BoJack Horseman, Season 2: TV’s best show about being sad

BoJack Horseman, Season 2
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg
Premiered on Netflix on July 17, 2015

“Have fun being sad!” Todd yells at BoJack early on in the second season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, and this line works well in describing the series as a whole. This is perhaps the greatest TV show ever about depression and pain, and it’s padded by hilarious gags and talking animals. It’s brilliant, and so sad.

Depression is an awfully difficult subject for any series to dive into with any depth, especially an animated comedy. The format, however, works in the subject matter’s favour, as most manifestations of that sadness are offset by cathartic jokes. This is a classic way for any comedy to feature dramatic material while maintaining its light mood, but it takes on greater significance here. Indeed, binge watching BoJack Horseman becomes difficult because of how raw it feels. Sadness is something that’s made better by joking about it, but as BoJack comes to learn, the only happiness he’s able to find is temporary; then he slides back into hisdefault.

BoJack (Will Arnett) begins the season by trying to turn over a new leaf, with a positive attitude that even leads him to start running. He fails and gives up immediately, asking “why does anyone run?”; in one of the season’s best running gags, establishing shots of his home invariably contain people running past it. What makes this series stand out is the way it implicates everyone watching in its bitterness. There is such an acute understanding of what it means to be in pain and a powerful empathy for that constant struggle, and this feels like the show’s way of confronting that and finding a way to navigate it through humour. BoJack spends the season discovering that there’s something broken inside of him, and he’s not sure if it’s possible to fix it. That’s depression.

He wants to be better: a better person, a happy person. He thinks he finds it in Wanda (Lisa Kudrow), telling her that when he’s around her, for the first time in 30 years he feels like he can be better. But BoJack is convinced that everyone would be better off without him, which brings about his self-destructive behaviour, pushing away anyone that might care about him. He tells this to Todd (Aaron Paul) when he’s leaving for an improv cruise that’s essentially a Scientology riff,and Todd tells him that he really hopes BoJack can find a way to be happy. Before BoJack can respond, Todd’s gone.

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BoJack Horseman is a TV series intimately about knowing how hard life is and that sadness is a completely appropriate response to that. “You come by it honestly, the ugliness inside you,” BoJack’s mother tells him in a flashback in the season premiere. “You’re BoJack Horseman. There’s no cure for that.” A couple episodes later, Horsin’ Around creator Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci) dies, but in a flashback to the start of that show, BoJack asks him if he’s scared about everything changing. “No, I’m not scared, BJ. The future is bright. Just look at it.” Cut to the two looking at a billboard depicting a sunny sky. Is everywhere BoJack turns going to give him some temporary and artificial happiness?

As he is regularly reminded, BoJack is a pretty lucky guy. He’s rich, he’s got plenty of people around him, and he’s starring in his dream project, Secretariat. Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) reminds him of this explicitly during BoJack’s appearance on his new game show, Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! “What more do you want?” Peanutbutter demands. “I want to feel good about myself, the way you do, and I don’t know how, and I don’t know if I can,” BoJack responds honestly. That’s the thing about depression. It doesn’t matter how happy other people think you should be, or even how happy you may appear to be. It’s still there, that broken thing inside you. BoJack is trying to fix it and he’s facing the potential reality that he simply can’t.

Diane (Alison Brie) spends most of the season in a similar search following the release of her book on BoJack. She finds some purpose in one of the season’s best episodes, which uses a Letterman-esque character named Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall) to make vicious points about Bill Cosby and the culture that surrounds him. “Because he’s so nice, people don’t want to think he’s capable of awful things. So they let him off the hook,” she barks, and the show’s treatment of this story is characteristically intelligent and insightful, though ultimately pessimistic in its realism, ending with Diane, rejected after failing under Hank’s power, being told by a random man, “Hey. Smile,” before cutting to black. She spends the last few episodes crashing at BoJack’s place, hiding from and lying to Mr. Peanutbutter, rather than facing her failures. “Love is an illusion, happiness is fleeting, there’s no such thing as God, and all of your favourite musicians beat their wives…’ALLEGEDLY’!” She hits rock bottom, only to be discovered in her lies, and somehow forgiven. This show is not above a moment of pure elation.

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BoJack also hits rock bottom, though. He goes to New Mexico to visit Charlotte (Olivia Wilde) after Wanda breaks up with him, telling him that the way he is (i.e. his depression) doesn’t give him the right to be shitty to her. He ends up staying with Charlotte and her family for two months (pulling a Don Draper by leaving his movie behind and staying out of contact, avoiding things much like Diane back in Los Angeles). It’s a strange set-up, and it reaches its natural conclusion after he accompanies Charlotte’s teen daughter Penny (who has posters in her room for Llama Del Rey and FKA Pigs) to her prom, telling her, “You look just like your mother.” He then almost ends up sleeping with her before Charlotte discovers them (though he may have been rejecting her advances, we don’t get to see).

He returns to LA, finds Diane still there, and rescues Todd. He has people that stick by him despite his bullshit, and he’s starting to realize that. He can’t push everyone away. But he remains convinced, or at least morbidly afraid, that anyone that gets to know him, the real him, could never love him. That’s how he rationalizes Wanda leaving, that once she grew to understand him, she realized she couldn’t love him. He’s told this, in about as many words, after the premiere of Secretariat, which now features none of his actual performance, only a computer-generated version of him. He’s told the reason people love his performance is because it’s the fake version of him. BoJack is reminded all around him about how no one wants the real him.

“It’s amazing to me that people wake up every day and say, ‘Yeah! Another day, let’s do it!’ How do people do it? I don’t know how,” he says earlier that episode. The season ends in the only way it could, with BoJack running again. He hates it just as much and collapses, but the sun is blotted out by another runner who tells him, “It gets easier. You gotta do it every day, that’s the hard part. But it gets easier.” Maybe next season, BoJack will start to learn how.

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