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Arts in Review

Bojack Horseman: a re-examination

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Bojack Horseman did not make a good first impression on me. I started watching back when the Netflix exclusive show first debuted in 2014. For those unfamiliar, Bojack Horseman is an animated show set in a world inhabited by both anthropomorphic animals and humans, but is oriented towards an adult audience. The titular character is a washed-up TV actor struggling to find meaning and happiness in his life, while wrestling with his deeply-flawed, self-sabotaging nature. Also, he is a horse. Unfortunately, the show felt like a typical, paint-by-numbers “Hollywoo” (not a typo) sitcom that didn’t bring anything unique to the table, other than the “our world, but with furries” gimmick, which I thought was underutilized. So, I stopped watching after half a season.

More recently, Bojack Horseman has been getting mentioned due to its portrayal of mental illness. So, I decided to give the series a second chance, and see what it has to offer.

To begin with, it is important to understand that the series is constantly changing and evolving, even from episode to episode. Characters come and go, how much and what type of humour changes, and while characters do often find themselves stuck in a rut, they do experience significant change in their lives. Therefore, watching a single episode, or even a single season, is not enough to capture the full depth and breadth of what the show can, and does, offer.

One example of the variety that can be found in Bojack Horseman is in the humour employed. The show includes every type of humour you could imagine: witty, slapstick, meta, topical, absurdist, and especially dark. Oh, and puns, lots and lots of puns, most of them animal-related. If the show does have a specialty, it would be black comedy. A lot of the gags are rather morbid, twisted, and potentially offensive.

Of course, it isn’t all fun and games on Bojack Horseman. My interest wouldn’t be renewed if it was. The series goes to some very dark and disturbing places that aren’t funny and, importantly, aren’t meant to be. I think the examination of mental-illness that has people talking refers to Bojack’s clearly disturbed mind. His self-destructive ways, combined with his need to satisfy his ego and gain admiration from others, leads him to do some truly terrible things that cannot be forgiven or made better. At times, the viewer wonders if Bojack can somehow turn things around, or whether the self-destructive spiral will only continue.

However, it is not all about Bojack (much as he would like it to be). The show has a cast of unique characters with their own interesting quirks, flaws, and outlooks on the world. Some of the things they say are very profound and thought-provoking. Many of the thoughts and feelings expressed by the characters really resonate on a personal level, and many of their questions and concerns are ones that I have had myself.

That, I think, is the show’s greatest strength. It holds up a mirror to the doubts and struggles many of us face in real life, and it can be a relief to find out that one’s own fears and flaws are not unique to oneself. That’s why, if there is another season, I would keep watching. Bojack may be hard to root for, but a part of me wants to see if he can make things better after all.

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