“I think Bojack Horseman has run its course”
The year is 2014. I’m in my bedroom hiding away from the outside world and looking for something watch on Netflix. I stumble upon Bojack Horseman, a show that I had previously dismissed as a dumb ‘adult’ cartoon that will use crass humour to try and capture the attention of the Family Guy crowd. The marketing material wasn’t inspiring in the least, but my desperation left me no other choice. I start the first episode.
It’s not a show that I immediately fall in love with, as a matter of fact its quite the opposite. Throughout the first episode my initial apprehension is realized, and if not for the fact that I had nothing better to do I wouldn’t have finished watching the seemingly long thirty minutes. And then the entire first season. Watching through Bojack Horseman was fine. It wasn’t bad enough for me to abandon ship, but it wasn’t good enough for me to remember anything specific from any of the episodes. As I had assumed the show was shoehorning adult themes into an otherwise cutesy show about talking animals, and if not for the oftentimes funny dialogue or puns I probably would have given up three episodes in. But then something happened.
Nearing the end of the season, already having been bombarded with social commentary and animal-based puns, Bojack Horseman did something that I will never forget. At the tail end of an episode which features our main characters on a drug-fuelled bender, Bojack Horseman does something that was foreign to me at the time: It took its main character and revealed how vulnerable he is. As Bojack is standing in a room in front of a microphone pleading with another character to tell him he’s a good person, I realized that Bojack Horseman wasn’t fucking around. Although I had dismissed the show as a cheap ploy to juxtapose two wildly different genres in an attempt to generate buzz, Bojack Horseman actually delivered a very interesting look at a character we have been getting to know since the late 90’s (at least in the medium of television).
Bojack Horseman continues on to this day, and that’s why I’m writing this. I just finished watching season five of the show that I have grown to love so dearly, and I identified an issue: I think Bojack Horseman has run its course.
The thing about Bojack Horseman is that it always managed to tackle serious issues in a way that got your guard down beforehand. Anybody can say “depression sucks”, but that statement carries a lot more weight when delivered by a talking horse while he’s in the presence of a myriad of other talking animals. Bojack Horseman is the kind of show that gives you the good and the bad. One minute you could be laughing at a wolf wearing a t-shirt that says “sheep” on it, and the next you are dealing with your own personal issues that are being personified on screen right in front of you.
But this brings me to the issue I think Bojack Horseman has: The show always has to one-up itself. This isn’t a rule so much as it is an agreement. If there is no reason for an audience to keep returning to your show, your show dies. To keep them coming back you have to give them more of what they want, but bigger; becasue if it’s not bigger than its the same and the same is boring. But Bojack Horseman handled this issue in a way that I thought was smart, but the magic is starting to fade.
So you have a show about a sad horse, and people are eating it up. They love it, but what will you do for season two? Well, the sad horse schtick hasn’t run its course yet, so let’s try that. Oh, we’re getting a third season? Alright, how about we reveal that a couple other characters are sad too! Yeah, then it turns into a metaphor about different mental illnesses and how they aren’t always visible from the outside. Season four? We’ll elaborate on those characters, but let’s not forget about the horse. I know that my writing might seem spiteful or condescending, but I’m just trying to break down this show so that I can easily explain my point.
My point being: Bojack Horseman has bitten off more than it can chew. Every season we are introduced to a new problem, the main one being the problem of Bojack himself. He’s sad, and he uses various coping mechanisms to quell this sadness. The entire season goes on while he deals with this sadness, and then the final episode comes along and things are looking up… Until episode one of next season where we find out Bojack has found a new self-destructive coping mechanism that will be the crux of this season. To help alleviate this feeling of frustration from the audience we were introduced to other sad characters, but now they are falling into the same trap. Bojack Horseman is treading water.
It hasn’t started to impact the show negatively yet, but I definitely noticed a shift in this latest season (the fifth in the show’s lifetime). Nothing big is happening, and while I enjoyed my time I started to wonder why I was bothering to watch it at all. Sure it’s good for quite a few laughs, but in the grand scheme of things I struggle to see the point. It’s not a struggle for me to see Bojack Horseman take the Silicon Valley route in my eyes and become a show I have to abandon due to technology not yet allowing me to reach through the screen and slap some sense into the main characters.
But maybe that’s the point. I don’t think it is the point, but maybe the writer is just trying to convey how hopeless life is. That in the grips of depression nothing will every change for the better. That’s fine, if a bit of a stretch to assume that’s what’s happening here, but don’t do that with my television shows. Everybody knows that life sucks and then you die, give us a reason for it to suck less; don’t accentuate the suck. All I’m saying is that Bojack has to get better or die soon, because I don’t see this show having more than one more (good) season left in it.