10 Things BoJack Horseman Kept It Real About
BoJack Horseman took its place in pop-culture very seriously. It made us laugh, cry and challenged us to be better people thanks to and despite our trauma.
This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman”
I’m not going to lie. I was completely devastated when it was announced that the sixth season of Netflix heavyweight BoJack Horseman would be its final season. Verklempt! In shambles! Because while I was put onto the show by a friend later than most (2017), the show helped me to contextualize a lot of things that had happened in my life that, frankly, I was too scared to open up about to a therapist at the time. Part of this is because the show allows the audience to identify with the flawed protagonist that is BoJack and then challenges us to follow this person through the darkest moments of his life—which are often of his own making. But the other part of it is because the writer and directors of the show have never been afraid to tackle the toughest of topics both with forethought and levity.
In celebration of this outstanding show, here is a list of ten things that BoJack Horseman kept it real about:
1. America’s Oxymoronic Obsession With the Military
In season one, BoJack gets into an argument with Neal McBeal the Navy Seal, who is an actual fucking seal. While the fight is over something small (muffins), the issue is blown out of proportion when McBeal argues on live television that he deserved the muffins for serving in the military and because people in the military are “heroes”. BoJack pushes back, challenging the “hero” rhetoric (suggesting that many are in fact jerks) and is thus slammed as someone who does not “support the troops”. It’s a hilarious episode that points out America’s obsession with valorizing—at its core—trained killers and the hypocrisy of this so-called reverence for soldiers, considering that this country doesn’t technically or structurally “support them” either.
2. Gun Control and Women’s Rights
During season four, for the outlet Girl Croosh, Diane becomes a gun owner, writes about her experience going to a shooting range, and elaborates on how doing so makes her feel protected and empowered [as a cishet woman] against harassment and violence from [cishet] men. The post goes viral while a completely unrelated mass shooting orchestrated by a woman occurs and suddenly, gun control is called into question. I love this episode because not only does it call America’s obsession with guns into question, but it also is a testament to how far our government (who is mostly composed of old, white men) will go to stifle women’s (and other marginalized people’s) rights. Including banning guns so that they cannot use them.
3. Toxic Upbringing and Breaking Cycles
Part of what made the show really resonate with me was its laser-sharp focus on how our families are literally the first group of people we experience in life and how a toxic one can really set the tone for how we move in interpersonal relationships for the rest of our lives. This is highlighted by BoJack’s upbringing and his experiencing daily how much his parents hate each other and how they both deal with this hate and unhappiness with alcohol. As a result, he becomes alcohol-dependent himself and his interpersonal relationships (particularly with women) are fucking dumpster juice. However, as the final season shows, no matter how painful, it is our responsibility to break these toxic cycles and any refusal to do so… is obviously on us.
Because really, everyone has trauma and none of it is unique enough to excuse us from bettering ourselves.
As many have pointed out online, BoJack Horseman’s depiction of asexuality via Todd Chavez is not perfect, but besides, say Jughead from Riverdale, it’s probably the most visible depiction in recent memory. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the show’s exploration of Todd’s sexuality as Brie Rhoden from Into put it is that, “Todd is also unique in that he was strange prior to his coming out, not as a result of it.” Todd could have easily been left as the poster boy for White [Latinx] Male Mediocrity, particularly because he tends to “accidentally” end up in extremely high-profile “odd jobs” (I.e a theme park owner, governor of California, and President of Ad Sales for Streamable Content), but this added some much-needed depth. This is further aided by the fact that BoJack, while incredibly flawed, affirms Todd’s self-discovery (where asexuality is concerned) and encourages him to run with it (i.e the asexual dating app). It’s a great nod to the asexual community-at-large, particularly because their validity is constantly being called into question. BH is a lot of things and the top among them being thoughtful.
5. Abortion and Infertility
BH has never been shy about tackling issues that pertain to women. And they proved how skilled they were at doing so when the subjects of abortion and infertility came up. The show tackles the latter in a way that is both painful and relatable. Princess Carolyn is someone who has always wanted to “have it all” and has gone to great lengths to do so. So when she suffers yet another miscarriage in season four, it’s very heartbreaking, but also forces her to really weigh her options are as she struggles with a sense of failure. For the latter issue, BH really goes for it by tackling it with excessive hyperbole and absurdity in the form of Sextina Aquafina’s song “Get Dat Fetus, Kill Dat Fetus”. Which is done masterfully to the backdrop of Diane deciding she is going to get an abortion during season three and quite literally having to go through legalized guilt before she can even access this option. Sextina’s song, though absurd, removes a lot of that shame and even gets us to ask ourselves what is there to be ashamed about?
