Last week I started watching Netflix’s ‘Bojack Horseman’ with my parents. A friend who worked on the show suggested it when season one came out. While it took me a few episodes to get into it, Bojack quickly became one of my favorite shows of the summer, which was repeated this year when I watched the second season three times in the first two weeks that it came out.
What is it about these adult cartoons that make them so captivating? The medium has been handling adult themes since it’s inception, but we still view most animation as geared toward children. Maybe it’s the subversion of a supposedly immature medium by adult characters who are more immature than Spongebob, Pokemon, or My Little Pony. Maybe it’s the puerile acts of Archer, Bojack, Peter Griffin and the like in a format that has been marketed as puerile from birth.
Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of the antics of Horseman and his friends. There’s a certain way I can relate to the titular character and his companions. I’ve never been a multimillionaire sitcom star living in a mansion overlooking Hollywood Hills. Granted, I’ve also never been a horse, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t find some part of myself in him. See the next two images and judge me accordingly:
What really has me hooked though isn’t the lack of self control and self esteem, but the way that all of the characters find their own ways to cope with the world around them. While the common idea of LA being a place of constant grind and hustle wearing people down exists, that’s not what’s going on here. These characters generally appear to stumble into good fortune and work at every turn, even against their lack of effort. So what is it that is so hard?
Bojack is regularly drunk, while his TV daughter is a washed up pop star who is the show’s take on Lindsay Lohan and other child stars trying to exist in a world that wanted them for what they represented, not what they really were. His agent, Princess Caroline, tries to balance her own wants with the demands of her high paced job, best displayed in the dismal ending of season one’s “Say Anything”. Todd is generally blissfully ignorant, but clearly has family issues that he’s trying to resolve with the surrogate family that surrounds him, and Diane can’t resolve the fact that everything that she thought that she wanted isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.
The show doesn’t shy away from the inner lives of it’s ensemble stars. Even the eternal optimist, Mr. Peanutbutter, has moments of doubt, but ones that he never shows to anyone else. I can imagine this character having a lot more going on than he lets on to the outside world, even to his wife, Diane.
Vulture called Bojack Horseman “The Funniest Show About Depression Ever“, which I find fairly accurate. The characters are a more realistic take on clinical depression and general malaise than I’ve seen elsewhere, while showing that being depressed can have light moments too, and isn’t just constantly moping around (though there’s plenty of that in the show, too).
There is some smart storytelling here. Even throwaway jokes end up returning as brick jokes later, like the broken bed frame and Gabe the Fire spreading out across two seasons. I can only imagine what animalized celebrity will come back in season three, or which visual gags from the most recent season will end up having larger story implications.
The final takeaway that I have is how throughout it all, Bojack and his friends clearly want to be better. They may stumble and make mistakes and lean on what they’ve already known and comes easily, but moments of clarity come out that can be heart breaking. The show has made these deeply flawed characters entirely relatable and makes me feel like I want to become a better person too.
It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.