For a show that centers around a cartoon half-horse half-man, BoJack Horseman prides itself on its use of a realistic perspective when talking about issues like the political climate, sexuality and mental health. Season four, which was released on Netflix September 8th, was no different. The show follows an anthropomorphic horse with depression in an alternate world where cartoon humans and tailless animals inexplicably live side-by-side.
Heartbreaking, witty and incredibly volatile, BoJack Horseman will have you laughing and crying in the same breath — one moment.
It was originally met with mixed reviews — the first season received a mediocre 60 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes — but the latest three seasons since have all scored a perfect 100 per cent.
Since season one, the show has always found its strength as a ground-breaking depiction of mental illness but season four is the most introspective and, consequently, the most involved and raw look we’ve had at the characters’ mental climate.
In episode six titled, “Stupid Piece of Shit”, viewers are allowed into the mind of main character BoJack for the first time. Unsurprisingly given his offbeat character, it’s pretty harsh. When left alone with his own reflections, BoJack spirals into a loop of anxiety, depressive thoughts and suicidal ideations. While BoJack Horseman has never shied away from showing mentally ill characters, season four embraces honest depictions of neuro-divergence.
It’s emotional, it’s funny and the creators still manage to work in poignant nuggets of commentary on the state of the world. While in previous seasons, certain plotlines have had strong congruency to current events, BoJack Horseman manages to mirror the real world more than ever this season.
And mental health isn’t the only issue the show tackles head on — in the fourth season, it tackles even more big questions which get more multifaceted and subtle.
In one episode, character Princess Carolyn recounts a tale of her ancestors fleeing the “old country”, with a visual of a cat family living in a shabby apartment while klezmer-type music plays in the background. While this could be interpreted many ways, the implication seems to be that Princess Carolyn’s family is Jewish.
When she later meets her boyfriend’s family who practice many “anti-cat” traditions all in the name of good fun, it brings to mind the casual anti-Semitism we still see in the real world. This is a prime example of the type of pertinent commentary on real, serious issues BoJack Horseman manages to include.
In another plotline, the likeable ever-positive yellow lab and former sitcom star Mr. Peanutbutter makes a clear statement with his harebrained campaign for governor of California: celebrities should stay out of politics.
Mr. Peanutbutter fails to establish a real position on any pressing issues, and at one point states even though he has “zero qualifications”, he “honestly thought [he] would have made an that even better governor” than the ever-dedicated sitting governor, Woodchuck Couldchuck-Berkowitz. In an episode where the characters are trapped underground, Mr. Peanutbutter, egged on by his political advisor, overthrows Woodchuck’s logic by driving the masses into a blind rage.
Considering the current political climate in the United States, it’s no head-scratcher what message the show is trying to portray with Mr. Peanutbutter’s character.
While the show makes many more subdued points, the one they face-head on is loveable slacker Todd’s asexuality. There are startlingly few asexual characters in media (fictional or real), let alone any that have canonically come out. Because of the lack of representation, Todd’s journey towards figuring out his sexual and romantic orientation is incredibly important. By refusing to shy away from depicting a member of the oft-forgotten group, BoJack Horseman provides a source of positive representation for members of the queer community.
At the end of the day, one of the main questions people return to when discussing BoJack Horseman is: How does BoJack Horseman shine where similar shows about depressed, alcoholic womanizers like Californication, Mad Men and others falter? What makes the characters in BoJack Horseman is that they’re allowed to be unglamorous and often, unlikable. They sink into slumps, irrevocably damage relationships, and often backslide.
The show hits its stride in the fourth season and through all the animal puns and dark humour, its underlying sincerity shines more than ever.
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