‘BoJack Horseman,’ ‘Inside Out,’ and the Beauty of Difficult Emotions
After watching (and loving) the first season of BoJack Horseman, I had a hard time recommending it to people. “Well, it has burrowed its own hole in my brain, which, when I’m watching something else, itches, reminding me that I could be watching something truly special and weird and exciting, an itch which can only be sated by hearing the end credits theme, which, parodoxically, makes me crave another episode, which is to say that I loved it and I absolutely think you should watch it, if that’s the right decision for you, but would I tell you to watch it? I don’t know,” is approximately something I would say. But you should watch BoJack Horseman. You should absolutely watch it, and if you don’t like it then I would recommend that you watch it some more.
I was afraid to recommend BoJack because while it is very, very funny, it is also very, very sad — in a way, I feared, that would implicate myself or, worse, the person I was recommending the show to. I thought that maybe it was only for depressives, which: okay, maybe, but why is that bad? This season, though, I realized that BoJack’s particular sadness — the sadness of cartoon horse who is also a spoiled wash-up of a sitcom star who behaves like the spiritual heir to Don Draper — is all of our sadness. Just because we are all sad sometimes. And we all don’t always know exactly what to do about it, and sometimes there is nothing to do about it, and we can’t always hear that things will be okay.
This summer we learned, each of us through tears, some of us twice, that Sadness is an important emotion, thanks to Pixar. Sadness is not something that’s dealt with honestly, and very rarely lived inside of, in sitcoms and even Hollywood movies. The way it was honored in Inside Out was beautiful, and just as good a reminder to adults as to children that all of our feelings are important and valid in their own way. But Inside Out was ultimately for kids, who are maybe not yet prepared for the real news: that feelings control panel should be a lot more crowded. There are many, many other emotions, like pride and schadenfreude and acceptance and complacency and attraction, that need to squeeze behind the table and mix it up together to create the messy emotional landscape that is an adult life. BoJack reminds us that there are a lot of flavors of sadness, more than the charming color-palette of Inside Out can express.
BoJack takes a hard look at difficult emotions, and then just keeps looking, because feelings usually don’t go away quietly. And, while, yes, being a visual pun-filled cartoon about personified animal people and sitcom stars, it takes one of the most wholly humanist views of people (and personified animal people, and sitcom stars) streaming. There’s the specific loneliness and pride of a career-driven woman in the last of her offspring-bearing years who compulsively cares for others (even if that woman is both a Hollywood agent and a cat), there’s the precise confusion and despair of a woman trying to prioritize both her marriage and her convictions (even if she’s married to an actual dog), there’s the defined disappointment and resilience of a woman hoo(h-hoo) realizes that the man she wanted to believe in doesn’t want to be worth the trouble (she’s an owl, you get it). As I’m typing this, I’m realizing that BoJack Horseman might actually have some of the most compelling female characters out there. And there’s more: there’s the inability to forgive a friend even in the face of death, there’s reconciling with a reality in which your horseparents will never be good horsepeople, there’s the ever-ever-ever present fear that you’re just not good enough, there’s the jealousy and anger that can fester in unresolved resentments, there’s the devastating fact that you can never go home again even if home is a person whom you love wherever they are, there’s the staggering impossibility of personal change, there’s getting sucked into a creepy, annoying cult.
But there is a moment, briefly, at the end of most episodes of BoJack Horseman where I wonder if it is really as great of a show as I think it is, or if I’m fooled into thinking as much by its strangely addicting, haunting keen of an end credits theme song. A lot of talk has been devoted to the show’s opening theme — which is great, very cool, capital COOL — but I am a simple human who likes words to tell me how I’m feeling, and it’s the outro that musically sums up the 25 minutes prior. A song that, in 30 seconds, lyrically slides from defensive to melancholic to pleading to faux-enthused over a simultaneously rollicking and plaintive ditty and ends with an ultra-upbeat, cover-it-all-with-a-smile exclamation, (“BoJACK!”) can begin to capture the totally normal emotional roller coaster that is the show and most adult life. BoJack Horseman is exactly as great of a show as I think it is, but goddamn: that song. BoJACK!