BACK in the ‘90s BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett) was in a very famous TV show. He starred as the title character in a cheesy family sitcom called Horsin’ Around, about an anthropomorphic horse – in BoJack Horseman these animal-people coexist with ordinary humans – who adopts three orphans to hilarious results. The show made him a superstar and a household name.
But that’s all in the past. Now in his fifties, BoJack is washed-up, living in a massive, soulless house in the Hollywood Hills with no work, a bad back and a drink problem.
He’s not your average cartoon hero, and for the most part BoJack Horseman differentiates itself by portraying him as a genuinely detestable person – not in that wacky comedy way typical of American sitcoms where the irredeemable shittiness of every character is played off as somehow endearing, but in a totally honest and sincere way. BoJack is rude, mean-spirited and self-destructive, and although the show doesn’t shy away from using this as a vehicle for comedy hijinks, it more often produces sincere moments of pathos and growth. Nobody really likes BoJack, and he wants to know why, and he wants to know how to get better.
And there’s something familiar in that. Perhaps not the alcoholism, the drugs, the misanthropic behaviour or even the depression, but in the relentless quest for meaning that drives him and all the other characters in his life.
BoJack is trying to hold on to a past in which he was loved, but all the main characters – Diane, Todd, Princess Carolyn and Mr.Peanutbutter – are searching for something, for identity or purpose or fulfilment. It strikes such a chord with the audience because behind the comedy, behind the colourful animation and – within the story – behind the Hollywood glitz and glamour, it’s all totally genuine, something all of us can ultimately recognise. Indeed, some have called BoJack Horseman the most realistic on-screen portrayal of depression.
This authenticity is why we really care when Princess Carolyn goes through a miscarriage or when Todd comes to terms with his asexuality, and it’s why, despite his awful behaviour, his stubbornness and his contempt for everyone who cares about him, we truly want BoJack to get better.
BoJack Horseman needs to hold on to its fundamental humanity if it’s to last. Already it’s showing signs of wear: Season 5, which was released on Netflix in September, seems to lack a note of authenticity. The stories are markedly ‘sillier’, and although there were series-defining highlights like BoJack’s episode-long eulogy for his mother, some of those moments of pathos and humanity seem almost like afterthoughts, and as a result the show lacks its old urgency, and no longer really surprises us.
Too many American television series are allowed to fester well past their expiry date. An animation as unique as BoJack Horseman should be afforded the respect it deserves: it should be allowed to end on a high note, and despite its continued excellence, that probably means soon.