Talking horses, pink cats and a young American adult. What do these three have in common? Nothing but an instrumental piece to seal up the void in their heart. Here in Bojack Horseman, we are spectators to the lives of a bunch of misfit animals (literally) and humans in the entertainment industry. And because it is about the entertainment industry, Bojack Horseman features a notable lineup of guest stars including John Krasinski, Jessica Biel, Rami Malek and Marcia Gay Harden. Its ending was perfect and I am glad that the creators chose not to drag this show for more seasons.
The show does have some questions that remained unsolved. For instance, can Bojack truly be saved? And will Diane ever find someone who understands her? Before I delve deeper, let’s recap some of the key moments in this drama.
In season one, we are introduced to the main characters: Bojack Horseman, Diane Nguyen, Princess Carolyn, Todd Chavez and Mr Peanutbutter. The main plot of this season revolves around Diane publishing Bojack’s biography in hopes for more publicity for the latter. We saw a peek into Bojack’s toxic relationships with his friends and also Todd, who has crashed Bojack’s house for years.
The second season reveals slightly more about Todd who later had enough of Bojack’s antics decided to join a improv comedy cult. It is also one of the first few times where we see the intellect of the series, AKA Diane, breaking down after she quit her job. We further see how Bojack destroys the people around him, including female director Kelsey who through his escapades got fired from Secretariat. We also learn about Bojack’s platonic relationship with Charlotte, a doe and good friend of Bojack before she starts a family in New Mexico.
The series soon took a darker turn from season three onward. In this season, Sarah Lynn, the child star from Horsin’ Around who under the spotlight of Hollywoo grows up to be a troubled pop star, dies of an accidental heroin overdose from the drugs supplied by Bojack. This is perhaps the single most damaging mistakes, one that continues to haunt him in the following seasons.
Season four then opens with Bojack going missing while attempting to start a life of anonymity in Michigan where his grandfather once lived. While Bojack seeks solace in Michigan, Mr Peanutbutter runs for governor in California and this sadly took an irreparable strain on his marriage with Diane and their eventual divorce.
Lastly, I would like to describe seasons five and six as a single piece because these they are ultimately about Bojack’s and Diane’s mental healing progress as they come to accept themselves for who they are.
I like to believe that what makes Bojack Horseman great is that it is so bold in representation of social-political issues like mass shooting in America and of course, the certain prominent problems in Hollywood such as the #MeToo movement (S6E12) and a lack of female directors. While there are tons of others adult animation sitcom that touches on similar topics, the very fact that Bojack Horseman is trash-talking about the entertainment industry – the very place where the series and the stars behind the show come from – makes the whole sitcom more believable and exciting. We are no longer lured to the glamorous yet often unrealistic depiction of life in the showbiz, but the behind-the-scenes of this cut-throat and fast-paced business.
THE DIFFERENT SIDES OF US
While the themes explored by Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s creation do deserve its own write-up, I will, however, like to comment on the characters first. As I carried on with this series, I could not help but notice that the problems and personalities of the main cast mirror us in real life.
Bojack Horseman: The Time Bomb
First off, Bojack is like a time bomb because of his self-destructive behaviour. This man-horse loathes himself so much he dismisses the help from the people around him often to their annoyance. When I first saw Wanda Pierce (played by Lisa Kudrow), I had high hopes that these two would last at least for a season. But because of Bojack’s own insecurities and problems, he blew off the whole relationship. And as famously said by Wanda,
When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.
As the show progresses, I developed mixed feelings for his character. A part of me sympathises him because of his lonely childhood spent with neglectful and toxic parents but the other half of me felt that Bojack is nothing more than an ungrateful jerk. When he finally lands the main role as Secretariat, Bojack’s refreshed look on life fire back against him as Kelsey finds him too optimistic for the role. Similarly in season six, his attempt to start anew as a drama professor in Wesleyan University is unsuccessful when the reporters managed to connect the dots between Sarah Lynn’s overdose and death to Bojack. Beneath Bojack is a good person. Remember in S3E4 where he brought the little seahorse back home? Bojack can be a considerate and good-natured but this is not always the case.
He consistently faults others for the bad things that fall upon him although he knows that deep down, these problems stem from him (recall how he disses his dead mother Beatrice on her funeral in S5E6). However hard he tries to make amends, as mentioned above, bad things still happen to him and he eventually stops battling his fate.
