An Ode to BoJack Horseman

There’s something enigmatic about BoJack Horseman.

It’s over now. Six seasons have come and gone. It’s time to reflect on an iconic animated show about a famous, habitually depressed and alcoholic horse.

One of the more applicable, conscientiously realistic shows I’ve watched, BoJack Horseman illustrates human emotion brilliantly. How we feel and how we react to how we feel. BoJack himself is his own worst enemy. He’s deeply flawed as he searches for any resemblance of meaning. His best friend Todd Chavez points out toward the end of Season 3 — “You are all the things that are wrong with you.”

I didn’t begin watching BoJack Horseman until 2018 as Season 5 arrived on Netflix. It’s hard to pick and stick with shows with so many options at one’s disposal. Plus, I am more into movies. But I found BoJack to be an enjoyable, easy-going viewing experience with occasional political commentary and plenty of satire. Until it quickly became tangible and unequivalently relatable.

Voiced by Will Arnett, BoJack is a stubborn, narcissist who does shitty thing after shitty thing. Rarely does he consider the consequences until he pleads to be viewed as a good person since how people see him feels more important to him than how he feels about himself.

Often blunt, the show dives deep in its symbolism. It’s an honest take on the entertainment industry with timely discussion on societal issues in a colorful yet evocative way. The characters feel real—even if they’re often dogs and cats.

Take Princess Carolyn, voiced by Amy Sedaris—a hardworking, career-focused pink feline who always places others’ needs before her own. She lives and breathes her work as someone who is wholly independent. She says it herself in Season 2 — “My life is a mess right now and I compulsively take care of other people when I don’t know how to take care of myself.”

It means she has little time to date and to entertain the idea of building a family. Her evolution during the series might be messy and full of change, but she manages it with grace as only Princess Carolyn can. My favorite quote from her to ponder happens in the Season 4 finale.

“I got into show business because I love stories. They comfort us, they inspire us, they make a context for how we experience the world. But also, you have to be careful, because if you spend a lot of time with stories, you start to believe that life is just stories, and it’s not. Life is life, and that’s so sad, because there’s so little time and what are we doing with it?”

Mr. Peanutbutter, voiced by Paul F. Tompkins, annoys BoJack in the early part of the series. He cares more about their friendship than BoJack, often joking that their relationship is a crossover episode. Just like BoJack, Mr. Peanutbutter starred in a 90s television show in this fictional world.

He develops a significant friendship with Todd Chavez, voiced by Aaron Paul. Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd open the most absurd and hilarious business ventures, showing just how unserious the show takes itself. An overwhelmingly positive canine, Mr. Peanutbutter finds out maybe he isn’t as joyful as he seems as the series progresses.

He’s always thinking these happy, almost naïve thoughts. It’s not fake, though. Mr. Peanutbutter is naturally optimistic, but he unearths that he’s been at least part of the problem during his three failed marriages.

Speaking of Todd, he’s probably the third most important character behind BoJack and the yet to be mentioned Diane.

Todd lives on BoJack’s sofa as the series begins. You later find out why he ended up there and the toxicity of his relationship with BoJack. At first glance, Todd doesn’t seem complex. He’s a 20something with little life direction, but I don’t think there’s a deeper character than Todd on the show, or a character who experiences such a compelling story arc.

I’d like to elaborate more on Todd, but it feels right to share what he says in the finale about how everybody misunderstands the hokey pokey.

It’s about making a change.

“It’s like the song says: you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around… You turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.”

The story of BoJack Horseman the television series begins with Diane Nguyen, voiced by Alison Brie. She ghostwrites the story of BoJack during Season 1, which becomes this best-selling biography of BoJack’s life and complicated upbringing. They create a strong formidable bond. The relationship began with BoJack falling for her, but she’s already with Mr. Peanutbutter. Diane is BoJack’s closest confidante. She’s also his fiercest, most outspoken critic. A deep thinker, Diane questions her happiness and role in the world as she plays journalist, activist and supporter.

In Season 6, Diane finally gets the help she needs with her depression. As she begins taking medicine, she finds the support she finally accepts. How the show ends with BoJack and Diane on a rooftop as Mr. Blue by Catherine Feeny plays:

BoJack says to Diane: “Life’s a bitch and then you die, right?” Diane responds, “Sometimes, life’s a bitch and then you keep on living.”

And now BoJack.

So much of who he becomes can be traced to his childhood and his relationship to his parents. The Free Churro episode in Season 5 is probably the best episode in the series. BoJack gives a eulogy for essentially the entire episode. Everybody wants to be seen. Everybody wants to be heard.

We all long for acceptance and to be understood. BoJack isn’t any different.

BoJack speaks about television being his teacher during the eulogy.  

“All I know about being good I learned from TV. And in TV, flawed characters are constantly showing people they care with these surprising grand gestures. And I think that part of me still believes that’s what love is. But in real life, the big gesture isn’t enough. You need to be consistent; you need to be dependably good. You can’t just screw everything up, and then take a boat out into the ocean to save your best friend, or solve a mystery and fly to Kansas. You need to do it every day, which is so — hard.”

As BoJack finds solace in the series conclusion, his past mistakes — and boy, there are plenty — come back to bite him. But that’s OK. Because as a Rafiki-lite tells BoJack to end Season 2:

“It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day — that’s the hard part. But it does get easier”

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