The Complex Humanity of a Show About a Talking Horse

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Depression. Abortions. Struggling with addiction. Death. Marital problems. The struggle of fading fame.

These all sound like the types of themes and plots that would surround HBO’s newest award-winning drama. It was very surprising to me finding all these elements in Netflix’ animated dark comedy Bojack Horseman. What was most astounding to me was how a show with so many jokes, gags, and satire could intertwine darkness and light so effortlessly to the point of leaving me both hysterically laughing and emotionally drained all in the same episode. In honor of the brilliant fourth season being recently released by Netflix, I will provide a look into why I found this comedy about a talking horse to be the most human show on television. Slight spoilers might follow.

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For those of you unaware about the show, Bojack Horseman is a wacky, dark, animated comedy about a washed-up sitcom star who tries to reinvigorate his ailing Hollywood career. It is set in Hollywood (Hollywoo) wherein humans and anthropomorphic animals live side-by-side. The show follows Bojack, his roommate Todd, his agent Princess Caroline, Diane Nguyen, a writer/blogger who helped him with his memoir, and Mr. Peanutbutter another former sitcom star and Diane’s love interest. All of these characters compliment each other so well because they are so diverse and distinct. They represent different types of people you might come across in your life.

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Bojack Horseman represents a very dark and troubled character. He is extremely problematic, selfish, inherently mean-spirited, and cowardly. However, the show does a very good job into reflecting onto what it is that lead him to be that way. A person (horse) is not inherently bad from the start, there’s usually a string of events and experiences that lead to a change in character. Bojack’s childhood is troubled, his rise and fall from fame are abrupt, and the people around him help built that darkness that surrounds him. He suffers from alcoholism, depression, delusions, and self-doubt. The show plays in such a way that allows the viewer to root for the title character, until his actions are so vile that you wonder if he has any redeemable characteristics at all. In life, no matter how much you try to help someone, your efforts will go in vain if that person doesn’t want to get better. Sometimes it is better to let go and allow that person to sink so low, there’s nowhere to go but up. I haven’t had these feelings towards a main character since Walter White’s charismatic anti-hero in the excellent Breaking Bad.

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Another thing that makes the show work so well is its commitment and fearlessness to current events. The show has dealt bluntly with abortion, gun control, the ridiculous state of politics, the problematic idea of celebrity, the idealization of the heroism of the troops, victim blaming, and other topics that most shows steer away from. The satire is so hilariously real, that sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Our society, our culture, our politics, they’re all currently in such a fucked-up state. We see all of this in the news, but we never get to laugh at how fucked we are. The show brings a poetic substance to the human nature of erring. We err so much. We cannot afford to continue doing so, yet we do. Erring allows growth and promotes learning, but will we ever get to the point where we will learn from our past mistakes? Will we ever get to the point where we look at reality and it’s ridiculous nature and say, “this is enough, we know better than this!”? Our current outlook isn’t very optimistic and the show is aware of that; thus offering you a high count of laughs a minute, to counterbalance the sad nature of the show. The sad nature of our lives. Damn, I’m getting way too real.

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Besides offering an array of groundbreaking topics, Bojack Horseman delivers some groundbreaking representation. Todd, Bojack’s slacker roommate, is revealed to be asexual. This is a creative decision that feels fresh, respectful, and necessary. The show hinted at Todd’s asexuality during a couple of episodes of season three, but it finally came to terms with it full-force during season four. During a season four episode, Todd talks to Bojack about being asexual, he feels relieved, he feels free. He meets likewise people and his sexuality (or lack there off) becomes simply another characteristic of a beloved character that keeps adding dimension as the series goes on. Isn’t that the nature of life in general? As you grow, as you experience pain and seclusion, as you learn to love and accept yourself, you keep adding facets to your character that ultimately allow you to become the person you are meant to be.

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Bojack Horseman quickly became one of my favorite shows ever. I binge watched the season in about three days (those who know me, know I can’t binge at all). I encourage you all to watch it if you’re looking for a show that provides equal parts self-awareness and escapism. These characters showed me that I can find humanity in even the most ridiculous places. The key is to allow yourself to laugh, to cry, and to believe. Not bad for a show where a cat’s love interest is three kids stacked on top of each other under a trench coat (or was that a real adult?).

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