Bojack Horseman: Depression and Alcoholism and Manimals

Season 2 of Bojack Horseman is now up on Netflix, and I settled down and consumed it over the weekend.  First and foremost, I have to say that I love this show. It serves up more tear-inducing laughter than I’ve enjoyed in a long time. From big stuff like the first time you see Todd’s “Disneyland” to the small running gags of Hollywood now being called “Hollywoo” because Bojack stole the D in season 1. This show is downright hilarious and anyone who enjoyed season 1 or who is looking for some surreal, absurd comedy, Bojack Horseman is the show for you.

Bojack Horseman Banner

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

Today, I wanted to talk about how Bojack Horseman may be the most authentic portrayal of depression and loneliness that I’ve ever seen.  One may think that because the show is about man-animals that it couldn’t delve into deep subjects like that, but I think that it is because of its outlandish premise that the show is able to really get into the more unpleasant and disturbing aspects of someone like Bojack.

Bojack is a washed-up 90’s sitcom star who has lived the past twenty years in luxury but without any substance to his life. As a result, he is alone, an alcoholic, and horribly depressed. And the great thing about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from those aspects of his life. They show him at his lowest, they show him getting completely shit-faced drunk, they show him making horrible life decisions that only worsen his situation. But because the show is also peppered with characters named Mr. Peanutbutter, Todd taking in an escaped, steroid-enhanced chicken named Becky, and Princess Carolyn dating a stack of children named Vincent Adultman, you don’t ever get too horribly depressed when Bojack sabotages his own happiness. But holy crap you probably should.

Say When

I mean, seriously, Bojack does not know how to be happy. He thinks he does, and sometimes he’s on the right track, but more often than not you can see just how misguided this poor horseman is. And although I feel like I shouldn’t feel bad for him, I often have to remind myself that this is a seriously depressed person. He may have all the money and fame in the world, but depression doesn’t care about your bank account or if you’ve had your face on magazines. Not that it’s any excuse for the whirlwind of destruction he visits upon his friends, but he’s a character who deserves our pity more than our vitriol.

In additions to his depression, Bojack is clearly an alcoholic. Those two often go hand in hand, after all. While many times the show plays up his alcoholism for laughs, it’s so clear that he has  a debilitating problem. He drinks to celebrate, he drinks when he’s angry, he drinks to forget. While many of us can relate to those desires, the vast majority of us do not abuse the drink in the way that he does. Of course, most of us can keep our lives in check in such a way that we don’t constantly have the urge to drink a barrel of alcohol, much less act on that urge. Not so with Bojack.

BoJack-Horseman BottlesAnd then we see how he destroys his friends’ lives around him, as well. They all gravitate towards him for one reason or another, but he is a narcissist at heart and doesn’t always appreciate them for the people that they are, more often thinking how they can be of use to him. I don’t believe that he thinks this way intentionally, but it’s definitely the way his brain seems to be wired. Even Todd, who Bojack seems (sometimes) the most altruistic towards, when he gets a chance to make it big with a rock opera, Bojack sabotages it, fearing that Todd will move out and not be there for when he needs him. The show doesn’t shy away from how toxic of a character Bojack is, and is all the better for it.

The show also explores the themes of lost love and wanting things you cannot have. This isn’t a new area for television, but the way that Bojack explores those themes and the way that he implodes the situation more realistically and spectacularly than any other show I can recall really sets it apart. The way this situation ends up made me genuinely sad and I was in awe of the execution. Bojack even has a few moments where it seems like he is simply being a good person and evolving, but then he slides right back again.

That’s the thing about life in general. You can make progress, you can move forward, but there’s always the danger of falling back into old habits and patterns. The show recognizes this, and presents it in a way that is (nearly) without judgement. Characters call out Bojack on his behavior, and he tries to change, but change is hard. Everyone’s struggled with bettering themselves, it’s human (and horseman) nature.

Two Day!

There is one brilliant moment in Season 2 where a regular character (even if you didn’t realize he was one. Again, amazing show) tells Bojack “It gets easier. But you got to do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.” And in that simple statement, the show sums up what depression and life are like. Hard work to do right, but if you keep managing things, it gets easier. It may never get easy, but it does get easier. This show understands.

I can’t wait for season 3, for all the laughs and all the tears.

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