“BoJack Horseman” is a weird show. With a talking horse as our protagonist, various interspecies relationships and ridiculous tongue twisters every episode (such as get Hippopopalous and topple the acropolis of monstrous hypocrisy that ensconces us), the sheer absurdity of the series implies a slapstick comedy, rife with inside jokes and animal puns. Yet, though the show never fails to deliver with its bizarre humor, the comedic quality isn’t reminiscent of the feel-good nature of “Bob’s Burgers” or the wit of “Rick and Morty.” Instead, “Bojack Horseman” uses its pink cats and cheerful golden retrievers to deliver a brutally honest portrait of mental illness, addiction and the power dynamics ingrained in Hollywood culture.
Since the show first premiered in 2014, its six seasons refused to shy away from the harsh, depressing reality of present day media. Our protagonist BoJack is no exception to this unsparing portrayal, as a washed up T.V. star coping with the loss of his glory days with alcoholism and barely functioning due to depression and self hatred. Throughout the six seasons of the show, BoJack has done some truly awful things, using his fame to manipulate others and inadvertently hurting those who care about him. Yet viewers identify with him and understand how his childhood trauma and addiction hinders his development into a better person. While the show never justifies his actions, it paints a picture of a man desperately trying to improve, held back by crippling depression and a lack of personal and social accountability. This three dimensionality allows the audience to both empathize with BoJack and reconsider how to move past their own worst decisions.
Viewers also empathize with BoJack’s best friend Diane Ngyuen, a socially active writer, who embodies the confusing intersection between “woke” social media and a cancel culture that never truly succeeds in sparking personal change or societal improvement. Her commitment to calling out damaging behavior in Hollywood is clearly in conflict with her friendship with Bojack. This depicts a problem that many social activists identify with today: an inability to live up to your own high standards of social justice.
“BoJack Horseman” effectively portrays mental illness and the challenges of navigating today’s socially complicated world, while acknowledging its own faults through the story through with characters constantly questioning whether having toxic characters in successful media glorifies or justifies their behavior. BoJack Horseman, both the character and the show, walk a fine line on the concept of glorification, showcasing the reality of harmful behavior without showing it in a positive light.
Netflix has split the last season into two halves, with the first released in October and the second due in January. The first half of season 6 stays true to what “BoJack Horseman” does best: each character is a three-dimensional representation of someone working to maintain their personal values among the corruption of Hollywood and the difficulties of mental illness.
The show doesn’t create its own commentary; instead, it grapples with complex questions without providing a clear answer. How can media accurately portray violent and toxic men without glorifying them? Should society “cancel” celebrities for their actions or should they be allowed to self improve? Are mental illness and substance abuse ever an excuse for hurtful actions? Is there any way to forgive yourself or other people for causing irreparable trauma?
While the show is easily one of my favorite television series of all time, the story of BoJack isn’t one that is easy to watch. The characters aren’t ones you can glorify or be proud of. With every episode, I continually struggle between wanting BoJack to be punished for his actions and hoping that he will be redeemed into a good person by the end of the series. As the series comes to a close in January, I know that the creators of the show won’t choose either black and white option. If “BoJack Horseman” is to conclude in a continual vein as the first half of the last season, January’s release will only further this nuanced story of personal and social accountability under the scathing spotlight of Hollywood media.
Image Credit: The Verge