Bojack Horseman: A Post-Watch Discussion
WARNING: If you don’t want spoilers, do not read this article. I will be spoiling some stuff as I talk about my thoughts and feelings on the show.
Welcome fellow internet folks. I hope you’re ready for a discussion about one of the greatest shows I’ve watched in recent history. I’m sure there are plenty of people here because they have certain opinions of the show themselves and to that I say: glad to have you here, but my thoughts may not match yours, so go in with that in mind. With all of that being said, let’s get into the roller coaster ride of shit known as Bojack Horseman.
So, the first thing I want to do is introduce you to the characters of the series, as they’re the focus of this show, as it is a sitcom after all.
Bojack Horseman, the title character, is probably the one you’re going to dislike the most throughout the series’ runtime, even if he’s a sympathetic person in the end. Don’t get me wrong, either, that isn’t a bad thing. Bojack is a washed-up actor, having gained fame back in the 90’s with a very successful TV show: Horsin’ Around. Now he’s a middle-aged, cynical, drunk, self-destructive version of his former self, searching for purpose in his life. Over the course of the show, we see him go from narcissistic, self-obsessed, yet self-hating individual to a more caring, self-aware man who comes to terms with the things he’s done wrong. His life is one of abuse, self-doubt, and depression. He drowns his problems in booze and drugs, committing self-destructive acts that usually wind up hurting the people closest to him. It gets so bad that he contributes heavily to the death of Sara Lynn, a struggling addict and the little girl that looked up to him back when they worked on the show together. There are many times during the series’ runtime that you’ll be yelling at Bojack for the things he does. I even started assuming that every situation he was a part of would end in a mistake on his part, and I was mostly right.
What makes him sympathetic is the circumstances that led him to be the way he is, and also his ability to see his issues and struggle to be better. He often goes in circles of getting better, only to fall into old habits again. He’s frustrating to watch at times, but by the series’ end, he grew on me immensely, even though he did still have a lot of growing to do.
Diane Nguyen is a woman in her thirties that winds up in Bojack’s life when she writes his biography. She’s a more grounded, caring person that serves as a sort of check to Bojack. She struggles with her own purpose and settles for a lot of things in her life, and that causes her to feel like something is always missing. Those feelings are very common for people her age, and as someone struggling in adulthood, I really appreciated and related to her. She feels like her lack of fulfillment is entirely her fault and tries to work with what she has, which is evidenced by how long she stays with Mr. Peanutbutter, despite the fact that the two don’t work as a couple. She’s also quite depressed, which allows her to sympathize and try to help Bojack, which generally does not work well for her. It’s not until the final season that we see her really overcome her depression with the help of her boyfriend and find some purpose in her life.
She’s the best example I’ve seen of a depressed young adult in any media and it made me really want the best for her. She’s also morally the best of the main cast: acting more with kindness and understanding rather than hate. That being said, she does still make some mistakes along the way. She’s a wonderful part of the cast and I’m so glad that she found happiness in the end.
Mr. Peanutbutter is another washed-up sitcom actor, having starred in the Horsin’ Around copy: Mr. Peanutbutter’s House. He comes off kind and full of energy, but that kindness is ignorant, as it doesn’t account for the wishes of other people. He thinks his way of doing things is the only way and has problems seeing things from other people’s perspectives. This is most apparent in his marriage with Diane, as whenever he tries to do something nice for her, he does something she doesn’t like. He also has a tendency to go for things that Diane is staunchly against, such as the Fracking debacle during his run for Mayor. He’s well-intentioned, but winds up mostly hurting people with his ignorance.
He also has a tendency to date younger women, who wind up growing resentful toward him. They grow, but Mr. Peanutbutter stays the same no matter how much older he gets, and it results in a loop of bad relationships. He does manage to get out of this by the end of the series once he’s called out, and I appreciate that he actually re-evaluates his life.
Princess Carolyn is another relatable character, as she’s a struggling woman pushing middle-age that feels like she’s racing against time to find happiness. She’s confident and hard working, but she struggles with her internal problems and feels like she has to solve everything herself, even when that’s a detriment to her. Her real goals are to start a family and settle down, but she’s so obsessed with her work that it makes it very hard for her to juggle everything. She can come off too cold and business-oriented at times, but she also does the right thing when push comes to shove and I appreciate that. She also tries her best to help Bojack, even when he hardly deserves it and I think that’s admirable to an extent.
Like most of the characters, she does get a good ending, being a mother and wife and settling down more. That being said, she is still a businesswoman, so some things never change.
Todd Chavez is the last character I want to go over. He’s an easy-going, imaginative, gold-hearted bum that goes from strange adventure to even stranger adventure. I personally think he’s the weakest character of the main cast, as he is rarely directly involved with things, but rather off doing his own stuff. That isn’t inherently bad, but he also feels like he changes the least throughout the series. The only struggle he really has is that he feels like a failure, which was brought on by his parents. He learns to feel good about himself and the life he’s chosen to live, even if it’s not what others thought was best for him.
With everything being said, he does have some genuinely funny moments in the show and tends to be light-hearted comedy relief the series desperately needs during its more depressing parts.
Now that our characters have been established, I’d like to mention the major themes around them.
