Bojack Horseman is a Netflix original animated series revolving around the titular Bojack (voiced by Will Arnett) and his life as a washed-up, has-been tv star. He has a support network: his lodger Todd (Aaron Paul), his agent Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), close friend Diane (Alison Brie) and frenemy Mr Peanutbutter (Paul F Tompkins) but that fails to stop Bojack from regularly indulging in self-destructive behaviours that derail his life. Why? He’s a complicated character dealing with mental health issues he recognises but has no idea how to actually address properly nor the will power to stick to a meaningful form of treatment.
The show regularly indulges into the dark aspects of mental health, its causes, the coping mechanisms adopted by the characters and its consequences. Mental health issues the characters deal with have a number of origins: sexual abuse, addiction, career dissatisfaction, childhood trauma at the hands of parents, lack of self-esteem and turbulent relationships. These depictions hold nothing back; their unflinching, unrelenting darkness drags the audience into a confused state of catharsis and despair. It doesn’t provide any truly satisfactory endings on the mental health arcs the show explores. The audience is left in an emotional free fall without knowing where to go from there. There’s no comfort to be had.
That is the point though, isn’t it? Mental health issues are dark and difficult without a linear line of progression often depicted in Hollywood entities. They cannot be resolved in the space of a few 30 minute episodes. TV shows and movies that revolve around mental health tend to show a character hitting rock bottom, folks not quite understanding but somehow metaphorically kicking the character into action that resolves everything in a formulaic and superficial manner that wants to claim credit for being deep. The character’s mental health issues regularly cause them to act badly but it’s excused because mental health is hard.
Somehow a misanthropic cartoon horse is able to execute the naked truth of mental health far more effectively than 13 Reasons Why, Split, Thirteen and a lot other entities that cover mental health. Bojack Horseman doesn’t pretentiously sit on a self-imposed pedestal trying to sell glamorized illustration of a stigmatised problem approximately 1 in 4 people experience personally. It shows depression and anxiety realistically against the backdrop of a very fake, artificial Hollywood setting.
This series re-entered my life very recently. I didn’t realise how much I needed it. Due to a variety of emotionally difficult events, my mental health experienced a gradual but devastating decline. This has lead to nightly anxiety attacks, traumatic flashbacks and feelings of unbridled mind numbing despair. For reasons I cannot disclose, I couldn’t pursue mental health assistance until the other day when I saw my new GP. Bojack Horseman has been a series that has not only made me feel less alone but reaffirmed that any of my bad behaviour stemming from my struggles is still bad behaviour that needs sorting. Most importantly it’s doing something for me that’s super important right now: it allows me to feel.
So what’s the problem with Bojack Horseman? It’s too good. A cartoon horse should not be the best representation of mental health problems we have.
All the seasons are currently available on Netflix with season 6 coming in 2019.