Sorry, what? How did an adult cartoon go onto become the greatest social commentary of contemporary society, and provide one of the darkest critiques of today’s culture?
Five years ago, Raphael Bob-Waksberg began this show which would prove a hit with critics and fans alike. This show unlike any before it, delves into the philosophy of existential nihilism and asks, if life is truly meaningless how do we deal with it?
The show’s focus is on the search for happiness, and centres around 5 main characters, including : BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) – a sitcom star past his prime on the hunt for happiness, Mr Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), a Labrador who is a former sitcom star too, but able to find happiness by his optimistic approach to life, Todd (Aaron Paul) – a teenager who lives for free off BoJack, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) who is BoJack’s’ agent and Diane (Alison Brie), who is Mr Peanutbutter’s fiancé and the ghostwriter behind BoJack’s biography. In an average episode, we will see these characters find various ways to occupy their time with meaningless distractions. This represents one of the central character’s ideology, Mr Peanutbutter, who states- ”the key to happiness isn’t the search for meaning, it’s to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually…you’ll be dead”.Despite all the characters spending the episodes on their individual wacky adventures, the underlying problem they all suffer from is the same, loneliness. The seasons mirror the episodes, with BoJack trying to find something that will eventually give him happiness in each one. In Season one, he believes having his autobiography published will help him, for Season 2 landing a role as his childhood hero, and in Season 3 being nominated for an Oscar.
What makes this show so unique is that it is able to show us a bleak view of our world, without ever having us too downbeat, due to its format as an animation. Every morbid feature of the show is drawn from a real-life parallel. We wouldn’t find ourselves too hard-pressed to figure out where the inspiration for the characters and events come from. BoJack Horseman, a former 90’s sitcom star who is now a washed-up celebrity clinging onto fame, shares a great likeness to figures such as Charlie Sheen and Matthew Perry. Further still, it views current trends through a cynic’s eye and mocks our celebrity worship. The series 4 plotline, in which Mr Peanutbutter runs for governor of ”Hollywoo”, is a clear mockery of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s premiership as Governor of California. Another parallel the creators cleverly drew up, is done through the character of Hank Hippopopalous, who inspired Bojack and Mr Peanutbutter to become sitcom stars. When he faces sexual assault allegations in the later seasons, it reflects current affairs, such as the Bill Cosby’s downfall and the onset of the ‘’Me too’’ movement. Darker yet, the show reminds us times have changed, and we’re no longer in the ‘culturally wholesome ’90s’. Numerous celebrities, once worshipped as idols merely a couple of decades ago, have now fallen from grace and been caught up in grim allegations.
BoJack Horseman deserves to be recognised as a child of its time. Netflix and awareness of Clinical Depression have both emerged rapidly this decade. The show cleverly plays on this. Knowing the on-demand platform allows viewers to binge watch, they don’t smoothen off the rough edges, and the episodes finish abruptly without providing a sense of closure. This is a statement, that life for people suffering from depression unlike a sitcom cannot tie up all their loose ends within half an hour. One such example is in Season 1 episode 8. BoJack is told by a friend he betrayed, who is now dying of cancer, “I’m not gonna give you closure. You don’t get that. You have to live with the shitty thing you did for the rest of your life”. The episode just ends right there, giving the viewer a reminder, that life isn’t just a story with a ”happily ever after”. It tries to teach us that we shouldn’t think of our lives as a narrative, else we’ll get caught up thinking that when we finish reaching a goal, we will find happiness at the end when that is not the case. As the show itself puts it “I guess I got a happy ending, but every happy ending has the day after the happy ending, right?” What this show deserves the most praise for, however, is its realistic depiction of people who suffer from mental health disorders, with regards to people diagnosed with depression in particular. Whereas shows like ’13 reasons why’ disgustingly try to glamorise suicide, this show wouldn’t dare to. Where many romantic teen novels seek to fetishise a characters’ sadness, BoJack Horseman refuses to.
A forewarning that must be mentioned about this show is that it is not for the fainthearted. We see multiple tragedies play out over the seasons. BoJack’s grandmother undergoes a lobotomy in order to remove her depression and ends up mentally incapacitated. BoJack’s mother suffers from dementia. We see BoJack cope with the trauma of his childhood by latching onto fame and distracting himself with drugs and alcohol through flashbacks. We see how BoJack being conceived forces his parents to live out an unhappy marriage. Todd suffers from a lack of purpose and meaning. Dianne finds her life unfulfilling and Princess Carolyn resorts to convincing herself life is like a movie, telling herself she is only temporarily at the part where she faces adversity before she gets a happy ending, even though deep down she knows that’s not how real life works.
This show ought to be watched by people suffering from depression, and all people who know someone suffering from it, as it gives one of the most insightful looks into the disorder available in film and television. Nobody knows how this show will end, however, with its dark tone I would not put it beyond the writers to have the titular character commit suicide. Although one can always hope they might leave it on a positive note with him eventually finding his sense of belonging. If nothing else I have said convinces you to watch this show, I should mention that it is extremely funny, the script contains a level of wit matched only by that of a classic British Sitcom.
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