Diane Nguyen: The Dissatisfied Intellect
Diane represents the logical voice and kindness in us. In many ways are Bojack and Diane similar. Both characters come from a neglectful family and both articulate well thought-out intellectual views on various social issues that are often disregarded by others. They both are looking at ways to express themselves through films, televisions and books but they find these channels unfulfilling. However, unlike Bojack who decides to lash out his frustrations on others Diane chooses to bottle up her feelings. Diane chooses not to believes what her parents’ verbal abuse but Bojack does.
When Bojack falls in love with Diane in season one, I was hoping to see a relationship blossom between the two of them. But as I look back on this pair, it only seems that these two can only stay as friends. They are similar, too similar to the degree that they will end up bringing out the worst in each other.
Diane is too intellectual for the people around her that she ends up being misunderstood. And because her thoughts and ideas are not well-appreciated Diane feels trapped in a bubble. She is an idealist character and she hopes for the best for the people and the world around her but in the industry where fiction triumphs over reality, nobody takes her seriously.
She holds an impossible standard for herself and the people around her (S5E12) but that is not the problem. The problem lies in the fact that she wants it instantly. The war-torn fictional nation of Republic of Cordovia will not have peace immediately and neither can Diane gain the wisdom to life satisfaction in just a day. Hollywoo has changed the world of Diane, making her believe instant gratification is all possible when it is not and this makes her miserable.
Sometimes I wonder why did Diane not venture out to the academia world when clever debates about feminism and other hot-button topics enthuse her more.
Mr Peanutbutter: The One who Wants to be Liked
Our favourite dog is Hollywoo’s favourite character and that is sadly his weakness, his need to be liked by everyone. He needs people’s approval of him constantly and so much so that he runs for the governor of California to be in the public’s favour.
On the surface, Mr Peanutbutter is a seemingly harmless and genuine dog who only sees the good in others. He cares deeply for the people around him and like Todd, is a generally optimistic fella. When he confesses about the dream he had where he felt relieved when Diane left him (S1E9), it is obvious that Mr Peanutbutter is not ready for a lifelong commitment with Diane but still went on with the marriage. This just highlights Mr Peanutbutter’s inability to be realistic in life and see past the obvious red flags in life.
He has three failed marriages and committed infidelity in his fourth relationship with a younger pup, Pickles and the only common problem in these relationships is Mr Peanutbutter himself. Rather than listening to Diane’s burdens, he settles for the practical approach and solves her hurdles instead. It appears as if Mr Peanutbutter only wants a relationship so that he can take care of someone and feel valued.
Princess Carolyn: The Workaholic
The pink Persian cat is someone I personally can relate to because we both just work (or study) too much. Princess Carolyn is the epitome of a successful career woman. She puts her heart and soul into her work, often clinches shows and movies for her clients and she has an extensive network in the showbiz to tap on. She has what most career-focused women yearn for: success and power. But all these are at the expense of her personal life.
Princess Carolyn is too harsh on herself to the extent that she blames herself for “having feelings” (S1E7). She imposes unreasonable restrictions on herself and checks her feelings to ensure she maintains professional at all times. She does not say no to pressing demands or pushy clients and bosses, she merely accepts them as part of her job as an agent. In fact, she is such a terrific agent she does not even recall her own dreams anymore (S6E14).
Having being an agent and former ex-girlfriend for Bojack, she often finds herself cleaning up his mess but she always goes back to “fix his problems” (SE37) even if said person has made the same mistakes.
But the pink Persian cat that we knows does has her moment of weakness too. One might expect Princess Carolyn to change after she adopts her baby porcupine, Ruthie, but in S6E2 we see her struggling to balance her work life and personal life. She is worn out but she continues to be the one-stop solution for everyone’s problems.
Todd Chavez: The Happy-go-Lucky
Todd is the friend that everyone wants: one who sticks by you no matter what. However unappreciative and a jerk Bojack has been to him, Todd still believes that there is a good person in him although the friendship soon broke down when Bojack sabotaged his rock opera. Just like his unofficial business partner Mr Peanutbutter, Todd maintains a positive outlook of life – though it can be read as gullible – and sees challenges or flaws as opportunities for business or improvements.
In the Bojack world, no character is free of worries. For Todd’s case, he questions his sexuality and his relationship with his mother is estranged. Despite his unique talents and likable nature, Todd is an aimless person in life. He is satisfied with the status quo and feels no need to have “a discernible life direction” (S5E1).
REEL LIFE IS NOT REAL LIFE
But if the last season has revealed us anything it is that hope exists somewhere out there. We have seen the characters grow and mature from season one and I am pleased with their outcomes when we see them reunite for Princess Carolyn and Judah’s wedding for the entertainment industry.
