Season 2 of Bojack Horseman, an animated Netflix original series, is now streaming. And it is perfection. You should stop everything else you’re doing and watch it right now. That includes reading this article. You can finish reading of course, if you need more convincing, but then clear everything else off your schedule for the day and put your cell phone on mute. You won’t want any distractions, trust me. Netflix understands the binge-watching nature of their platform and creates shows accordingly.
If you somehow missed Season 1 (and then seriously, go watch it), Bojack Horseman tells the story of the washed-up 90s sitcom actor who plays the titular role. It reminds me of Ugly Americans in the sense that this cartoon world is filled with both humans and anthropomorphic animals. Bojack, for example, is a horse and his agent, Princess Carolyn, is a cat. Set in Los Angeles, Bojack Horseman explores the celebrity culture of Hollywood film and television, as well as taking some cracks against the current state of the publishing industry.
Though it’s been awhile since I’ve watched Season 1, I feel confident in saying Season 2 is even better. One of the things I love about the show is that while all the ensemble characters are highly flawed in their own unique ways, the series retains a strong sense of heart. Bojack is the quintessential narcissistic celebrity, filled with equal parts self-loathing and unconscious privilege.
Yet, in spite of a constant stream of binge drinking, overeating, one night stands with women who only care that he is a celebrity, and other bad decisions, Bojack as a character remains empathetic. Through flashbacks, the audience is able to see how Bojack’s childhood left him emotionally crippled, leading him down a path of depression, alcoholism, and self-sabotage. All Bojack wants in the world is to be loved, and he’s desperately afraid it is impossible. All he has left are re-runs of the show which audiences once revered, and a tell-all memoir which was supposed to earn back the admiration of the masses.
As one of the characters in Season 2 points out, once you reach a certain level of fame, personal growth is no longer necessary. The fact that Bojack tries at all to be a better person or to make a meaningful contribution to the world is what, to me, makes his character endearing. Bojack is in a constant state of existential crisis, fighting the urge to just coast on his celebrity status and really make a mark on the world. And Los Angeles fights him at every turn, making all his attempts seem meaningless.
Diane, the ghostwriter of Bojack’s memoir, makes a powerful foil. Diane is much younger than Bojack, but struggles with similar demons. Both characters are self-centered and feel good about themselves only when others also feel good about them. Both Bojack and Diane realize they can’t live up to the ideal person they would like to be, or at least haven’t so far. Both feel as if they’ve been forced to settle. But Diane has managed to create a loving relationship with Mister Peanut Butter, laissez-faire actor and Bojack Horseman’s rival. In a way, Diane’s character shows the path Bojack could have taken but did not.
I’m sure all of this sounds quite dramatic, but Bojack Horseman is actually a comedy – a sitcom, if you will, in its own right. What I love the most about Bojack Horseman is the precision of the writing. A joke turns to a cutting (and super relevant) cultural critique in a second, and the plot weaves through moments of humor and gut-wrenching honesty seamlessly. Though the focus (of course) is ostensibly on Bojack, Season 2 has more of an ensemble feel as other characters are given their own unique plot lines and avenues for personal growth.
Season 2 also manages to end on a high note, despite the quite serious ground it covers. After all, everything has to be wrapped up in 30 minutes, right? Bojack Horseman is a show aware of itself, and not afraid to poke fun at itself for being a part of the very machine it tries to satirize. Alone, each of these characters are deeply flawed, selfish, and not very good at knowing what’s best for themselves. Together, they form a kind of bizarre dysfunctional chosen family which is more functional than each individual part which forms the whole. The true irony is, Bojack is already loved. He’s just too far down the rabbit hole of despair to see it most of the time.
Life isn’t fair, even when you’re a celebrity. And maybe all the good we try to do will never amount to anything real or tangible. We all want to leave a legacy behind that we can be proud of, but the truth is, most of us probably won’t be anywhere in the history books. That’s just the nature of things. But we still try, even when we don’t know why. And we never have to be alone, no matter how much we hate ourselves. And maybe, just maybe, there’s hope around the next corner or up the next hill or on the other end of a cell phone ringing.
Bojack Horseman is usually only a good person by accident. But every once in a while, he does the right thing. Even though he has no incentive to do so. And I think that sometimes he does the right thing on purpose and pretends it was an accident. May we all be better than our worst, even if we’re always worse than our best. That’s the message I get from Bojack Horseman. That life is never what you planned, and what you think you want is usually wrong for you, but that you always have a choice. And it’s never too late to begin.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 07/23/2015.