October 15, 2018

The Startling Humanity of BoJack Horseman

“Plenty of modern TV shows depict or are driven by the mental health problems of their characters. Girls, Fleabag, and Crazy Ex Girlfriend follow the chaotic lives of (mainly middle-class white) young women with personality disorders; End of the F***ing World and 13 Reasons Why take radically different but equally intense approaches to teen trauma; This is Us, Mr. Robot, and Homeland are underpinned by anxiety, dissociation, and bipolar respectively.

Though not without their complications, shows like these mark a turning of the tide away from ridiculous stereotypes—your “tragic heroines” like The OC’s Marissa Cooper or The L Word’s Jenny Schecter, and the “difficult genius” leading men of Sherlock, House, and Dexter—and toward moving portrayals of mental illnesses. The more socially accepted ones, at least.

Enter BoJack Horseman: the cartoon dramedy about a celebrity horse that changed everything.

Premiering on Netflix in 2014, BoJack Horseman is about a hubristic former sitcom star who smokes too much, drinks too much, has sex with everyone, and is awful. An equine Charlie Harper, essentially. Ostensibly, the show is a crafty satire of Hollywood in which humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist for reasons unexplained. It has its fair share of physical comedy, pop culture references, and a notable character who is three kids stacked on top of each other in a trench coat masquerading as an adult. But BoJack doesn’t fall into the same trappings as other adult-animated sitcoms—Bob’s Burgers, Rick and Morty, The Venture Bros—whose weightier moments are usually few and far between, or undercut by their overall bro-y tone. An honesty and compassion grounds BoJack as it navigates issues ranging from addiction to infertility, and that sets it apart—not just within animation, but on TV in general.”

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