BoJack Horseman is one of the best TV series ever created, and that’s my personal opinion.
I’ll admit that it’s not a show for everyone. It’s anthropomorphic animation touching on depression, drug and alcohol abuse, sex and misogyny, the entertainment industry, toxicity, friendship and unhealthy relationships, growth and relapse. It’s raw, and much like digesting raw material it takes time to stomach BoJack Horseman. It’s dark—darker than I sometimes would like it to be. It’s also honest; not the neat “the good, the bad, and the ugly” kind of honesty, but more like the beauty in the ugly, the ugly in the beauty, and the ugly in the ugly all held together as some unshapely mass. It neither idolizes nor shames ugliness. It’s offensive because it’s revolting. In our disgust it simultaneously pulls on our empathy and morality: BoJack Horseman beckons us to sit in judgment but also be okay without a final sentence. We are shown that “life’s a bitch,” but we grow to say either “and then you die” or “and you keep living.”
The brilliance of the show is its script. Packed with animal puns, hilarious spin-offs of famous names,
a string of elaborate rhymes and tongue twisters (“You’re telling me your dumb drone downed a tower and drowned Downtown Julie Brown’s dummy drumming dum-dum-dum-dum, dousing her newly found, goose-down, hand-me-down gown?”), punchy one liners (actually so many to choose from),
and just some honest to god good writing.
The animation is also brilliant. There are hidden nuggets and subliminal messages everywhere critiquing or mocking everything and anything. Coupled with phenomenal voice acting (I still can’t believe that’s Will Arnett’s real voice) the animation brings the whole spectrum of emotions alive. How can one horse show so many different faces?
But possibly the best part is how good life advice and insight come from the mouths of very broken people. Just because it comes from broken people, who often fail to uphold what is advised, does not diminish its value. Often what one character advises conflict with another, maybe even contradict what the same character said prior. That’s fine; they’re broken. We butt heads and grow and reform. It’s possible to label each character embodying some philosophical tradition or movement (BoJack, nihilism; Mr Peanutbutter, optimistic nihilism; Princess Carolyn, pragmatism; Diane, postmodern, ecologist, third-wave feminism; Todd, YOLO), but that’s too narrow-thinking. BoJack Horseman is not a philosophical debate; it’s people learning to live healthy lives in the midst of theirs and their neighbor’s toxicity and trauma. It’s life, real life.
It’s hard to pick a favorite episode, but these stand out in no particular order:
- “Free Churro” (s 5, ep 6): It’s just BoJack monologuing for 22 minutes, and it is absolutely gripping. “I see you.”
- “Fish Out of Water” (s 3, ep 4): An almost completely silent episode.
- “BoJack Hates the Troops” (s 1, ep 2): Honestly, the first episode where I realized that this is a brilliant show. “Maybe some of the troops are heroes but not automatically. I’m sure a lot of the troops are jerks. Most people are jerks already, and it’s not like giving a jerk a gun and telling him it’s okay to kill people suddenly turns that jerk into a hero” (BoJack).
- “Thoughts and Prayers” (s 4, ep 5): Mass shooting and gun control, rape culture and safety. A scathing take on America’s desensitized reaction to mass shootings. Also, a what-if situation where a mass shooter was a woman; America would pass sensible gun legislation: “I can’t believe this country hates women more than it loves guns” (Diane).
- “Time’s Arrow” (s 4, ep 11): Beatrice Horseman, who I thought was the hidden antagonist becomes remarkably… human. She, too, is a broken person, something she told BoJack earlier before her dementia. It’s the ending, however, that gets me: “Can you taste the ice cream, mom?” “Oh, BoJack. It’s so… delicious.” That prolonged pause at the end: was Beatrice really tasting it or was she just going along with BoJack’s attempt to comfort her as her own effort to comfort him?
- “What Time Is It Right Now” (s 4, ep 12): A rare heartwarming season finale where BoJack finds a new family member. It gave me so much hope.
- “Intermediate Scene Study with BoJack Horseman” (s 6, ep 9): Another rare heartwarming episode where BoJack gives life to people he would otherwise be annoyed by: college students.
- “Stupid Piece of Shit” (s 4, ep 6): An immersive internalization of self-loathing and depression. The animation especially makes the viewing tangible.
- “Good Damage” (s 6, ep 10): Diane’s parallel to “Stupid Piece of Shit.”
- “Stop the Presses” (s 3, ep 7): When BoJack tries to cancel a newspaper subscription he ends up unloading his life to an unknown higher-up in the business.
- “The Face of Depression” (s 6, ep 7): After rehab BoJack goes back home but quickly leaves due to the haunting memories the house holds. He travels and visits (or runs into) friends: he thanks Diane and cleans her apartment while she’s struggling with depression, and he finally humors Mr Peanutbutter’s crossover-episode fantasy. Such growth.
- “The View From Halfway Down” (s 6, ep 15): A dark, dark, dark, just dark episode. BoJack joins a company of the dead: Herb Kazzaz, Crackerjack Sugarman, Corduroy Jackson Jackson, Beatrice Horseman, and Butterscotch Horseman imaged as Secretariat. They share about the meaning of sacrifice, best and worst part about their lives, and regrets they’ve had and conversations they wished they had. “There is no other side. This is it” (Herb).
- “Nice While It Lasted” (s 6, ep 16): The final episode; BoJack is still alive; there’s no clean ending, but if there was it wouldn’t really be BoJack Horseman. He’s sentenced to prison, and while there his friends move on and somewhat thrives. It’s more bitter than sweet but, I think, fitting. Mr Peanutbutter is riding high on success but still picks up BoJack from jail. Todd is his usual aloof self with his own concerns, but he still encourages BoJack to stay sober. Princess Carolyn is married to someone who is just as married to work as she is, but she’s not going to let BoJack be her work any longer. Diane and BoJack share what could be their last conversation on the roof: she was beaten by her own and BoJack’s toxicity but still “keep[s] living.” And BoJack does not seem too threatened by these losses. Losing or moving from relationships is part of life. Relationships have their course—even good ones—and hopefully we’ll learn to appreciate them during and after they end.
Again, there are so many other episodes I love, but these are enough.
BoJack Horseman, thanks.
This is Sooho, Lee, obviously.
I’ll watch it even though I don’t like anime.