The Animation Corner: BoJack Horseman

BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM | ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST

Whenever somebody asks me to explain why I like Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman,” I always feel a little uncomfortable. Saying I watch a show about a horse who overdoses on alcohol, depression and pining for his glory years as a B-level television actor might make people concerned about my own well-being.

And trying to describe the show is nearly impossible. Simply labeling it as cynical and pessimistic neglects the comedy that relies on irony and sharply written dialogue. Stating that the show is offensive and inappropriate belies the ingenious satire and poignant meditation on American society. And while calling all the characters self-indulgent and incorrigible may be accurate, it doesn’t do justice to their significant emotional resonance.

The truth is, “BoJack Horseman” is all those things—funny, depressing, shocking. But most of all, complex. It makes me think. About my life. About other people’s. About life itself. And then I wonder: how in the world did one of the most despicable characters ever created make me this introspective?

On paper, BoJack is somebody for whom I should never feel empathy. He regularly goes on drug benders, sabotages friends’ career opportunities and purposely isolates himself through vulgarity that borderlines on addiction. He’s akin to the Shakespearean King Lear, who shakes his fist at the torrential storm, but is neither able to shift the wind’s patterns nor fully comprehend his own part in its downfall. BoJack, perhaps, is best summarized by a quote in season 3 in which another character tells him: “When you do bad things, you have something you can point to when people eventually leave you. It’s not you, you tell yourself, it’s that bad thing you did.”

The hardest part about watching BoJack self-destruct is how real his character feels. He has very few established relationships—Princess Carolyn, a pink cat and Hollywood agent; Diane, a socially awkward ghostwriter; Todd, BoJack’s unemployed bumbling roommate; and Mr. Peanutbutter, a yellow Labrador Retriever and fellow Hollywood actor—and none really fit the mold of friendship. Everything that BoJack does seems to be a paradoxical desire to simultaneously conserve and splinter his relationships, hoping to affirm or disprove his worst fears about himself but fearing the answer. And what makes BoJack uncomfortably close to reality is that his fears of rejection, isolation, loving/losing, and irrelevance are the same exact fears other people have.

Maybe that’s what “BoJack Horseman” has been about all along. Depicting life as a delicate imbalance between fear and change. There’s a desire to want life to stay the same, because even though the way things were might not necessarily be happy, there is a fear that the future might be more unbearable or even worse: change forces people to confront a part of themselves that they’re not ready to acknowledge.

The series brilliantly picks apart BoJack’s reality and forces him to reconcile the horse he was in the past and the horse he wishes he could be. Each of the show’s three seasons is defined by a progression in BoJack’s reality. Season 1: understanding by BoJack he needs to change. Season 2: attempt by BoJack to change. Season 3: acceptance by BoJack that he cannot change.

In short, the next time somebody asks me why I like “BoJack Horseman,” I’ll simply respond that it’s a show about a horse who overdoses on alcohol, depression and pining for his glory years as a B-level television actor. What’s not to like?

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One thought on “The Animation Corner: BoJack Horseman

  1. One of the best writeups I’ve read about Bojack, especially the overall themes of each season. I’d be interested in your thoughts as to what Season 4 will bring. I wonder if Bojack will undergo professional treatment for his addictions, and therapy for everything else. One of my concerns with Mad Men is that Draper never got formal help for his issues. What about Bojack? (As a parent, I’d be disappointed if the series suggests salvation through parenthood.)

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