Title: Bojack Horseman
Episodes: 6 seasons, Seasons 1-5 (12 episodes), Season 6 (16 episodes); ~25 minutes each
Rating: A- (with S3 and S4 the best of the seasons)
Before this year, I had tried and failed at least 3 times to watch more than one episode of Bojack Horseman. I’m not a fan of adult animation comedy as a subgenre. I think it’s because the genre is focused a lot on irrelevant humor and the storylines all feel self contained but I’m someone who enjoys going in depth with characters and witnessing character arcs and the off brand humor is too left field for me. I also don’t really enjoy mean, crude humor which is what I think a lot of adult animation focuses on. And I don’t mean crude as in there’s too much sex or whatever, I mean the humor really wants to be bluntly edgy and honest but I think that type of humor always misses the mark for me. That’s what I thought Bojack Horseman was.
One day, I decided that this would be the last time I attempted to watch Bojack and if I wasn’t into it, I would just stop attempting altogether. I am so happy I stuck beyond the first few episodes because this show is a beautful gem and will end up in my favorite TV shows of the year period.
Bojack Horseman is a mediation on a variety of different issues, sexism, racism, depression, addiction, abusive relationships, and mortality. It does so through a variety of characters, the main ones of which are Bojack who was the star of a popular 90’s sitcom but is now struggling with his alcohol addiction; Diane Nguyen, who he hires to be his ghostwriter for his memoir, Princess Carolyn, a cat who is his agent, Mr. Peanutbutter, an endlessly optimistic and cheerful dog, and Todd, a human who couch surfs in Bojack’s house.
It’s actually quite a tender show at heart but deeply, deeply sad and depressing. Bojack is one of the best antiheroes I have come across. He does a lot of bad stuff throughout the show. He’s extremely insulting, demeaning, often disregards the people who care about him, and is obsessed with the past when he was more famous. Yet I cared, and even found myself rooting for him as he tries and fails to become better than who he is, slowly trying to move beyond a self that has been shaped by a past filled with abuse and neglect. Trauma is actually a big part of the show and the show gets so creative with certain episode formats to illustrate these themes which I think elevate it above other adult comedies. For example, one episode was entirely a Bojack monologue, another a completely dialogue free episode underwater. There’s a very creative flashback episode etc. The writers creativity with each episode amplifies its storytelling and makes the themes hit more deeply.
What I also liked however, was that Bojack was always held accountable for his actions. He was not an antihero who is explained away by a tragic backstory and everything is ok after that. Although he does have a tragic backstory, that doesn’t excuse him from the bad choices he’s made. It might sound a little cheesy but I found myself becoming more understanding of..shitty people for a lack of a better word after watching the show. Many times, Bojack did things that I would have found absolutely unacceptable but I found myself understanding that he did shitty things but in the end, he is a person who was tyring to do better and often found himself oblivious to his own flaws, again a self shaped by a past filled with abuse and neglect. At the same time, the show never minimizes the pain that trauma dealt him in this childhood. We see in some episodes, the story of his mother’s life and a little of his father’s life and how that has shaped the abuse that reigned over Bojack’s childhood. Those were definitely some of my favorite episodes. It’s why the show is able to straddle Bojack as an anithero so well.
The show’s humor is actually very endearing although it’s specific. First, it likes to reference a lot of actors, movies and Hollywood culture in general. There will be a lot of longstanding actor characters who play themselves like Jessica Biel and Margo Martindale. I always got a kick out of them because as someone who loves movies and TV shows and has had a weird knack for recognizing celebrities and little details about their lives, I always enjoyed the references. The show also uses a lot of puns which I liked as well, especially animal ones. Since in this world, anthromorphic animals and humans live alongside each other, there’s a lot of animal easter eggs, like the cow waitress squeezing milk out of her breasts into a glass and giving it to a customer. There were a lot of meta references to the characters’ actions themselves. For example, in one episode, Bojack’s grandfather is trying to comfort his wife, he literally says, “I am an American man, I don’t know how to deal with women’s emotions. I was never taught and I will never learn” and then proceeds to run out the door. That type of meta easter eggs were a treat to see. But of course, there’s the traditional adult comedy humor with its sardonic and dry humor that adds bite to the show.
It becomes clear that this is not just Bojack’s story; a lot of time is dedicated to giving the other characters full stories which I loved. As a person, I have never felt more seen than in this show, especially in the character of Diane. She desires to do important work but constantly finds herself at odds with its reality. She also often discusses feminism in a way that can sound pretentious. There was just a lot of her that I saw in me and it made very uncomfortable because I would often think, “wow is that really what I sound like” but that’s ok, it was nice seeing someone like that on the silver screen. If you don’t like any of the characters, you will grow to sympathize with them because the writers ask you to look within yourself and see their common humanity no matter how messed up they are.
I will say that season 3 & 4 are the best and Season 1 the weakest. Season 1 definitely felt like the Season 1 of Parks and Recreation where the quality of the show was getting there but season 2 onwards was explosively better. That’s the same for this show. There was just a lot more emotional building and story purpose after season 1 so please stick it out if you watched season 1 but didn’t feel the need to go on. This show is such a gem and again, will be on my favorite shows of 2020.