Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Among those unfamiliar with the Netflix comedy BoJack Horseman, the show is seemingly known more for its depressing and existentially-nihilistic side than it is for its humor. After all, no animated series in recent memory has successfully managed to portray such weighty themes so poignantly.
Nevertheless, the show assuredly wouldn’t survive without its animal puns, lovable supporting cast or impressively careful attention to detail that the show’s writers exhibit from season to season.
Mr. Peanutbutter, one of the show’s mainstays, is a yellow Labrador Retriever, freshly divorced from his third (human) wife, Diane Nguyen. Amusingly, Mr. Peanutbutter’s attitude and demeanor resemble what one would expect from a sociable, happy-go-lucky retriever with the ability to speak. Especially when crossed by the ever-pessimistic humanoid BoJack, jovial Mr. Peanutbutter provides comic relief that’s well received by the audience.
Characters of a less austere demeanor aren’t lost when it comes to philosophical thought, however. Existential nihilism, the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, has a central presence within the show’s philosophical framework. Mr. Peanutbutter — the same character that kicked off a campaign for public office by challenging California’s incumbent governor to a ski race at the beginning of Season 4 — seems to have accepted that life has no apparent meaning, but chooses to live his life happily regardless.
“The universe is a cruel, uncaring void,” Peanutbutter tells Diane during one of the series’ earlier episodes. “The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”
Keeping the show’s other characters somewhere in between BoJack (apathy) and Todd (blissful oblivion) seems to work well for show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, with Diane acting as the show’s form of a moral compass.
Overall, however, the show’s titular character is exponentially more complex than most would like for one of their favorite TV characters to be. From the show’s onset in 2014, BoJack is shown to be both compulsive and fickle, at times valuing pleasure in the present tense over those closest to him.
Halfway through Season 3, BoJack has sex with his roommate Todd’s ex-girlfriend Emily, only for the three to awkwardly encounter each other in BoJack’s mansion days later. Eventually, Todd — who the audience now knows to be asexual — confronts BoJack, telling him, “You can’t keep doing this. You can’t keep doing shitty things, and then feel bad about yourself, like that makes it OK. You need to be better.”
BoJack briefly attempts to justify his actions before Todd interjects again, saying, “No. BoJack, just stop. You are all the things that are wrong with you.”
Todd’s evisceration of BoJack highlights a steadfast theme — self-awareness vs. tangible action — that finally comes to a head during Season 5.
BoJack begins the new season on a strong note, as it seems he’s committed to making the lives of those around him genuinely better. However, as the result of a back injury suffered on the set of Philbert — a show orchestrated by Princess Carolyn and Diane, starring both BoJack and co-star Gina Cazador — BoJack soon becomes overly dependent upon painkillers, ultimately foiling the show’s future and BoJack’s career.
The end of Season 5 produced perhaps the most tender, authentic moment of the show’s entirety: as Diane drives BoJack to rehab at the end of the season’s last episode, BoJack is unsure of why his ex-best friend is being so nice to him.
Diane explains that in high school, she had a good friend named Abby. The two were close until Abby was accepted by the school’s popular girls, and soon thereafter, Abby mocked what was once a meaningful friendship. Diane was immensely hurt until that summer, when Abby’s mother became extremely ill, and none of her popular friends were around to comfort her. So, Diane showed up for her, “because it was Abby,” and she needed help.
Similarly, BoJack — once loved and adored, but now publicly shunned, had nobody to lean on during his time of need, only for Diane to take him to where he needed to be.
As BoJack leaves Diane’s car for the rehab center, he turns and tells her, “I need help,” something that any BoJack fan has assuredly never heard the character admit before.
Each prior season of BoJack Horseman ended with the show’s main star facing some sort of uncertain future, and Season 5 is no different. Now, those rooting for BoJack’s sobriety are equally wary of his tendency to relapse, which is something that nobody can be certain of until Season 6 inevitably materializes.
There is no shortlist of things that makes BoJack Horseman all that it eventually amounts to be. A truly complex show, viewers may come for animal puns, existential thoughts or because they’re curious about a show where humans and anthropomorphic animals coexist.
But eventually, the viewer will begin to empathize with BoJack’s plight, never mind all of the things that he does to inhibit himself and those around him.
Five seasons in, BoJack Horseman has cornered the market in what it does well, and the show will only mature from this point forward.
If the first five seasons of BH are any indication, however, don’t hold your breath on BoJack keeping his act together.
Chances are more existential dread, bourbon and self-pity are in the forecast for “that horse from Horsin’ Around.”