On September 14th, Netflix aired the fifth season of their ever depressing animated original, Bojack Horseman. Since season one, Will Arnett has been loaning his voice to the titular character, guiding the show through its many ups and downs. Bojack Horseman is a show that takes on difficult issues like mental illness, substance abuse, and depression. What’s surprising is the confidence with which the show marches through these issues, despite being an animated comedy.
The shows main character, Bojack Horseman, has been through quite a lot by season 5. Bojack was a sitcom star in the 70’s and since has been fighting to stay relevant whilst questioning his purpose. The character of Bojack is not a particularly likeable one, due to his questionable sexual behaviour, substance abuse, and physical violence. Though Bojack behaves deplorably he is always remorseful and wants to change, though it seems impossible. All of this remains true in season 5, but this season the show addresses his failure to change head on.
Season 5 covers many themes, but one major theme is the marginalization of women in media. In the show a disgraced celebrity is up for a part on the same show as Bojack. This celebrity was disgraced for racist and sexist comments, as well as a disrespectful call to his daughter. This character is satire of celebrities like Mel Gibson who have been recorded saying surprisingly offensive things. This Mel Gibson type is given another chance, then another, then another, and of course he messes all of them up by spouting slurs left and right. This is a jab at the media cycle that continues to offer bad men chance after chance.
During the disgraced celebrities attempts at reconciling his mistakes, a photographer catches a photo of Bojack making a funny face, which is interpreted as a stand against his disgraced costar. Bojack then inadvertently becomes a male feminist, and finding it marketable, rides it out.
This is just one of the smaller story arcs within Bojack Horseman that seek to parody real life in a way that makes it so glaringly obvious that what’s going on is wrong. Bojack Horseman is a show with many messages, and for the most part they’re all delivered well.
During season 5, Bojack is working on his new crime drama Philbert. Philbert appears to be another gritty crime drama with an anti-hero at the center, but as season 5 of Bojack progresses, it becomes clear that the show Philbert is a metaphor for Bojack Horseman itself. The main character of Philbert is a bad guy, just like Bojack, but Bojack says that the show Philbert makes him feel good about himself, because maybe it’s okay not to be a good guy.
This is commentary on how television can normalize unhealthy behavior. Lots of shows like Bojack Horseman feature flawed characters who do terrible things, but are somehow redeemed through remorse. The idea that feeling bad about doing something is enough for you to be forgiven is not true. Being a bad person isn’t ok just because you feel bad about it, and Bojack Horseman addresses this using the show Philbert.
I am impressed at the amount of depth to both the characters and the writing in this season of Bojack.
Though animated, Bojack Horseman manages to take on serious issues with poise. Not only does it provide important commentary on the trappings of modern society and our fight to be good people, but it does so well enough to make the audience question their own behavior. Themes of self worth, purpose and other large life questions permeate the shows writing. The character development seen from season one until now makes the characters themselves seem read. Unlike almost every animated show today, the characters aren’t perfect, but rather deeply complex and flawed, making them hard to sympathize with
The previous four seasons of Bojack Horseman left me with quite a lot of anticipation for the fifth, and I’m happy to say that that anticipation was well deserved. If you have the chance I highly recommend checking out Bojack Horseman, it’s funny, smart, and respects its audience more than most modern television.