6. Social Issues as Currency
I was incredibly stoked when BH decided to do an episode on “Male Feminists” during season five and BOY, did it do it well. This occurs when douchebag-and-probable-Mel-Gibson-Stand-in Vance Waggoner is set to have his imaged redeemed and his career revived by starring alongside BoJack in his new show Philbert. However, one random “disgusted” face from BoJack at an awards show—which is taken as him being disgusted at Waggoner—is spun into him somehow being a “male feminist”. He relishes this attention and even though both Diane and Princess Carolyn are annoyed by it, they feed him things to say, knowing that Diane’s “feminist brain” and BoJack’s “male face” can actually make a difference. It’s a striking piece of commentary on how [white] men can do the bare minimum in the name of truth and equality, and receive praise while marginalized people who are negatively impacted are silenced, threatened, or ignored when saying the same things.
7. Alcohol as a Social Crutch
There are so many shows (countless shows) that have tackled or attempted to tackle the ups and downs of addiction and what it does to the people around you. This is principally done through alcohol consumption and sometimes also done through other drugs. But what struck me about BH, and what few television shows understand, is that alcohol—particularly in the states—is pushed as a coping, attitude-adjusting mechanism particularly if you are “awkward”, have anxiety, wish to abstain entirely, or struggle in social situations. In the first half of season 6, while BoJack is in rehab, it becomes clear that this is mainly what drove him to his alcohol dependency when we revisit him “loosening” up with spiked orange juice during his days on Horsin’ Around and before that during a high school party. I really wish more shows talked about this.
8. The Inevitable Corruptibility of Power
BH is rife with examples of seemingly good or okay people becoming corrupt—or in the very least, morally “neutral”—the moment they receive even an ounce of power. But my favorite example of this is Princess Carolyn during the first half of season six. When all the assistants of Hollywood finally go on strike (a very timely tackling of this issue), Hollywood is thrown into disarray and it’s up to Princess Carolyn and megaproducer Lenny Turtletaub to quell the rebellion. The interesting part about this is that Princess Carolyn has been on the other side of the picket line and she is reminded of this when she almost gets one of these assistants to sign a shady business deal. It’s a reminder that even the best of us will snatch up the ladder behind us when given the opportunity.
9. The Price of Coming Forward About [Sexual] Misconduct
There have been so many cases where BH has tackled sexual misconduct and how Hollywood (and larger society) will simply ignore it if they like the perpetrator (usually a man) enough. Its more high profile examples include Hank Hippopopalous (a Bill Cosby/Harvey Weinstein-esque Stand-In) and Henry Fondle the Sex Robot. But a more apt example of this would be when BoJack, after becoming addicted to opioids in season five, nearly strangles his Philbert costar, Gina Cazador, to death. The two immediately break-up and BoJack considers coming clean in a joint interview because it’s the “right” thing to do. But she stops him, telling him it would become the only thing that she would be asked about for the rest of her life and that she would never get her big break from Philbert because of it. This episode is surprisingly honest about the other side of assault/misconduct allegations and how the people (usually women) who come forward about it suffer disproportionate punishments in comparison to the men who create these situations. And I’m not really sure I’ve seen another show address that particular phenomenon as well as BH did.
Death is a concept that scares the heebie-jeebies out of a lot of us. This is partially because as an ending to life, it seems rather finite. This is why 3438240803980 of the world’s major religions imagine some kind of afterlife to comfort us. With BH, it confronts this “finiteness” by having BoJack’s afterlife be comprised of a dinner party of friends and family who have long passed… and Zach Braff. But this happiness is undermined by the black ooze of death (re: nothingness) that follows him throughout this dream and waits to consume him. This, paired with Herb Kazzaz’s words about death (“There is no place. It’s just your brain going through what it feels like it has to go through”) is rather ominous, but oddly comforting in its reinforcement that it is an inevitability that must be confronted rather than escaped.
I can’t sit here and say that there will never be a show as excellent as BoJack Horseman. Because the reality is there very well may be a show that comes along tomorrow that blows this one out of the water. But what I can say is that BH was a show that arrived just in time for a lot of us. It was also a show that took its place in pop-culture very seriously—made us laugh, cry, and reflect while doing it—and challenged us to be better people thanks to and despite our trauma.
And for that? I am forever grateful.
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