Allie Long

BoJack Horseman’s Difficult (but Worthwhile) Commentary on Mental Health

Those who attempt to mash philosophical meaning into adult cartoons are usually off the mark. However, BoJack Horseman deserves the overthink, as it is a great nuanced discussion about mental health. 


Fanbases of “adult” cartoons tend to be, hmm – how do I put this delicately? – insufferable. They (we) are insufferable in much the same way an 18-year-old boy who discusses Nietzsche at the dinner table or in online forums post-philosophy-101, which he took during his first semester of college, is.

The one who calls out “logical fallacies” in a condescending but meaningless way. He feels misunderstood and probably shares articles on Facebook about the Truth revealed by Anonymous. A particularly adept member of this group will become Sam Harris. A lesser one will shitpost on /r/twoxchromosomes.

He is always a “libertarian” who enjoys playing devil’s advocate because, you know, maybe the devil is ultimately sympathetic because he’s the only nuanced figure in the Bible, ostracized for his acknowledgement of the spectrum of good and evil in the face of a dogmatic god and his sheep-like followers.

He feels as though he is the only one who recognizes the laser-sharp social commentary and satire present in the aforementioned cartoons but often fails to realize when those same shows are mocking him. (Much like the Republicans who thought Stephen Colbert was always on their side.)

There are a lot of other people who enjoy these shows but are scared to identify as fans because we don’t have a religious devotion to them or glean a superiority complex from “getting” the jokes. We don’t want to be associated with the teenage boys who do. We recognize when the shows turn a mirror on us as well as everyone else without getting angry. I don’t say that pretentiously. We were all fourteen and arrogant because of our newfound proclivity for abstract thought once.

That being said, I resent when fellow liberals criticize the likes of South Park as a tool for the empowerment of “assholes.” It’s the other side of the same coin, choosing to see the ridicule only when it suits a political agenda. I don’t say this often to activists, so I mean it this time: lighten up.

But even though long-running series that disguise smart humor in the stupidity of their animation-styles, plot lines, and/or characters are still going strong, newer cartoons satirize the current state of things as a means to an end. I’m talking Bob’s BurgersBoJack Horseman, and Rick and Morty (a great show with an especially insufferable fanbase).

This brings me to the fourth season of BoJack Horseman, which has debuted and has already garnered rave reviews – rightly earned! My sister introduced me to this show last summer, and since each season is five hours long, I watched the first and only three seasons in one day.



The premise is far-fetched and initially turned me off when I first tried to watch it two years ago. Will Arnett’s voice coming out of an animated, anthropomorphic horse is a difficult adjustment, but, my god, if that adjustment isn’t worth it.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know the plot, so I will skip it. The fourth season is the first one in which BoJack doesn’t search for meaning and redemption through (failed) attempts to renew his celebrity. In browsing discussions of past seasons, fans had a tendency to identify with certain characters, but this season threw a wrench in the trajectory of how we would continue to relate to them – as in real life. All this while the super-smart humor still stings and drives home the satire and the commentary on the human – for lack of a better term – condition.

In that same vein, however, there was/is a reluctance to admit that we relate to any of the characters even though the two huge parts of the rave reviews are the authenticity of emotion and the realistic portrayals of scenarios without easy resolutions. None of the characters are particularly likable, but we silently root for all of them because they’re like us. The show highlights how suffering is a result of our decisions but also of our environments and how despite flaws, we largely don’t want to see others continually fail. This is why BoJack’s glimmer of hope at the end of the show feels earned, even though he’s mostly a self-sabotaging asshole.

Personally, I relate most to Diane and not because she’s a writer. Her seeming ungratefulness for the opportunities afforded to her by her connections and for Mr. Peanutbutter’s gestures of love make her unsympathetic. But feeling like “a pit that good things fall into” and regretting everything make her sympathetic.

I relate to the emotions. I see myself in her actions even though they are selfish. There’s a complicated relationship between how we act and how we feel. This show makes perfect sense even when it makes us mad.

Anyway, I don’t want to indulge in shitty behavior. Suffice it to say that I cried before, during, and after this season premiered and not because it’s a depressing sob-fest but because it’s real. Watch it if you haven’t. Get past the Charlie Rose interview in Season 1 Episode 1 and you will be hooked.


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