraction. It gives him an easy target too as he can blame some things on Todd rather than himself. During the episode Todd’s candy cane gets progressively smaller while beer cans pile up around BoJack. It’s a nice piece of visual comedy and there is some genuine sweetness to the episode’s end with both characters eager to watch more Christmas specials.
Since this show is basically a dark comedy, there aren’t many genuine Christmas feels to find and exploit. Horsin’ Around is almost so effective at evoking bad sitcoms that it almost pulls off a sappy Christmas vibe, but that ending turns it upside down. We never get a glimpse of Santa besides Goober and there’s just a little holiday decorating going on in Horsin’ Around. The scenes in BoJack’s bedroom contain little or no Christmas flair, aside from Todd’s candy cane, so this isn’t the sort of special you turn to expecting something sugary. It does provide some laughs, but not really laugh out loud moments. If you’re the sort of person that prefers Bad Santa to It’s a Wonderful Life then this is probably for you.
If you want to catch the BoJack Horseman Christmas Special then your best and most convenient option is Netflix. The show was also made available on DVD and Blu Ray so you have that option as well. Comedy Central did show the first season and I am unsure if they have the rights to the Christmas episode. It doesn’t hurt to look I suppose and if I come across it I’ll update this post. The show as a whole is worth exploring so I do recommend this episode. It basically exists outside the show’s usual continuity and I think it’s more rewarding for those who have at least watched the first season, but there’s enough good character work here that I think you could just drop in and enjoy it as well. It’s not for everyone though.