The first theme is that of depression, which is prevalent through series with most of the main cast. Bojack’s depression comes from the myriad of mistakes he’s made and wanting to feel like he’s a good person. His depression is destructive and toxic, which makes him push away everyone around him until he’s left alone, which in turn makes him even more depressed. He’s in a vicious cycle that he tries to pull himself out of, only to fall back into the pit of despair that is his own mind. This comes from his parents mostly, who not only repeatedly told him that he was a mistake that never should have happened, but also introduced him to the coping methods he uses in current day: alcohol and drugs. At the end of the series, Bojack has gone to rehab and is sober through most of the 16 episode final season, with him going on one last bender that leaves him almost dead. It’s sad to watch him continue making the same mistakes over and over, especially when you see that he does want to be better. In the beginning, I thought I couldn’t feel empathy for him, but I was so wrong. I actually cried for him in the last season, and that’s mostly due to his circumstances and character that goes beyond his flaws.
Diane’s depression works a bit differently, with it creeping up on her after a lot of bad things taking place. Hers is like a cancer that spreads more as the series progresses, and you can see that taking place as she becomes more cynical and pessimistic while hiding behind a persona of being fine and pulled together. It comes to a head when she’s single again and trying to search for happiness, only to feel stuck where she is. That changes once she meets Guy, a camera man she works with, who she hits it off with. He encourages her to get on anti-depressants when she has a breakdown and this really helps her find peace. Her depression comes from a sense of stagnation and lack of purpose. She feels like she should be doing something to change the world, but winds up getting intimidated when the opportunity comes to her. Instead, she winds up writing teen detective novels that may not be life-changing, but can bring happiness to people in their own way. Her depression also comes from Bojack, who constantly pulls her down with him by leaning on her too heavily when things get rough. This results in her removing him from her life in the end, and I think that was the right call, even if it wasn’t easy.
Another prominent theme in the series is bad parenting, which all but Mr. Peanutbutter experience to varying degrees.
Bojack’s parents abused him and while he tried to be better than them, he wound up making a lot of the same mistakes they did. Diane’s family shunned her because she wasn’t like them, so they had a habit of making her the butt end of jokes, never taking her seriously, which in turn made her settle for the bare minimum positive treatment at times. Princess Carolyn’s family was poor and her mom put a lot of pressure on her to succeed and that caused her to work too hard and focus too little on life and her personal happiness. Todd’s parents didn’t like the way he lived his life and because of them, he considered himself a failure and took time to escape the shame pushed onto him by expectations he never wanted.
These factors are important to understand who these characters are and why they struggle in their specific ways. While their upbringing isn’t the only contributions to their life situations, they are big factors.
The last theme I’d like to talk about is addiction and suicide, as they both come up in tandem in the series more than once.
Bojack struggles with addiction throughout the entire series, as he uses it as an escape. However, almost every time he’s close to death, it can almost always be traced back to a bender. After his bender with Sara Lynn, which leads to her death by overdose, he goes on a drive where he attempts suicide, until he sees a group of horses just running. It gets him to stop, but only temporarily. Another example is the bender of the last season, where he gets drunk off his ass and winds up face-down in a pool passed out and almost drowns, only to just narrowly avoid it. Rehab does help him and he manages to go almost an entire season without relying on his addictions to get by, and it’s good to see him really try to break free. After his near-death experience, I’d like to believe that he’ll continue to be sober, fearing that if it happens again, he won’t get another chance at life.
A lot of his benders seem like attempts to just end his own life, as he does increasingly stupid things while inebriated. Bojack hates himself and his self-destructive behavior puts that on full display. It’s sad to watch, but I’m glad it’s shown so seriously in the series that it doesn’t shy away from showing that there is hope for those struggling with addiction.
I’d now like to take some time to praise the show for a lot of the things I consider unique to its approach.
The first is its ability to subvert expectations from other shows of its genre. It doesn’t shy away from hitting very dark, deeply disturbing subjects, such as sexual interactions with someone under-age that scars the girl, and showing abuse on full display. The show never feels like it needs to tie everything up in a bow by the end of an episode, either, which is a staple of sitcoms. Instead, it’ll end an episode at the lowest part of the narrative, leaving the viewer wanting to see how things progress in the next one. This show also doesn’t have strict character types like that of other sitcoms. Each character is deep, nuanced, and deeply flawed at times, instead of being a small amalgamation of stereotypes. It even parodies a lot of those tropes. Out of all shows I’ve seen in the sitcom genre, this one is the best by far.
Another thing that I don’t see often enough in shows is that characters have real, long-lasting consequences for their actions. A good example is when Bojack and Todd have a falling out. They interact with one another, but Todd always keeps his distance and keeps encounters short, with their relationship never fully recovering. Another is that Diane says that she doesn’t want Bojack in her life in the final episode and I think that’s reasonable given all he’s put her through. In other sitcoms, most things would go “back to normal”, but this show doesn’t do that.
The last unique characteristic of the show is with its opening, which changes with each season, and even has small changes from episode-to-episode to fit the events currently going on and the attention to detail is fantastic. It’s the most in-depth opening I’ve ever seen, with a lot of love and attention to detail being obvious to anyone paying attention. I would implore those watching it to never skip the opening and just pay attention to the changes. For me, it was another fantastic part of the show and it would be weird without it.
Bojack Horseman is a show that subverts all expectations and comes out swinging with some of the darkest subjects I’ve ever seen in a sitcom. It blew me away more and more with each episode I watched and I cannot give it enough compliments for its rich characters and relationships, as well as its genuine ability to make me laugh, even after watching something depressing.
While I’d say this show isn’t for everyone, as it can seem very cynical at times, I’d say give it a good try and see if it’s something you want to continue. For me, it’s a five-star series that I’ll be coming back to watch again in the future. It’s one of the best shows to come out in the last decade.