BoJack Horseman – The Art Behind The Dark Satire

Over the years, we’ve seen Netflix come up with brilliantly portrayed originals either in the form of tv shows, movies, or animations. And we’ve learned to fall in love with them. But one particular Netflix original has gained the attention of viewers across the world, and not just because it consists of a talking horse. BoJack Horseman, ever since its release in 2014, became the horse we all have come to hate and love, all in equal numbers.

The show embraces characters like Princess Carolyn, BoJack’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, and his agent, BoJack’s roommate (or house-guest) Todd Chavez, his editor-turned best friend Diane Nguyen and his adorable (you don’t have to agree with me here) rival Mr. Peanutbutter. And a lot of other characters that you may end up loving or downright loathing as the show progresses. But we’re here to talk about why this show matters, and what it does differently. So let’s dig in!


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The Antihero We Hate to Love

Yes, you heard that right, we hate to love the guy! We’ve seen many antiheroes embrace the screens, and we’ve all tried our best to empathize with them; in the end, they were all thinking along the right lanes, weren’t they? Have a look at Walter White, the favorite protagonist that entered our lives through the phenomenal Breaking Bad. Or The Punisher, another Netflix original based on the famous comic-book character, the tragedy hit soldier-turned vigilante, who only wants to avenge his family’s death. And when it comes to characters like these, we tell ourselves “but they’re just trying to beat society’s evil! Even if their means are wrong, the end is justified!”. Well, when it comes to BoJack, even the antihero tag is a bit misleading – BoJack is no hero, and I get that’s what antihero means. But even the antihero label is not descriptive of him.

BoJack Horseman, voiced by Will Arnett, is an actor who became famous in the 1990s through a sitcom and is now just a sad, miserable horse who wants to continue in Hollywood (or Hollywoo as it becomes in the show later on). The thing is when people hear ‘horse’ they either think the show is dumb, or the show has a cute little pony going around doing things. BoJack is none of those. What he is, is a protagonist who often ends up becoming the villain to his own story. Which makes you question halfway through the series, is this his own story? Or is he just a small part in a much bigger plot?

We see the story evolve from BoJack to his ‘friends’ to his parents. And we’re never really given the chance to hate anyone entirely. There’s always something deeper, an underlying demon that operates even the evilest of the personas present in BoJack’s life. Take his mother as an example. During the entire show, we see how BoJack never had a normal childhood. He was loathed by his own parents and didn’t receive a moment where he’d be treated like a child who deserves to be loved. This says a lot about BoJack and makes us hate his parents. But then, in a few episodes, we’re shown Beatrice’s childhood, how her parents’ marriage was as broken as hers. How everything tragic just somehow turned her into the bitter, dementia-suffering woman she became. And it makes us question whether to empathize with BoJack, who for once isn’t at fault for being born or with Beatrice for the kind of mother she became.

A Little Gloomy, A Lot Realistic

In most of the other stories, we’re used to seeing the protagonist take the light and we learn to empathize with him/her as the show goes forward. Coming to dislike most of the other characters that the main character is shown to have disagreements with. That’s what’s different when it comes to BoJack Horseman. Don’t get me wrong, it is his story. But it’s also a lot more than that. It’s one that puts every one of the other characters in the spotlight, making us empathize with not just BoJack but all the other people whose life his actions impact and the struggles they already face without BoJack getting into the mix.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of the entire plot is that BoJack isn’t shown as the miserable do-gooder poor protagonist who screws up and then needs saving from himself. I mean, he is shown exactly like that, but only from his perspective. What we get on a whole is an objective look into the reality of BoJack’s actions. One major theme this show explores time and time again is the concept that your actions have consequences. You don’t just get to screw up and walk away with it. BoJack isn’t the only one suffering. Everyone around him is broken too. Everyone around him has their fair share of struggles. It’s not BoJack that needs saving all the time, but even the witty Princess Carolyn, or the smart Diane, the adorable Todd, or the most positive Mr. Peanutbutter, Holly Hock, Sarah Lynn, even Beatrice needs help. And more often than not, they need BoJack to get over himself, take the blame, and do something to fix the things he’s ruined.

The hardest part of having to watch this show is these very relatable, hard, and into-your-face reality checks that all of us have been ignoring one way or another and this is one reason a lot of people get hooked, while also a reason a lot of people stop watching, the show.

Misery Meets Humor

While the reality checks in the show are too hard to absorb, the comedy in the plots is another reason this show is so addictive. From funny accents to obvious yet creative puns to Hollywood actor representations, the humor is good and you love to witness it all.

We’re all fans of Todd’s vivacious ideas, Mr. Peanutbutter’s stereotypical doggy behavior, and Princess Carolyn’s witty existence. We even get to see some of our favorite tv star cameos as themselves such as the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Wrinkler, Naomi Watts, Zacc Braff, Jessica Biel, etc and who can forget the iconic role that Character Actress Margo Martindale plays in Todd and BoJack’s wacky misadventures.

