I’m pretty pleasantly surprised at the general quality of the original programming that Netflix has been putting out the last few years. I wasn’t really expecting all that much from their original series, probably residual skepticism from back when all that was streaming on Netflix Instant was Steven Seagal movies and terrible nature documentaries, so it’s been great to see them put some of the most thought-provoking and interesting stuff on television right now .I’ve given almost every one of the series’ a fair shake, and have been impressed almost every time. And there’s one show in particular that I really wasn’t expecting that much from. BoJack Horseman. When the series first launches I wasn’t really sure what it was about, but the trailer and the images were really turning me off. A weird art style and a general look about it that just seemed like Netflix courting the Adult Swim audience, which typically isn’t my style. But when I started hearing great things about the show, and started seeing just how amazing the cast was, I decided to give the show a shot, and boy was I glad I did.
The premise of BoJack Horseman is pretty simple, but weird-as-hell as well. Set in a world where there are humans and anthropomorphic animal-people commingling, the series follows a washed up actor named BoJack Horseman. BoJack was in a popular, but pretty terrible, sitcom in the nineties, and is now an old, bitter, alcoholic just trying to find success and happiness in life. There’s a handful of other supporting characters and plots that go on through the series, but for the most part we follow BoJack and his eternal struggle to remain relevant. The show has settled into a nice little formula, with each season showing BoJack slowly regaining his celebrity and relevance and dealing with some new shot at breaking into the mainstream again. The first season we had BoJack trying to get a tell-all autobiography written about himself, only to have it tell way too much and expose him for the wreck of a person he is. But by the second season it turns out that people loved seeing that side of him, and he’s gotten enough cache in the entertainment business again to get his passion project, a biopic about Secretariat, off the ground. We then follows BoJack through the arduous filming process of his dream project where he learns how cutthroat and unfulfilling the life of a mainstream actor. And our latest season follows BoJack as he does everything and anything he can to lobby for a nomination for Best Actor for his role as Secretariat.
There have been a lot of television series’ and films about what it’s like in the movie-business, and I generally find them all fascinating. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story quite like this, that takes such an honest and depressing look at what it’s like to try and get acceptance for your job. This season we saw BoJack bend over backwards to get the acceptance of his peers. He doesn’t just want to be a washed up actor anymore, and he’s willing to do anything to get the success and admiration that he thinks he deserves. He get mired in endless interviews, has to go under the sea to make appearances in an underwater city in what may have been the most interesting and shockingly beautiful episodes of the season, he sells his soul to a publicist who teaches him how to schmooze and smile during endless minor awards ceremonies, and just generally pushes everyone close to him away due to the stress of the impending awards season.
And it’s not just BoJack who is dealing with success, just about every character on the show is dealing with that in one way or another. BoJack’s dorky ‘roommate’ Todd manages to create and run a successful business in this season, and struggles to remain himself with new wealth and power. Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s agent is trying to keep her new talent agency afloat. Diane is trying to make a living as a social media expert and find some sort of fulfillment in her life through that. Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane have a run-in with an unexpected pregnancy and the implications that that has for their lives. Every character in the show this season was trying to find some sort of success in their life, and therefor some meaning.
The entire series has been more or less about this idea, but it wasn’t until this season that the message really clicked for me. Over the three years that we’ve known BoJack we’ve come to learn that the only thing that he wants in life is success. From a young age he thought that being accepted and loved was the only way to not only be happy, but to be worthwhile. And he had that for a while, and pissed it away. When he became washed up he decided that he didn’t have anything to live for, and that his life was without meaning. So he’s been doing everything he could to become famous again, assuming that that would make him happy. But it was never enough. He was on a famous TV show, and that wasn’t enough. He released a powerful and popular memoir, and that wasn’t enough. He even acted (mostly) in his dream project, but that still wasn’t enough. So this is what he thinks is his last chance for success, getting an Oscar. That would mean that he’s not just an actor again, but a great actor. That would be the true sign that people like him,and therefor he’s a worthy person. But then something happens. He gets nominated, and doesn’t feel any different. The series takes an odd turn from there, that continues to make BoJack’s erratic rise to the top more interesting, but it’s that moment when he realizes that being nominated doesn’t feel any different that was so powerful to me. The rest of the season revolves around BoJack coming to terms with the idea that his whole life may have been a lie. He’s been convinced that the key to being happy and having self-worth was other people telling him he’s good, at the expense of true happiness. He sees his friends around him growing and changing, coming to terms with themselves and finding new way to make themselves happy, but not BoJack. He just can’t do that. He doesn’t know how to be happy. He doesn’t know how to feel worthy in life. And at the end of this season, he finally realizes that. I’m fascinated to see where this series goes from here. All of the other characters are on interesting paths that should play out in great ways in the coming season, and I can generally see where they’re going. But not BoJack. I have no idea where that character is heading. It could be to peace and enlightenment, or sadness and torment. But either way, it will feel earned. This has become a shockingly enlightened, beautiful show, and I hope everyone gives it a shot. They just may learn something about life.
BoJack Horseman was created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and released by Netflix, 2016.