TV Critic Jasmine Sandhar explains why you should be watching BoJack Horseman this lockdown, on account of the important philosophical questions it raises
Whilst Diane contemplates whether or not to follow a self-obsessed philanthropist across the war-torn plains of Cordovia, her Golden Retriever husband attempts to dissuade her through the frighteningly accurate observation: ‘The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t the search for meaning; it’s just to keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.’ As I sat slumped in swathes of bed sheets dotted with stale popcorn kernels, wearing the same pyjamas I have spent days in, and struggling to stay awake so that I could re-finish the season one finale, Mr Peanutbutter’s words circled around my subconscious until the end of the episode. Despite watching the end of the credits roll, cancelling the precarious Netflix auto-play button, and closing the lid of my Macbook for good, I could not unhear what he had said. I lay on my back studying the vintage celestial chart on my bedroom ceiling, asking myself what is the meaning of life?
Even if you have not watched the show, I am sure that this experience sounds very familiar. An inexorable global pandemic that has resulted in over two million deaths worldwide and three national lockdowns puts a lot of things into perspective for everyone. Perhaps the first lockdown wasn’t so bad with the opportunities to learn new skills such as baking or gardening and we plowed through the second one, driven by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s promise of a Covid-free Christmas, but the third is a lugubrious abyss, which seems to prove Mr. Peanutbutter’s theory that ‘the universe is a cruel, uncaring void.’ Therefore, it only makes sense to keep ourselves ‘busy with unimportant nonsense’, right?
After all, television shows like Horsin’ Around exist for a reason. Redolent of series such as Modern Family and Fuller House, the nine-season situational comedy follows a young bachelor horse, who is forced to reevaluate his priorities when he agrees to raise three human children. Full of flat punchlines and formulaic life stories, it comes as no surprise that the show was an immediate hit with American audiences, thus enabling BoJack Horseman’s claim to fame. Perhaps the perfect life portrayed on screen, where arguments were immediately resolved and any loose ends were tied up at the end of each episode, acted as a form of idyllic escapism for viewers stuck in the monotony of reality. Ironically, this appears to be the case for the show’s lead actor. Consumed by the desire to be the successful celebrity he once was, BoJack incessantly re-watches his personal VHS tape collection of the show, rewinding and pausing scenes every moment or so to re-enact his lines to nobody but himself.
This is the angle Bob-Waksberg gives us. Instead of looking through the rose-tinted lens of Horsin’ Around, we are handed a magnifying glass that exposes the tragic realities of every character’s life, whether it is BoJack’s substance abuse that subsequently leads to self-destruction; Diane’s depression, which dismantles her identity and sense of self; Mr Peanutbutter’s naivety that results in the blissful ignorance of the real-life problems surrounding him; Princess Carolyn’s struggle to separate her workaholism and saviour complex from her personal family life; Sarah Lynn’s traumatic childhood as an oversexualised teenage popstar; or Todd’s pushover nature that confines him to an endless cycle of abuse. At first, this dark comedy feels like an alternate universe with its technicolour anthropomorphic characters and wacky plotlines that were almost definitely created during an acid trip. However, sooner or later, you slowly begin to realise that you are looking in a mirror; it might be a funhouse mirror, but it is an image of reflection nonetheless. BoJack Horseman is not just an animated bildungsroman that is confined to the growth of its characters. You, as an audience member, grow with it along the way. You learn about the inherent structural flaws within society, ranging from institutional racism to systemic sexual abuse, as well as your own personality, depending on which character you relate the most to.
In my opinion, that is what lockdown should be about. Instead of pretending that everything is getting better and being indoctrinated by claims that we can ‘beat the virus’ so that everything can go back to “normal”, this should be a time of reflection. We, collectively, should be thinking about how to address and solve the multitude of oppressive issues in our society, but also within ourselves. Perhaps it is time for us to pull out the old VHS tapes of our own lives and watch each episode back with hindsight. But, if you are not quite ready for that, watch someone else do it first. Follow Bojack Horseman on his quest to find the meaning of life – it only takes him six seasons to figure it out.