The show promises to make you cry in a single scene, but its uncertainty is such that you could be having laughing fits right in the next one. It’s a good balance of miserable and depressing mixed with humour and wit; though the humour could mostly just include darker and deeper meanings pointing toward the depressing. And who wouldn’t love to look at the huge celebrities, and their darker sides portrayed through BoJack’s eyes.

Thoughts and Prayers – For Society

Reality-checks, humorous content, relatable characters – have we covered it all yet? Wait, the biggest evil of all, Society. And BoJack Horseman does justice to its portrayal. Whether it’s a fight with an army troop or a discussion on abortion, the darker side of Hollywoo, or the evil that exists in the capitalist society we’re a part of, or even the collective response of society to tragic shootings and other horrible incidents, the show explores all of it. Diane is shown as not just an editor or BoJack’s friend. She’s an activist with a determination to uncover society’s evils. Time and again we see the plot revolving around a discussion on one of society’s current issues. With everything done appropriately, from the biased news coverage to the hateful public outrage to the relatively weaker party getting all the blame for it.

The show is an accurate depiction of our society, but not in the way fictional media usually does it. You don’t get solutions to your problems. You don’t get to beat the bad guy and go home the winner. Most times, you don’t even get heard before a judgment is passed on your actions. And that’s where BoJack becomes the unbearably realistic and agonizingly accurate show that it is.

The View from Halfway Down… Into Mental Health

You’ve seen a lot of shows that explore mental health. And you’re always left frustrated because they either overdo it or underdo it or don’t even discover the entire topic before putting biases in the story that makes it transform in another plot entirely. In BoJack Horseman, when we say each character is broken, we mean broken. From depression to addiction, dementia to delusions, everything is shown from an insider’s view. You don’t get to stand back and watch a character go through it. You get to look at them suffer from such a strong storytelling narrative, that you feel like you’re that character.

Whether it’s BoJack meeting people from his past, Sarah Lynn struggling with rehabilitation, Princess Carolyn coming to peace with her disappointments, Diane learning to accept her depression, or characters learning to grow despite the hurt, suffering, and traumas BoJack himself caused them; you get a look at mental health problems in such a devastating way that there comes a point you seriously start to consider not continuing with the show. And you continue anyway because you need to watch the characters grow out and beat these problems.

This is the mental health portrayal we’ve all needed, and deserved, ever since we understood the term mental health.

Social Media Star – Is This a Crossover Event?

BoJack isn’t just your average tv show horse. He is real. And he shows it. Netflix has taken the opportunity to display the Hollywoo star not just in Hollywoo but also in Hollywood itself. If the show’s Instagram or Twitter accounts are any indications, you get to witness as if it’s BoJack himself posting on the media channels.

This personalized viewpoint doesn’t only make fans happy, it also makes them love the horse more as the captions usually have typos, the tone is Bojack’s language and the visuals are a display of BoJack’s self-absorbed personality.


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The star has even appeared in a few of Netflix’s parties and interacted with other Netflix celebrities.

Good While It Lasted

In this show, you don’t get the same dragged out storyline that almost every other show of this calibre in the end becomes. You expect good from it, and you get it. Although, not the kind of good you wanted but you do get it! The character developments in this show are phenomenal, to say the least. From Todd trying to become independent, Mr. Peanutbutter trying to evolve and consider other people’s feelings, Princess Carolyn becoming the independent entrepreneur she was always meant to be, and Diane accepting happiness from where she never expected. But this isn’t all.

In a way, BoJack’s ending was something that did justice to the entire show. Throughout the show, he’s done things that others were forced to forgive in one way or another. Although he lost some things, he gained much more in comparison. But as we reach the end, we see how his story doesn’t end the way we wanted by the end of season 5 but rather the way it was always supposed to. Again, we see a reality check staring us in the face. Again, we have to accept that this is how it’s supposed to be. And again, we make our peace with it the way we have during the entire show. I felt that this show has perhaps given the most satisfying end to any show I’ve ever watched or book I’ve ever read. It was justified, more importantly, it was complete.

In the end, this show’s protagonist isn’t just any depressed character, and the show isn’t just any show trying too hard to become relatable in society. We see the characters face their own worst failures, their past mistakes, their childhood neglect and trauma, and we witness how they’re forced to face all these issues and find a way to move past them; without closure, or fairytale endings. BoJack Horseman isn’t an escape from reality. It’s a push into the reality that we’ve all been trying to avoid. And it’s done so brilliantly that once you get hooked, you can’t help but watch till the end.

Maha Abdul Rehman

A content writer and a psychology major, I procrastinate for 6 months or write consecutively. And I occasionally watch (see: obsess about) Football.

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August 26, 2020 1:57 pm

Bravo!! I loved the way you have explained the characters and how this show is entirely different from others. I haven’t finished watching it yet for some reason but you already made me fall in love with it. <3

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