“No one watches a show to feel feelings. Life is depressing enough already.”
Watchers of Netflix’s animated series Bojack Horseman must be willfully self-indulgent then, because the show does nothing if not get you “in your feelings”, to steal a phrase from the definitely not creepy rapper, Drake. The series comes to an end on the 31st of January as it releases its final 8 episodes, which makes it a perfect time to reflect upon the legacy of a show which many consider the best comedic television show of the decade.
The show follows Bojack Horseman, a washed-up, depressed actor in Hollywood who had been the star of a successful family sitcom in the ’90s and has since been living off of the fame and reputation of that show. With its colorful animation, talking animals and Hollywood glamour, Bojack Horseman might look like your typical happy-go-lucky cartoon, but this is far from the case. The show’s light-hearted veneer hides a dark and depressing reality which is fitting given its focus on the disillusionment that inevitably comes when you look beneath the surface.
“I’m responsible for my own happiness? I can’t even be responsible for my own breakfast.”
The show reveals and critiques many aspects of the narcissistic and shallow Hollywood culture, such as its problematic relationship with faux-feminism, studio executives who are only focused on money and meaningless award shows that only reward established names in the industry.
“Hollywood’s a real pretty town that’s smack on top of that black tar, by the time you realize you’re sinking, it’s too late.”
Despite it being set in Hollywood, the show has much deeper implications for life outside the bubble. Hollywood can be considered a metaphor for life in general. The trappings of our daily lives cover up the meaningless of our existence, a philosophy known as existential nihilism. This philosophy is core to the show, and it does a fantastic job of exploring the question “If life is truly meaningless, then how are we supposed to deal with it?”
“The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. Its to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually you’ll be dead.”
This question, the answer to which Bojack is continuously searching for, takes the show to some very dark and real places, with Bojack’s substance abuse issues and depression serving as constant reminders of the importance of the core ideology. This search, aided by Bojack’s personal issues leads him to carry out more and more heinous acts of self-sabotage and become one of the most unlikeable protagonists in television history. As quoted from the television show “Atlanta” in reference to Bojack Horseman, “Don’t get me wrong it’s a funny show, but the way they dive into depression and especially after what he did to her daughter, I was like can I even feel sorry for this horse anymore?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong because I can’t do anything wrong because we’re all just products of our environments, bouncing around like marbles in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos that is our random and cruel universe.”
Being Bojack somewhat of an anti-hero, the creators have been very careful not to glamorize or even normalize his shitty actions in a way perhaps Don Draper from Mad Men or Walter White from Breaking Bad have done. We are constantly reminded that Bojack’s depression and substance abuse is not an excuse for some of the incorrigible acts he carries out. In fact, much of season 5’s storyline is centered on reconciling the ideas of having a protagonist who does horrible things yet not making his acts seem redeemable.
The creators of Bojack Horseman have taken advantage of the trend of cable TV adult animation series like The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park losing some of its initial viewership. Streaming services have allowed niche shows like Archer, Rick and Morty, and Bojack Horseman to speak more deeply about risky issues like depression, substance abuse, feminism and the evils of American capitalism amongst others, without having to worry about ‘mass appeal’.
Bojack Horseman is by far the greatest, most accurate portrayal of depression in mainstream television, and it does that while being incredibly funny, witty and incisive. It may not match the Simpsons or South Park for longevity, but for pure creative genius and its ability to subvert narratives in an unpredictable way, it deserves to be considered amongst the best ever adult animated series. That it is ending is a bitter-sweet feeling for its long time viewers. A finale brings hope of redemption and healing for Bojack, but there’s also a sadness to saying goodbye to characters that have elicited feelings that one can hardly express.
All 6 seasons of Bojack Horseman can be found on Netflix. The average episode length is 25 minutes, the exact amount of time you have before you need to start studying.
Feature Image was taken from Netflix