WRITTEN BY: Rachel Gerhardt
Bojack Horseman is a popular adult-animation Netflix original series, and is highly acclaimed by critics and viewers of all ages. In a time where Rick and Morty, Big Mouth, The Simpsons and many other adult humor-centered shows have a loyal fanbase, copycat shows just looking to make big bucks are far from scarce. What makes Bojack Horseman stand out from these copycats, or even the basis of films in the genre, is the authenticity and the educational perspective the creator, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, approached this project with.
Taking a deeper dive into the show’s 49 episodes, it is very apparent as to why this beloved show made such a big splash. The question on many minds might be, how is a show that came out in 2014 relevant today? The answer to that, beyond my recent quarantine viewing of the show, is the contrast between Bojack Horseman’s “offensive humor” compared to that of which is trending today.
The Portrayal of Controversial Topics
The show’s comedic approach to controversial and taboo topics, breaks down the viewers processing to focus on smaller aspects of the topic at a time. The show then takes those small aspects and provides a joke coupled with educational rebuttals to make them, typically mid-to late teenage audience, easily digest the information and topics at hand.
A great example of this is the episode centered around Diane’s, a friend of Bojack Horseman, experience with abortion, specifically highlighting society’s outlook on the topic. At the beginning of the episode, Bojack and Diane are in a small quarrel, and Diane is simultaneously tweeting from a celebrity twitter account, so she accidentally tweets “Im having an abortion” to a large audience. The twitter account belongs to a vibrant 14-year-old superstar with an equally colorful name, Sextina Aquafina. Sextina takes the publicity of Diane’s mistake to create a song “Get that fetus. Kill dat fetus.” which has a catchy tune, contrastingly describing in great detail the process of getting an aborition. Sextina grows to become the face of the pro-choice movement, and similtaniously the show follows Diane’s real struggles of getting an abortion.
In said episode, the writers broke the issue of abortion in 2 parts; the first being society’s outlook on abortion, and the second being the emotional and physical process for someone getting an abortion. Furthering the digestibility of the topic, Sextina’s comedic song and dialogue exploits and educates the viewer on society’s outlook of abortions. Sextina is shamed for her tweet, before she makes her song, which she is then praised for being a feminist. On the other hand, they follow Diane, a more relatable character, who along her educational journey makes many self deprecating and feminist related jokes relating to her personal experience. The audience can laugh at Diane’s jokes, and at Sextina’s flambonency, without offending the general human population (which many shows fail to consider).
This pattern continues throughout the show, tackling topics like racism, gun-control, feminism, sexual-assault, dementia, relationships, families, death, sexuality, and especially addiction. Bojack Horseman’s character struggles with varieties of substance abuse and addiction, but writers make sure to joke about the crazy situations he is in and not make a joke of the issues themselves. They may use humor to lighten the impact of the issue for the viewer, but they do not use it to undermine the struggles the characters are going through. A line that many comedies seem to cross far too often, along with many memes and popular jokes today.
The Portrayal of Character Development
Another major way taboo topics are conveyed are through a character’s development, but the character has other distinct characteristics beyond their struggle with said topic. This allows the character to stay 3-dimensional while still educationally portraying their struggles with different controversial topics.
The creators/writers of Bojack Horseman also kept their theme of education and consistency with each character. Not every character figures out their struggles, some only momentarily conquer them before being enveloped in them once again.
Bojack Horseman is the main character of the show, and goes through many struggles with different controversial topics, 2 of which are most notable, addiction and death. (There are some spoilers in the following paragraphs, so I would suggest reading with caution or watch the show before reading!) Bojack’s struggle with addiction is a messy one, and portrays a very realistic journey with alcoholism and substance abuse. Bojack’s alcoholism starts out pretty subtle in the beginning episodes, many young adults might even relate to his relationship with alcohol. He is portrayed as being an avid drinker, mostly at social events, but sometimes needing a little more to get through the day. The major shift of Bojack’s journey was in season 5, when he became addicted to painkillers.
The creators never joke about addiction themselves, but they pack self-deprecating humor in Bojack’s dialogue, as Bojack uses humor to cope. This adds another layer to the character, and allows for some comedic relief, without damaging the credibility of the portrayal of the topic itself. Not only does this start to dissolve the previous connotations of addiction, but it highlights the dangers of substance abuse. Many modern teen dramas and comedies romanticize addiction and substance abuse, which only prohibits and introduces teenagers to the happy/fun side of drugs and not the harsh reality. This show does the opposite, and starts many conversations that young adults are too afraid to start themselves.
Diane Nguyen is an asian-american who struggles with depression and anxiety throughout the show. Her struggles feel real and genuine, and are very relatable to the target audience. Her feminist views are unaplogetic, and her stance on the topics in the show are very progressive, aligning with many of the same views as those in the targetted audience. She is a writer for multiple different companies throughout the show, and through her different employment she encounters different financial struggles. As she struggles, both financially and mentally, the writers never make her mental-illness into a punchline, but again use Diane’s own self-deprecating humor for comedy. Diane makes fun of herself for miniscule things, much of which the other characters take lightheartedly. But occasionally, she will joke about being severely depressed, or about having an abortion, and the supporting characters will give her awkward laughs. Adding to the relatability factor of the show, along with contributing to the humor of the show, without crossing a line.
Todd Chavez is undoubtedly the most lovable character in the show, and is likely the much needed comedic relief used to cut through the frequent serious tones. One of the most laughable plots Todd Chavez endevers is his making of a sex-robot that becomes the CEO of a prestigeous company. His original intention of this sex-robot was to please his girlfriend, as Todd is asexual. The show dives into multiple sexualities, but asexuality is the most talked about. Todd comes to terms with his asexuality at the end of season 3, when he realizes he is not interested in sex. He goes through struggles, most of which are very comedic, as he tries to find a partner who is also an asexual. The writers of the show again approach Todd’s sexuality from an educational standpoint, allowing for the audience to learn more about asexuality as they laugh at Todd’s hilarious circumstances.
Bojack Horseman In Today’s Climate
We all know at least one person who thinks it is the funniest thing in the world to make racist jokes, and if you don’t, I envy you. These people are seen everywhere on social media, filling up comment sections with ‘baba booey’ or ‘burger king foot lettuce’, you know the type. In an age where trolls find making fun of Black Lives Matter and blame it on their “offensive humor”, it makes one start to question where the line is drawn between offensive humor and deliberate words of dissent.
Bojack Horseman, along with other adult-animation shows, get as close as possible to this line, without crossing it. The key to this is the purpose of the show, and Bojack Horseman’s purpose is to educate the audience on controversial issues while making them laugh. In the end, they have succeeded greatly in their purpose, and as a viewer this is one of the best shows I have ever watched. If you have not yet seen Bojack Horseman, I strongly recommended that you do.
Rachel Gerhardt is a 15 year old that attends Hudson High School. She became apart of Zenerations in August of 2020 and is currently a writer. She is interested in feminism, politics and activism and expresses this through her creative and informative writing.