The simplest way to describe the Netflix original, BoJack Horseman, is as an animated sitcom that deals with the subject of depression. Its lead, the titular Bojack Horseman, is a washed up 90’s sitcom star with way too much money and time, but is listless and eternally unsatisfied with his state of being. The main question the series asks is “How can I be happy?”, and the way it addresses that question is perhaps more raw and honest than any other show that came before it. Why that is the case is something that stumped me for quite a while. Why is this show about a talking horse and his wacky friends able to hit such a raw nerve in the discussion of depression? My take on this after a lot of thought is that we are able to connect with BoJack because of how thoroughly unlikable he is. I don’t mean that we as an audience can’t like him, because people will always be able to love terrible fictional characters no matter what, but he’s certainly not someone with typical likable qualities like basic human decency. He isn’t just flawed, he’s the kind of person that continues to make terrible decisions that hurt the people around him with full awareness that what he is doing could be harmful to others. Make no mistake however, we are supposed to be rooting for him, but we definitely aren’t supposed to like him either.
To put it bluntly, BoJack is a narcissistic asshat. He was a young struggling comic who got incredibly rich and famous before he could really form a stable sense of self. He’s a man in his 50’s with the emotional maturity of a 20 year old and the jadedness of someone in his 70’s. Because of this, he’s always making terrible mistakes that hurt the people closest to him, and he doesn’t seem to know how to stop himself from being so destructive to himself and everyone around him. He diverges from other characters like him because we aren’t supposed to be endeared to his horribleness, we aren’t meant to “like” BoJack in the same way we’re supposed to like Charlie Harper. When BoJack makes a mistake, it feels like a mistake, and not just some comical misunderstanding. On top of this, the audience gets a pretty good idea as to why BoJack feels the way he does, because he struggles with what is perhaps life’s most terrifying problem: He doesn’t know how to be happy.
He has money, fame, people that love him, and yet he still can’t find happiness. He’s got a ton of ambitions and goals to strive for, but he heartbreakingly admits that even those aren’t enough. If he succeeds in them, he’d feel satisfied for a little while, but he knows that he’ll inevitably feel empty again once more later on. It is a problem for which there is no easy solution since he’s fighting an opponent he can’t win against. The feeling of unhappiness is within you, and there’s no way to tell for sure where it came from or if it can really leave you. One of the biggest themes in BoJack is the capacity for people to change. Is it possible for BoJack to change? Is he miserable because of the mistakes he’s made in life, or is he that way because that’s just who he is deep down? There’s a lot of the usual suspects present in BoJack’s life to explain his demeanor, but the most chilling one of them all is the suggestion that this unhappy and miserable being is who was always be destined to be.
BoJack develops a bit of a following in the show’s universe when he releases a book that details his many vices and personal troubles. The readers like BoJack because they see a bit of themselves in him, and in the same way the characters on the show can connect to him like that, we can as well. We’re not on BoJack’s side because we like him, we’re on his side simply because we’re able to relate to his struggle. When a character has depression, he or she doesn’t need to be this amazingly good soul for us to feel bad for them, depression in and itself is tragedy enough. And if we want to look at things more logically, depression is something that often gets in the way of people’s ability to make the right decisions and be “good”. Perhaps the power in this show about a talking horse comes from its ability to treat depression as a very human thing.
BoJack isn’t a scrappy underdog, or a conflicted anti-hero we’re supposed to love, hate, or love to hate. He’s just a guy going through depression, and the writing on this show respects that for what it is. It understands the gravity of depression and it grounds it in its unfortunate reality, and that’s really at the core of why it’s so commendable. Bojack, the show and the character, teaches us that living is easy, but being happy is something you have to work towards. There are no short-cuts to being happy, and if you have depression, it’s that much harder. You have to work at it every day, that’s the difficult part, but the ray of hope within this bleak topic is the show’s suggestion that it does get easier if you keep trying no matter.
Quote of the Day:
“That’s too much man!”
Sarah Lynn, Horsin’ Around