Bojack Horseman: Nostalgic Anthropomorphic Beatdown
As a child of the 90s, I’m at a bit of a weird spot in my life in that a lot of the stuff I currently consume and enjoy is not from my era. Superhero movies, video games, really bad daytime soap operas and the like are from generations before me whose nostalgic boner effectively rules the entire entertainment industry, particularly the 80s era kids. While they can crap their pants in glee at the return of Star Wars or a new Terminator movie (okay maybe not that second one), 90s kids can look forward to… okay, well “Girl Meets World” is pretty great but I honestly can’t tell if people are psyched for that “Full House” sequel or just hoping it’ll be a hilarious train wreck. I mean, I didn’t exactly care for the show when it was on but I guess that one was chosen because it was either this or take another swing at “Saved by the Bell.”
Speaking of hilarious train wrecks that evoke nostalgia, how about that Netflix series “Bojack Horseman”?!
Incidentally, I’m gonna have to spoil some parts of the first two seasons so if you haven’t seen it (which I fully recommend you do), you should probably stop reading. Alright? Alright.
If you haven’t seen “Bojack Horseman,” the show is about a talking horse who used to be a dad on a famous 90s sitcom called “Horsin’ Around.” If you need an idea of what the show was like, just imagine “Full House” with a horse and no John Stamos and Dave Coulier. (Where’s he been, by the way?) Flash forward to the present day, and Bojack is a giant dick who wallows in his nostalgia of himself. The theme song to his show is his ringtone, he’ll watch old episodes of his own show, and, after having a heart to heart with one of the girls who played his daughter on the show, proceeds to wave his hand in front of his face while humming the end credits song to his own show. Hell, in one episode he urges his show’s former child stars—who are now adults and, respectively, a drug addict who stabs herself in order to keep Andrew Garfield from breaking up with her, an appliance store owner, and an actress who’s sometimes British, into honoring the show creator’s dying wish because they never got to do a “treasure map” episode. Talk about living in the past, right?
His burnout phase soon gets upended when a publishing company demands that he pay up on the memoir he promised and hires a ghostwriter named Diane to speed along the process. The memoir ends up being a huge hit, putting Bojack on a comeback and landing him the star role in a feature film about a man (well, horse) he idolized as a young boy. Season two picks up as filming for the Secretariat movie is starting; Bojack’s trying to change his outlook on life, but finds that he may not be as ready for the big leagues as he once thought.
When I say Bojack is a giant dick, I’m kinda selling the guy short. He’s a drunk, he verbally abuses his roommate Todd, lies to get what he wants, sneezes on Marissa Tomei, hits on nearly every woman he meets then wants them gone after the sex is over, gets an old man killed who he drunkenly believed was John Stamos, and is the kind of person you’d only want around if you have a morbid curiosity for assholes. In one episode of the second season, Bojack intentionally gets an answer wrong on a live TV quiz show for the sole purpose of spiting Daniel Radcliffe, at which point a giant bag of money meant for charity is dropped into an actual pit of fire. It’s a completely horrifying moment that shows how petty the titular protagonist is, made even worse by his smug look and the camera cutting to the horrified reactions of his friends and the audience. The money burning and the reactions, along with Radcliffe’s incredibly angered cry of “Elijah Wood?!”, made me laugh way more than I should’ve, and I’m cracking up just thinking about it. And yet, as much of a dick move as it certainly is, I can understand why Bojack did what he did.
“Bojack Horseman” has two great strengths that I think make it a great show. The first is its characters, a world populated of humans and anthropomorphic animals. The primary cast is more skewed on the animal side—there’s Bojack, his feline agent Princess Carolyn, Bojack’s girlfriend, and Diane’s dog husband Mr. Peanutbutter—but they all feel human thanks to their voice work and great writing. Unlike old 90s sitcoms like “Full House” or “Friends” (or even 2000s sitcoms like “How I Met Your Mother”), the characters in Bojack are allowed to fail, and I do mean utterly fail, in ways that are both groanworthy but entirely understandable and logical. The penultimate episode of the second season is the best example of this; I’m not going to spoil what happens, but let’s just say that Bojack does something that’s completely fucked up and dark. It’s something I didn’t think the show would have the balls to do, but it did, and I can understand—not approve of, but understand—why he and the other character involved made the decision they did. Outside of him, Diane decides that she wants to work for an activist organization to make something of her life, but bails within a few days after discovering that she’s really nothing more than glorified PR. In another show, she would’ve just toughed it out or convinced the guy to actually give a damn about the war torn country. But Diane up and admits that it isn’t what she thought it was, comes back home, and hides from her husband for two months while lying about still being overseas.
The other great strength of Bojack? Well, it ties back to nostalgia. Season two’s seventh episode “Hank After Dark” deals with Diane facing blowback after publicly outing an actor (that played a beloved sitcom dad) for sexually assaulting women. Once she’s pulled up receipts on him, everything that happens to her in the show is a dead on version of what happened in real life when Bill Cosby was accused of rape. Death threats, pleas from her male friends to keep quiet about it, being deemed a liar on national TV despite the dozens of women coming forward, the whole shebang.
There’s so many people that could be about, right?
In all seriousness, it’s a terrific episode and definitely among the series’ best. It’s brutal to watch, not only because it landed the weekend before the entire lid was blown on Cosby’s still unraveling assholery, but for just how unfairly stacked the odds are against her. The star in question, a hippopotamus named Hank, even corners her in a parking lot and tells her that she’s fighting a losing battle. Nothing is going her way, and with even her own husband angered at her continuing to be involved and not letting this die, Diane just can’t take it anymore. She leaves the country at the episode’s end, which bitterly shows how pointless her crusade was by an old man at the airport simply telling her to smile.
Because this is what “Bojack Horseman” does. It’s not gonna coddle you with fond memories of what used to be or take you on a long drive and remind you of the glory days while you wear those rose tinted glasses. It’s gonna yank those glasses off and make you look at these characters broken by their own success, dammit. This show, like Venture Bros., isn’t afraid to show the darker side of nostalgia and how it turns self-absorbed assholes into even bigger self-absorbed assholes. I wrote about the debut season when it first came out, and my sentiment is the same now as it was back then: come for the silly animal people, stay for the sharp satire and brutal nostalgic beatdown.
Also because a talking cat has a relationship with three kids stacked on top of each other pretending to be an adult man, and it’s way funnier than it should be.