Opinion Piece - Goodbye Bojack Horseman

Please note: as you might expect, this post is going to include both spoilers for the entire show Bojack Horseman and discussion of its representation of serious issues like substance abuse, suicide and predatory acts of a sexual nature. If you don't want to read about any of these, I recommend you click away, I've got sillier, less spoilery stuff all over this website.


Almost three weeks ago, the final eight episodes of Bojack Horseman were released by Netflix, closing out a show that, in six spectacular seasons, cemented itself as one of the finest on television. Bojack Horseman is the story of the titular character, a washed up sitcom actor who spends most of his days getting drunk and hanging out with Todd, the guy who sleeps on his couch. He's also having an autobiography written by a writer named Diane, who is dating another nineties sitcom actor called Mr Peanutbutter, all at the behest of his long struggling agent Princess Carolyn. Or at least, that's how the show started. Over six increasingly insane seasons, it was a story about the pointlessness of awards season, about loss (both premature and drawn out) and about how the hell we can possibly expect to be loved if we hate ourselves and in a nutshell, that is why this show worked, why it captured my undying affection. Anyway, it is now over and instead of just writing out a review for the final season, I thought it instead made more sense to write out a full retrospective, examining what made the show so good for so long as a way of saying goodbye. Bojack has meant a lot to me as a show, so it leaving feels strange, but times arrow marches on and while we can reflect on the glory that was, we must accept that it will never be again.
We and they both know that when they leave, it's over. So they sit. And they stare. There is still something unsaid, something hanging between them, but it remains unsaid. Forever.
Before I actually break down the show on a much grander scale, I do want to talk about season 6 specifically. It had the unenviable task of both concluding the show and following season 5, a showstopper of a season that juggled meta elements with genius depictions of post #metoo workplace politics, but this is a show that never steered away from challenges that colossal. The season opened with Bojack following through on his promise to himself and his friends of going to rehab and of course, it doesn't all go perfectly, but he tries his best and for a while, that's enough. When it suddenly isn't enough is when the revelations of New Mexico come out, destroying his public reputation and his relationship with half-sister Hollyhock. Faced with the many, many horrible things Bojack has done over his life, he spirals out of control and suffers a near death experience in which he sees all the people whose deaths have affected him intensely. He emerges from this tar pit of misery back into the real world, in which he is a social pariah, with a glimpse of hope that he may become a better person.

While this has been going on, Diane moved to Chicago to live with her new boyfriend and in finally taking her anti-depressants, managed to find the inspiration for a series of best-selling YA novels. Todd continues to be proudly asexual and repairs his relationship with his mum and step-dad, similar to Princess Carolyn who finally has it all; she has a child, a successful business and a husband in her ever dedicated assistant Judah. Even Mr Peanutbutter finds closure, as he realises that the reason he's been in so many failed marriages is actually because of himself, a rare moment of self-reflection that offers him a future. The final episode brings everyone together one last time, for Princess Carolyn's wedding. Princess Carolyn will continue having it all, Todd will continue being adorably goofy and Mr Peanutbutter is still Birthday Dad, but now a Birthday Dad more able to see his own faults. All of this ends with a final rooftop talk between Diane and Bojack, in which they muse on their lives together and realise that after this night, they will never see each other again. We don't see them leave the rooftop, because we and they both know that when they leave, it's over. So they sit. And they stare. There is still something unsaid, something hanging between them, but it remains unsaid. Forever. And then the credits roll. I don't think this is a satisfying ending but that's so clearly by design, because this is not a relationship that could end satisfyingly. It may not satisfy but for the thematic core of the show, I really think it is the perfect ending.
What the show has nailed over these last few seasons is building up a library of immediately impactful visual motifs.
Before we delve into the heavier elements of the show, it's worth mentioning that this is a show to be adored for its silliness, both visual and comedic. For all fans of the show talk about how it hits hard, it is primarily a comedy and it's a damn funny comedy at that. So many running jokes have found their way into my repertoire, from the joy of rhyme in long sentences, to "what is this, a crossover episode?" and of course, Mr Peanutbutter's classic "Are you [overly long plot synopsis] because you are [title of a show or film that relates to this situation]". I apologise for that, explaining jokes always makes them worse but part of the joy of this show is that there are so many jokes I couldn't spoil for you. Being animated, the possibilities are only limited by what the animators can draw, meaning that the show has gone all in on many stupid sight gags time and time again. On that note, the animators on this show also aren't afraid to experiment visually from time to time. Some of my favourite parts of the show have experimented with the look of the animation, be that in the heartbreaking "Times Arrow", the hilariously relatable "Stupid Piece of Shit" or even in the final season when Princess Carolyn was trying to have it all, creating multiple "selves". The show is also fully aware of when to pull back though. One of the most beloved episodes is Free Churro, an episode that is almost entirely a monologue from Bojack at his mother's funeral. It's in one room, with one voice and there are no cut-aways and it really, really works. More than restraint or creativity though, what the show has nailed over these last few seasons is building up a library of immediately impactful visual motifs. A viewer who sees a sky full of stars, a green balloon or a tar pit immediately understands the connotations that those visuals come loaded with, all because of the top notch work from everyone involved in the visual side of this show.
In its analysis of the outer life, the inner life and the afterlife, I can't think of a single show that's picked apart life better than Bojack Horseman.
So we've touched on it, let's finally explore the parts of Bojack that hit deep. For the first six or so episodes of the show, it seemed like a typically silly animated show, where the USP was that some of the characters were animals. It was fine, that was all good and in the summer of 2014, I had enough free time that I didn't need anything more than that. But I got more than that. Firstly, the show is exceptionally astute at commenting on the world inside and outside the show. I've already mentioned the genius #metoo plot line, which featured a sex-robot called Henry Fondle becoming a CEO, but there was also the recent critiques on late capitalism with Whitewhale and the instantly iconic take that America hates women more than it loves guns. The show doesn't just understand what is outside though, it also understands what is inside us. Many of you I'm sure remember the post I did a few months ago where I talked about my mental health and while I am relatively stable and completely undiagnosed, Bojack has helped me understand this world. We live inside our heads forever, we will never leave them until the day we die, so how do we live with that? There weren't easy answers, but there were enough crumbs laid that I understand myself and people with genuine diagnoses of depression so much better. With this finality though has come an intense existentialism, the likes of which are only comparable to the surreal and heady Synecdoche, New York. In the penultimate episode, characters who had been "living" in Bojack's memory finally face death by jumping into a doorway which leads to an empty, pitch black, nothingness. It is terrifying, but always in a precise way. Grieving for the death of a family member is complicated and messy but when Bojack speaks at his mother's funeral, it is all there, plain as day; the inexplicable explained. In its analysis of the outer life, the inner life and the afterlife, I can't think of a single show that's picked apart life better than Bojack Horseman.
I think it is basically the greatest thing TV has done in the last half decade.
The reason this post is unfortunate is because I want to use it as a way to recommend people watch the show but due to the spoilers I've had to delve into, the only people reading it either had no intention of watching the show or have already seen it. But still, I hope this breakdown of the show has helped explain why I think it is basically the greatest thing TV has done in the last half decade. If you haven't seen the show, there's still a lot I didn't touch on and I recommend seeing the show regardless. If you have seen it, this is a great reminder that you should recommend it to everyone you can. Perhaps this post has been pointless but I needed a way to express my full bodied adoration of Bojack Horseman now that it's gone to the big TV studio in the sky, but so it goes, right? Life, like this post, is a bitch and then you die. Or sometimes, life's a bitch and then you keep living. Yeah. You keep living.


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