Fresh off the heels of consuming Season 2 of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, I’ve decided to go back to the beginning of the hit series about depression, alcoholism, and loneliness.
The fact that it’s a cartoon with the further absurdity of anthropomorphized animals helps the Raphael Bob-Waksberg-created series get deep into to the dark little heart of melancholia. Distance can give us sharp perspective, and helps us open up about things often kept hidden in the stark light of real humans in real human skin. Animation can help us be more honest sometimes, (and so can funny voices.)
BoJack got his fame from a comedy series that is exactly what this series is not: a silly show about a loving family where everything always ends up ok. The story we’re seeing of Bojack is more like real life. Love and family are hard to come by, loneliness and unfulfillment stalk our consciousnesses, and nothing ever quite gets resolved. Life just keeps rambling on. Life for Bojack feels like “just one long hard kick in the urethra,” and he’s not alone in that.
According to BoJack, that’s exactly why we need “Horsin’ Around,” and shows like it. In the first few minutes of the show we see BoJack on Charlie Rose rushing to defense of the television show that not only made him famous, but gives his life what little purpose it has.
“I know that it’s very hip these days to shit all over ‘Horsin’ Around,'” BoJack tells Charlie after informing him that he’s drunk and parked in a handicap space. “But . . . I can tell you, I think the show’s actually pretty solid for what it is. It’s not Ibsen, sure, but for a lot of people life is just one long hard kick in the urethra. Sometimes when you get home from a long day of getting kicked in the urethra, you just want to watch a show about good, likable people who love each other. Where, you know, no matter what happens, at the end of 30 minutes, everything is going to turn out ok, because in real life – did I already say the thing about the urethra?”
He’s not wrong. When I’m feeling down or just exhausted, the last thing I want to do is turn on an Ingmar Bergman film. “BoJack Horseman” may even be a bit much sometimes. Everyone has their go-to sitcoms. They are calming, reassuring. I’ve heard something like BoJack’s defense of sitcoms before, I’m thinking on a Marc Maron podcast, but I can’t quite place what was said (does anyone know what I’m talking about?)
BoJack isn’t just speaking in theories, he lives it. He now spends his days drinking, watching reruns of “Horsin’ Around,” and not writing his memoir. Part of watching his old show is sort of sick ego-feeding, but his fake life on screen is also soothing to him. It takes him out of the life he’s actually living, which is drifting and dreary.
He craves love on a deep level, and thinks he can fulfill himself if he gets it from the public. Procrastination in writing his life story isn’t just laziness, it’s a fear that he won’t get it right, that there will be dire consequences to messing this up. He’s afraid that he may present himself in his book in a way that will make people not like him and instead, will incite them to make fun of him. He wants an impossible thing: to be respected and taken seriously by abosultely everyone.
We all want that, but the truth is that for even the most dignified and celebrated individual, that’s not possible. The only thing we can hope for is to share a little of the truth about our lives, and through insight and honesty connect with others. Getting to the truth, though, is scary, because presenting anything means it will be scrutinized, and the more of your real “self,” you put out there, the higher the stakes are in regards to what people think of it. He can’t cope with his life as an adult because he suffered severe emotional abuse as a child that he still hasn’t recovered from. In order to tell the “true” story of BoJack, he has to revisit painful memories, and confront all those awful feelings he has about himself.
Eventually all the pressure mounts for BoJack and he lands in the hospital with an anxiety attack where a doctor tells him to “take it easy.” When he ex-girlfriend and agent Princess Caroline scoffs that this is precisely all he does, the doctor prescribes “taking it even easier.” BoJack solemnly vows to try, half-ironically, while Princess Caroline has another solution: eliminate stress over his book deal by calling his potential ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen. The very thought of cold-calling another person sends BoJack into another panic attack.
When he does eventually meet Diane in a party environment, which he considers to be less stressful than a phone call, he encounters someone who’s smarter and more grounded than he is, but who is not too dissimilar from him. They are kindred spirits in a way. They both want to be taken seriously and feel they have something to prove, and they both suffer from crippling anxiety. When BoJack suggests to Diane that she treat her social anxiety with alcohol, she replies with a nervously revealing speech about parties that anyone who feels awkward in a crowd can relate to.
This whole episode is really about anxiety, and the only prescription Bojack knows for that, because alcohol is sitcoms, another form of escape. Honestly, sitcoms, movies, books, video games, etc. are good momentary treatments for feelings of anxiety, but distractions don’t cure the underlying issue. It seems, though, that doctors are still trying to figure out exactly what will.