The Bojack Horseman Story: One of the All Time Greats
Back in the 90s
I was in a very famous TV show...
It's August 22nd 2014 and Netflix, a streaming service (something many of us are were confused by) releases its first original animated program. Bojack Horseman is a anthropomorphic sitcom about an ageing has-been celebrity struggling to come to terms with not being famous anymore. It's a world where animals and humans live side-by-side, and was a skewering look at the process of Hollywood and celebrity in general. At least, that's what the trailer made it out to be.
I had made a Netflix account not long before for the Arrested Development revival, and during a particularly empty period of my life was looking for distractions wherever they came. I decided to watch a few episodes out of curiosity (and love of Will Arnett) and ended up bingeing the show in a day (as one now tends to do, it's considered the fashion darling). I never expected to be caught up in Bojack's life, yet somehow the show managed to transcend whatever 'tragi-comedy' was beforehand and simultaneously crushed my soul and kept me alive.
It's no secret that the show takes a while to find its footing. Season One's first few episodes gradually introduce the adult mental themes and introspective thinking that the show has become acclaimed for outside of its dry wit and abundance of excellent visual comedy. In fact, it's easy to gush about its meta-style representation of the media, down to the parodies of popular culture and art-pieces, some in such a blink-and-you'll-miss-it fashion that you feel special for getting them, that's the part of the show that's subconscious. It's automatic. Sitting side-by-side with other contemporary animated shows with as much wit, charm and beautiful design work, Bojack Horseman could have been content with such a life of acceptance and fandom, but chose to strive for more.
I'm Bojack the horse (Bojack)
Bojack the horse
Don't act like you don't know...
This Friday Bojack Horseman ends. The final eight episodes are the culmination of multiple character realisations and insular revelations unlike any other show on TV. Its refusal to decide on whether the lives of Bojack, Princess Carolyn, Todd, Diane and Mr. Peanut Butter are distinctly good or bad and instead show their evolution through both physical representation and dialogue is astounding. In season six the show's opening titles reflect the insular, deepened character story we've come to know and adore over the past 6 years, yet the show's outlook casts its net wider. This is a show that's matured and wants to be remembered as more than an intricate character study, but one of the all time greats. Where the sitcom star used to stare on emotionless as those around him suffered, he now reacts with sorrow and regret at his mother's passing, fear takes over his face during the briefest of glimpses from Sarah-Lynn. He's finally taken Diane's advice and started to take responsibility for himself.
Princess Carolyn: Laura! Clear out my schedule! I have to push a boulder up a hill and then have it roll over me time and time again with no regard for my well-being!
The truth is it's difficult to write a thought-provoking potentially-unique analysis of Bojack Horseman's portrayal of character flaws, mental illness, the workings of Hollywoo(d) or the importance of relationships because it so often wears these strengths proudly on its sleeves. We as viewers aren't special for noticing that Bojack or Diane or Princess Carolyn's stories resonate so deeply with us, we just feel special because we feel seen by the show and its message. And I would really just want to let everyone involved know how grateful we all are. Sometimes it's okay for someone to just want to write something nice about a television show. It's not Ibsen, but it's a small way of expressing gratitude.
When I first started university I found it very difficult to socialise outside of my apartment. We had this on-campus bar that, despite being about thirty seconds from the student accommodation, I didn't find myself visiting for the first time until a particularly difficult period of adjustment. I didn't really drink, and I was struggling a lot. After a couple of pints of coke I went into the men's bathroom and saw that one of the two mirrors above the sink was actually an advert for the second season of Bojack Horseman, where your reflection was within Bojack's silhouette. That advert had no reason being there. My university didn't really make a habit of advertising Netflix's output or really advertising much, and yet there he was in the most oddly-intimate of places. Simultaneously a reminder of the difficulties I felt throughout my 'gap year' as well as the warmth and comfort of a program I had attached myself to.
Ironically enough I would soon go on to be very well acquainted with the advert whilst shitfaced as alcohol wormed its way into my life, and I'd find myself jokingly screeching 'what are YOU doing here?!' in front of the poor souls trapped before the urinals at the same time as me, but it always served as a reminder of something/someone so flawed but important. The advert was stripped from the mirror the next year and I never looked at myself the same way again. *Cue Rimshot*
And I'm trying to hold on to my past. It's been so long, I don't think I'm gonna last...
At times for many of us Bojack Horseman feels like we're watching our own personal Philbert. In the book Bojack Horseman: The Art Before the Horse creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg says that people assume he's a tremendously hopeless person due to Bojack's nature; he doesn't see the character like that however. And he isn't. Yes his nihilism and self-centered nature combine so often with his volatile self-hatred that it encompasses much of the subject matter (what is this? A Crossover episode?) But this self-loathing is automatic, a built-in response the character has to torment himself in every situation. He's not in charge of it (you stupid piece of shit). Whether it be substance abuse or pushing away those who could actually make a difference, they protect him from actually facing the truth of each situation. It's the same way Todd finds himself in increasingly-wacky situations to combat talking about things or how Princess Carolyn puts work first no matter what and compulsively takes care of others when her life is a mess. None of these characters, all of whom suffer over and over, ever stop doing what they can to continue on.
Just like Gina's catchy cabaret tune in season five's The Showstopper says, it's be remarkably easy to turn Bojack's sadness into a brand (it'd be as crazy as Mr. Peanut Butter being the face for depressio- wait). There's an undying commercial cynicism that thankfully the show (and Netflix executives) have refused to give into. Forums and comment sections are rife with endless crowds of viewers spewing their passion for a show that glorifies the apparent futility of happiness, when in reality the show is anything but. Hell even the trailers for the final season, one in which the situation has never appeared bleaker for the titular horseman, tell a story of resounding hope and passion. A show isn't smart for showing sadness and depression in a cruel world, it's smart for using those difficulties to tell another story. And that's a big part of Bojack's personal journey on his wait to season six.Oopsie gotta' Poopsie indeed...
Bojack: "He's so stupid he doesn't realise how miserable he should be...
I've spent a lot of time specifically referring to the protagonist's journey of course, but only because it's the primary focus. Every one of the main ensemble is taken to new highs and lows, and the animation and design by Lisa Hanawalt draws from some of the best reference point to make each moment count visually too. Whether it's drawing from Don Hertzfeldt's multimedia surrealistic breakdowns, or even Futurama's handling of emotion - the watercolour world never fails to catch your attention.
I guess I'll just try And make you understand That I'm more horse than a man...
As much as it seems at times, Bojack doesn't deserve to suffer in the end. If Waksberg's Bach comparison is anything to go by, the show won't march peacefully into that goodnight but defy sorrow and heal its characters. The foundation work is already throughout the show's entire run. Sometimes you have to just accept the fact you sneezed over Marisa Tomei and believe it was the best thing that ever happened to you. Sometimes you need to get over your hatred of your own species and run with them in the wild. And sometimes you have to accept that three kids inside a trenchcoat can pass as a wealthy businessman long enough to make you jealous...
The show will be remembered for its duality of serious subject matter and quit-witted buffoonery in short, but its capacity to make an impact on those it reaches has completely cemented the show's place within the pantheon of the all-time greats. I hope you're all doing okay.
Diane Nguyen: You are never going to be good. Because you’re not bad. So you need to stop using that as an excuse.
Or I'm more man than a horse...
Bojack Horseman is now available on Netflix.
Seasons 1 & 2 are available on Blu-Ray.
Bojack Horseman: The Art Before the Horse is out now.
Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt deserve every ounce of praise they get.
As does every member of staff.
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