'BoJack Horseman' Is Not About Depression
Welcome to ComedyNerd, Cracked's new deep dive series on the fallout of the '94-'95 Major League Baseball strike. Today's topic: Being more horse than a man, or being more man than a horse?
BoJack Horseman, the show about an ex-TV star horseman is many things, chief among them “aptly-named.” But, despite what you might’ve heard, it’s not a show about depression. Its plot deals with depression, but that’s not what its story is about, and I know that I sound like I had to book time with an electron microscope to split that hair, but there are fundamental differences between a show’s or a movie’s plot and their story.
Take the original Ghostbusters, for example. The plot of the movie deals with a bunch of guys hunting your undead grandma like some kind of … specter exterminators or something (if only there was a better word for that …). But underneath it all, it’s a story about people going into business. That’s why the film focuses so little on the implications of proving that there’s life after death. Because the core of the story centers around creating a company from the ground up, you see fewer scenes of religious schisms around the world and atheists being mercilessly pelted with rotten fruit in the streets, and more scenes of finding offices, hiring staff, and dealing with city regulations, etc.
That’s why BoJack is not about depression, even if it is a big part of its plot. And, honestly, if it was a show about depression, it would be a pretty bad one. Let me just preempt the following by saying that I LOVE BoJack Horseman and have rewatched it at least five times and have a shirt that says “I <3 BJs” (which the salesgirl assured me stands for “I Loves BoJack’s show.”) But it honestly doesn’t dive THAT deep into the topic of depression. If it did, it would have detailed scenes about how it often takes many failed attempts to find the right combination of anti-depressants that work for you or how therapy is prohibitively expensive for too many people. Or that a shocking number of therapists are really, REALLY bad at their job. But, again, I <3 BJs, and, again, the show is not meant to be about depression.
So … what is BoJack Horseman about then? Basically, it’s a TV show about how real life isn’t like a TV show. This may sound kind of obvious because BJH is about a TV actor who played a guy with a perfect life but who was miserable inside due to inherited trauma. However, the show tackles this message more in-depth on two fronts, teaching us that “closure” is a silly lie invented for television and that, in real life, stuff just happens without any discernable “arc” to it.
The message in BoJack about how life is anticlimactic, and you rarely get to have “closure,” if there even is such a thing, was the focus of the famous “Free Churro” episode from season 5 where BoJack’s mother unexpectedly dies, and he spends the entire runtime eulogizing her. (Well, not really, but that’s beside the point.) His speech basically boils down to him being pissed off that they left so many things unsaid and unresolved. Because “closure” is something, you only find in movies and TV shows. But this was signaled WAY earlier in season 1 when BoJack tried to apologize to his old friend Herb for betraying him decades ago.
It was one of those scenes, you know, where the jerk realizes they’ve been a jerk and, even though they KNOW it’s not enough, they apologize from the bottom of their heart and mean it. Aaaaand then Herb says he doesn’t forgive BoJack. And he does it so calmly, it kind of shocked me the first time I saw it. “Wait… that’s illegal,” I thought to myself because I was so used to TV cliches by that point.
Herb could do many things. He could stay quiet, allowing us to read whatever we wanted into his reaction, or he could completely explode at BoJack because those things would END that particular story arc. They would deliver closure in one way or another. But it doesn’t happen here. Instead, Herb tells BoJack he has to live with the consequences of the shitty things he’s done forever because that’s how life works. And this piece of the realest shit ever being raw-dogged into your brain comes from a show with a cat policeman. What is even reality?
Another way that BoJack kills the notion of TV being even close to real life is through Diane who at one point comes up with an idea for a lighthearted middle-grade book titled Ivy Tran, Food Court Detective. Aaaaand she initially refuses to sell it, even though companies want to publish it. Instead, she wants to focus on her naval-gazing memoir about how her shitty life formed who she is because that would make her experiences make sense. Diane had an awful childhood filled with emotional and psychological abuse, but if it all lead to a book that would (in her mind) become a bestseller or at least resonate with people like her, then her suffering would have had a purpose. In contrast, no one has to suffer to write Ivy Tran, Food Court Detective.
But that’s the thing. The things that happen to us aren’t part of our backstory that ties in nicely with our character arc because THOSE ARE THINGS FROM FICTION. In real life, the awful shit that happens to you for no reason is just that: awful shit that happened to you for no reason. Not to teach you a lesson, not to make you stronger, not to give you material for a book. It just… happened. Like life happens. And all we can do is learn to live with it and stop trying to frame it as foreshadowing or a redemption arc or some shit like that. It’s fine if thinking like that helps you deal with your trauma, but it can just as easily cause you to self-sabotage and even self-destruct yourself, and BoJack never, ever lets you forget that. And that’s why I <3 BJs so much.
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Top Image: Netflix