I recently started watching Netflix’s original cartoon entitled BoJack Horseman. My brother recommended the show, and I thought maybe it was a Family Guy-esque show with anthropomorphic animals as characters. It turns out I was dead wrong, and, after three days of binge-watching the show, I realized exactly how much I needed it in my life.
If you’re anything like me (and many people in our generation) you’ve got anxiety about where you’re going next in life and if you’ve accomplished some of the things you had hoped to by this point; you’re a little bit depressed and a lot cynical; you’ve started to understand that sometimes there are people with no good in them; you also started to understand that there are people who are broken and make self-destructive choices in an attempt to numb their pain; you’ve wondered if, after all of your mistakes, it’s too late to be better. BoJack Horseman attacks all of the feelings we have about life in a way that begs the question, “Exactly how much of this show is comedy?” The answer to that question is this: The entire show is comedy, and sometimes we, the viewers, are the joke.
BoJack Horseman provides the type of comedy that makes us laugh at ourselves and our entire world. It forces us to consider who we are while giving us room to laugh at antics of the characters that seem to make so many of the same mistakes the rest of us do. BoJack Horseman isn’t the type of funny that makes you call up your friends and repeat punchlines. BoJack Horseman is the type of funny that makes the weight of the world just a little bit lighter by exposing the dark realities many of us experience.
BoJack, voiced by Will Arnett, gives us the character we’ve all been waiting for. He’s a washed-up, alcoholic, drug addicted, cynical celebrity trying to find his place in the world. He questions many times what kind of person he is and if he will ever redeem himself. His parents hated each other and neglected him while he was growing up. In an attempt to find himself and success again, he hires a ghost-writer, Diane, to help him complete his memoirs.
Diane, a human, is painted as an awkward, Schopenhauerian pessimist with her own family issues, and she constantly mentions how much she dislikes parties because she never knows what to do with her hands; But we also see her intelligence, her yearning to find a success that might make her family proud of her, and her want to make an impact on the world. Diane is the girlfriend of Mr. Peanut Butter, another anthropomorphic character. Mr. Peanut Butter is a dog who became a celebrity shorty after BoJack, and it is mentioned many times that Mr. Peanut Butter consistently rips-off BoJack’s ideas. BoJack thinks Mr. Peanut Butter is disillusioned and is often annoyed by his obliviousness and naivety. We also get to see characters like Todd, a human who lives rent-free with BoJack because he was kicked out of his home by his parents for his “lifestyle” which included binge-playing video games and getting high, and Princess Caroline, a cat that desperately wants to find love as she ages and so she compulsively takes care of those around her, usually getting hurt in the process, and ending in her channeling all of her energy into her career as BoJack’s agent.
Through these characters, we get to ask some important questions and hear some insightful, sometimes honest-to-a-fault answers. My personal favorite so far has been the question, “How do you not be sad??” A young BoJack sent this question to his hero and famed racehorse, Secretariat. BoJack begins by saying that even though he is a good kid who likes school, he gets sad sometimes. The question personally hit home because I have struggled with depression for a really long time, and I think that once you start getting older, you understand that certain types of sadness never really go away, and BoJack’s character certainly stays true to that. Secretariat’s response is even more peculiar in its raw honesty. He replies with, “BoJack, when you get sad, you run straight ahead and you keep running forward, no matter what. There are people in your life who are gonna try to hold you back, slow you down, but you don’t let them. Don’t you stop running and don’t you ever look behind you. There’s nothing for you behind you. All that exists is what’s ahead.”
Early on in the first season we also have a great moment where BoJack has a bit of a monologue about America’s views and treatment of its military, the American war mentality, and mainstream media. He argues over muffins with Neal McBeal, who is a Seal (both animal and Navy) said to have just returned from war. The media responds to BoJack’s treatment of McBeal in outrage, and the country erupts in hatred for BoJack whom everyone now believes hates veterans and doesn’t think they are heroes. There is also a lot of subtle commentary here about the mainstream media latching onto stories and blowing things out of proportion and encouraging a mob mentality, but I digress. BoJack’s friends and agent finally convince him to go on air, on Mr. Peanut Butter’s reality TV show, and apologize to the seal so that he can fix some of his extremely tarnished reputation. There is a whole plan here, and it all pretty much goes wrong, but the most important part is BoJack saying the following, “You’re a hero. The troops are all heroes, every single one…And I don’t believe saying that cheapens the word and actually disrespects those we mean to honor by turning real people into political pawns…Also, I am not deeply ambivalent about a seemingly mandated celebration of our military by a nation that claims to value peace telling our children that violence is never the answer while refusing to hold our own government to the same standard…Furthermore, I do not find it unbelievably appropriate that this conversation is taking place on reality television, a genre which thrives on chopping the complexities of our era into easily digestible chunks of empty catchphrases.” People eventually tune out towards the end, which I took as a more subtle statement about the general populous being pretty much ignorant of most of the issues pointed out in BoJack’s monologue. No one cared about the troops or veterans in the show until the media told them to care, and once the media stopped caring, everyone was once again victim to their own ignorance.
Lastly, there is the big question we all sometimes ask ourselves: “Do you think I am a good person, deep down?” BoJack asks Diane this question as they both sit on a rooftop. BoJack, at this very moment, is vulnerable but somewhat hopeful about his future despite finally being told how people see him after all of his mistakes and recklessness. Diane is BoJack’s foil in many ways, and we can see that in her reply, “I don’t think I believe in deep-down. I think all you are is just the things that you do.” Her response is the exact opposite of what BoJack wants to both hear and believe at this very moment, and yet Diane tells him that essentially his mistakes have made him who he is. In Diane’s mind, is no deep-down because that would mean that when we hurt people, we can look past it and say that deep-down that mistake isn’t who we are, and this is something BoJack has tried to tell himself for years.
So, if you’ve gotten this far in this essay, you’re probably wondering how exactly it relates to social justice and being a millennial. In relation to social justice, I will simply give you two words: social commentary. The show is ripe with it, and somehow only ever gets better as time goes on. Most of the social commentary in season one is done monologue style with one character going off on a tangent and the other characters brushing it off and paying little or no attention to it. Every time a character is saying something worthwhile on screen, another character is acting as the “common person” by being completely ignorant and finding amusement in reality television, or sometimes completely zoning out. As for its relevance to being a millennial, the show puts on screen many of our anxieties about life. Many of the characters share our fears about growing older and finding success, our regrets about hurting those we care about (and ourselves), our thoughts on war, our hatred of blind optimism and ignorance, and, of course, our strangely unwavering hope that we can somehow be better than we are right now and leave this world better than we found it.
If you aren’t yet sold on the show being for you and need one last push in the right direction, I’ll leave you with one of the most satisfyingly honest motivational quotes you may ever hear: “Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part, but it does get easier.”