By Erin S
If you’re in any of my classes, you might know about my love for a Netflix Original Series called BoJack Horseman. It’s a cartoonishly overdone premise, perfect for a sitcom-loving simpleton like myself; a middle aged horse man (whose last name is Horseman, how clever is that?) achieved A-list fame on a Friends-esque hit 90s sitcom. Decades later, he is a washed-up, self-destructive alcoholic living in a giant mansion. It’s set in a parallel universe version of Hollywood where brightly colored cartoon anthropomorphic animals and humans live together. This is the premise of the best show I’ve ever watched, and you should watch it too.
First, a disclaimer: I am a sitcom nerd. That’s it. I’ve never written a script before, and I don’t really know anything about the television industry or the writers’ room or any of the things that I am going to talk about. Imagine an “in my opinion” before every single sentence you’re about to read. That being said, here are some reasons why you should watch BoJack Horseman.
The first is that it breaks the golden rule of television: never change. Dan Harmon, my favorite showrunner of all time (creator of Community and co-creator of Rick and Morty), famously referred to television as a medium that avoids change. Here’s something he wrote that sums it up pretty nicely: “A feature film’s job is to send you out of the theater on a high in 90 minutes. Television’s job is to keep you glued to the television for your entire life. This does not entail making stories any less circular (TV circles are so circular [that] they’re sometimes irritatingly predictable). It just means that the focus … is less riling-things-up and more getting-things-back-to-where-they-started. Movies can afford to blow up the Death Star at the end. In a sitcom version of Star Wars, however, the protagonist would be a desk clerk working in the hangar bay at Rebel headquarters. In a dramatic series, he’d be an X-wing pilot constantly making raids on the Death Star. But note that in both the sitcom and dramatic TV version of Star Wars, the Death Star stays. If not, the show would end.” In short, TV shows must fundamentally never change because otherwise there would be no show.
I think this is really exemplified by all TV show characters’ forced proximity to one another. Some shows lampshade this fact but don’t actually do anything about it, such as Arrested Development’s jokes about how self-centered the Bluths are–they don’t care about anyone but themselves, and that’s part of the Bluth charm. More practically, it’s also part of the sitcom charm. The main characters have to stay together because otherwise, the show either devolves into five or so separate plotlines with no connection, which is tough to keep up with and stay emotionally invested in, or there is no show. So, most television characters stay in their tight little circle of friends or keep living with their family for years, and fundamentally, nothing really changes (think The Office or Friends. Sometimes there’s a new hire in the Office or one of the Friends starts dating someone new, but that usually doesn’t change anything fundamental about the show. None of the Friends move out of New York, and none of the key members of the Office find a new job. When Steve Carell did that, the show broke. It broke. My official stance on The Office is that its last season was Season 7). People don’t naturally grow apart in the world of television like they do in real life; they stay together in a forced sitcom limbo until cancellation.
But this isn’t so in BoJack Horseman. I accredit this partly to the showrunner’s training. Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of BoJack Horseman, studied as a playwright before becoming a showrunner. Plays are more similar to movies than they are to television; there’s no need to keep viewers hooked for years. So in a play, like in a movie, you can blow up the Death Star in the end. BoJack Horseman blows up the metaphorical Death Star many times over its six season run. In another show, a main character introduced only as another main character’s girlfriend would stay in that relationship forever, with occasional hiccups for drama. But in BoJack Horseman, the two break up. The girl moves to Chicago and gets a new boyfriend. The guy stays in Hollywood and also moves on. They call occasionally, as acquaintances. The main characters develop different interests, they change, and they move on. With this sort of separation, it’s very easy for a show to devolve into lots of plotlines about unrelated characters living unrelated lives. However, BoJack Horseman keeps its episodes thematically unified–Season 6 Episode 11’s A and B stories, although about two main characters in different places doing different things, are both about letting go and moving on. The two stories, although different, echo each other beautifully and build on each other to weave a cohesive, thematically unified story.
The second reason you should watch BoJack Horseman is because it’s cool! All TV is cool to me as an avid TV lover, but BoJack Horseman is particularly cool. Two of my favorite BoJack episodes are complete opposites: one is an entire episode with no words except for the final few seconds, just water noises and intermittent squishing; the other is a monologue for the entire episode besides the cold open, meaning that Will Arnett as a horse is talking for twenty minutes nonstop. Nothing happens besides a horse talking for twenty minutes. That’s really cool! It’s amazing how an episode of television can capture my attention, hold it, and advance an emotional plotline and character development while remaining funny. If only to witness that great feat, you should watch BoJack Horseman.
The third reason you should watch BoJack Horseman is because it approaches mental health in an authentic way. Perhaps because of its brightly colored, animated format, BoJack Horseman is able to go where other shows don’t or can’t because it would seem too maudlin. Although I haven’t seen it, 13 Reasons Why has been under fire for glamorizing suicide and self-harm and promoting an inaccurate, romanticized version of mental health struggles to its mostly teenage audience. BoJack Horseman is absolutely nothing like that. It touches deeply and sincerely on feelings of self-worth and inadequacy, substance abuse, body image, death, family trauma, sexuality, and love (corny though it may sound). Its depiction of depression was the first I’d seen that made me understand that what I was going through wasn’t just a phase and wasn’t unique to me, and made me realize that I needed help and that asking for it wasn’t wrong or useless. All the characters on BoJack Horseman are flawed, and all of them are painfully relatable and not in the #Relatable way. You root for them to change for the better so fervently because through rooting for them, you are rooting for yourself. If you’re struggling emotionally or mentally, you should watch BoJack Horseman because it’s powerful to see parts of yourself depicted that you didn’t know people knew about. It’s powerful to see that other people understand and that you need and deserve help. If you’re not struggling at all with anything (although I doubt that), you should watch BoJack Horseman because maybe you can find something you can relate with, or maybe you can learn more about how other people feel.
But if none of that gets you, the final reason you should watch BoJack Horseman is because it’s funny. So much effort is put into the show’s visual gags – most paintings in the backgrounds of houses or offices have had their human subjects replaced with animals (the Birth of Venus by Botticelli is now the Birth of an Elephant), and if there’s a scene taking place in a restaurant, you can bet there’s an animal gag in the background such as a camel’s hump growing as he drinks water. Of course, the actual jokes are funny as well; on no other show will you find a power-hungry Jessica Biel in a collapsed underground mansion urging her peers to eat Zach Braff.
Watch BoJack Horseman. It’s a really good show.