At last, Bojack is legally punished for his mistakes although he was only criminally charged for illegal breaking and entering a property. Some audience may feel that his almost-death experience (I argue that Bojack did survive the drowning) was enough but no, that does not discount him of the consequences he has to face. But when he see him again, he appears much joyful. It was evident from the beginning that he needed a higher authority i.e. the law to impose strict routines and rules on him for him to reflect. In other words, he can and should not make his choices until he has learnt. Regrettably, he was not offered the ‘prison break’ from his troubled life (odd how going to prison is essential for Bojack’s redemption). The world finally knows of his bender with Sarah Lynn and he no longer needs to conceal this secret. The cat is out of the bag and Bojack is free.
At the end of the day, Diane earns her happiness with Guy in Houston and she is no longer bitter about her past relationships with Mr Peanutbutter. She is still the same old Diane except she is no longer (or at least not as much as) depressed. Not everyone can and will stay in her life and that is alright.
Todd’s transformation is impressive as well. He is someone who sets his mind on a goal and he works hard to achieve it. He went from being an aimless young freeloader to work in an office with a girlfriend. He takes steps to mend his broken relationship with his mother and while a long process, has worked out fine for him. Though he noticeably maintains an arm’s length distance away from Bojack, he is still the same buoyant Todd who looks out for Bojack.
Not forgetting our favourite dog, Mr Peanutbutter, he truly is a man (or horse)’s best friend as we later see him picking Bojack up from the supermax prison. From their conversations, we learn that Mr Peanutbutter is also trying to figure out a way to be in a relationship without being co-dependent.
We never know what will happen to Diane and Bojack. Will the conversation under the stars really be their last? I like to believe that this conversation will be their last, at least for the short while. It is extremely unfair to see Diane getting sucked into his shenanigans again and feel guilty whenever he fails. She does not deserve to be on the constant look-out for him anymore and neither does Princess Carolyn. And maybe that was the issue from the start. Bojack is in a safe and comfortable zone where he knows that no matter how badly he screws up, the ladies in his life will always be there for him. Perhaps what he needs all this while is a break from his refuge. There is no way the both of them can heal unless they cut off ties with each other. Nonetheless, I trust that these two will somehow meet again in the future be it just a short gathering or if Guy ever reallocates back to Los Angeles.
As for what will become of Bojack when he is released from prison, I have faith that he will turn around but there is no guarantee that he will be a better person. After all, all his moral compasses, save Mr Peanutbutter, have cut him off their lives. It is likely that Mr Peanutbutter will drag him back into the showbiz or at least allow Bojack to crash at his apartment while he figures something for himself. Princess Carolyn surely may maintain personal connections with Bojack and maybe, she might just introduce this middle-aged horse a reliable and firm agent. Just like what Todd has said, what Bojack needs to do is set a new record for himself each day.
If there is anything I have gained from the series is that nobody is controlling our fate unlike the characters in the shows. The show creators decide the end for Bojack and the gang but this does not apply in the actual world. Even if life is nasty, it will continue to move on and you have to move on too. There is no running away from our past because it will only come back to haunt you. You have to confront your past to move on even if going to the root cause of your unhappiness is an extremely painful thing to do. There is no happy ending or sad ending, you just wake up to a brand new story the next day.
It was one hell of an adventure and I am glad to have been a part of it.
You do the Hokey Pokey. And you turn around. That’s what it’s about.Todd Chavez
- S1E2: “Bojack Hates the Troops”
- S1E5: “Live Fast, Diane Nguyen”
- S1E11: “Downer Ending”
- S2E7: “Hank After Dark”
- S3E4: “Fish Out of Water”
- S3E9: “Best Thing That Ever Happened”
- S3E11: “That’s Too Much, Man!”
- S4E5: “Thoughts and Prayers”
- S4E6: “Stupid Piece of Sh*t”
- S4E6: “Underground”
- S5E2: “The Dog Days Are Over”
- S5E6: “Free Churro”
- S6E6: “The Kidney Stays in the Picture”
- S6E9: “Intermediate Scene Study w/ BoJack Horseman”
- S615: “The View From Halfway Down”
- S6E16: “Nice While It Lasted”
P.S. Does anyone else think that Bojack Horseman’s character is like Donald Draper (Mad Men) too? Their addictions, inability to redeem themselves and their desperate need for a rehab? Even the opening sequences (of Bojack seeing the world fly past him and Don Draper falling down the building) bear some resemblance.