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  • Writer's pictureNiall Glynn

Bojack Horseman - The End

On January 31st this year the final episodes of Bojack Horseman landed onto Netflix. After almost six years present in the public eye it’s hard not to think of the fiction equine celebrity as a real one, with each scandal, success and failure so prominent in the public eye in both his world of Hollywoo as well as that of Netflix viewers worldwide.

WARNING: slight spoilers ahead, including the final episode.

On January 31st this year the final episodes of Bojack Horseman landed onto Netflix. After almost six years present in the public eye it’s hard not to think of the fiction equine celebrity as a real one, with each scandal, success and failure so prominent in the public eye in both his world of Hollywoo as well as that of Netflix viewers worldwide.

The end of the show in a way is like a celebrity death, the last time the world will be entertained by this character. Although the same can be said of any television protagonist, Bojack Horseman’s blend of show-business satire and overarching humanity is sure to make this loss a bitter pill to swallow for many.

Admittedly I was not one of these. I began watching Bojack Horseman in March this year as I traveled home to escape the possibility of lock-down in student accommodation due to the uncanny monstrosity that is COVID-19 (and the United Kingdom’s bull-headed response).

For years I ignored this show. My only exposure being a series of relentlessly irritating Youtube adverts from when it initially premiered. Remembering the tepid response to its first season, I was surprised to hear from friends years into its run that not only did they love this programme about an alcoholic man-horse but that it made them cry?

So I began. The first season, while not bad does little to sell the concept. You could be forgiven for thinking that the show-runner Raphael Bob-Waksberg was more interested in making a show based around animal puns than any biting commentary on the entertainment industry. Highlights included the introduction of Sarah Lynn, the series most tragic character as well as the subversion of the “will they, won’t they” sitcom cliche as Bojack’s memoir ghostwriter Diane Nguyen makes it very clear that the latter is the only possibility for their future.

A neat trick the series uses is basing each season around one specific development in the life of Bojack and his motley crew. The first focuses on the writing of his memoirs, the second his disastrous attempt to become a true movie star portraying his idol Secretariat. How these events tie the disparate characters together is always a treat to behold, a Rube Goldberg machine made of barnyard animals and oddball humans and each season improves upon the last. Whilst rarely laugh-out-loud funny it’s never un-amusing.

However in my viewing experience, whilst consistently entertaining the series only achieved it’s first truly great episode late into its third season. In "Best Thing That Ever Happened", the ninth episode of the season Bojack meets his agent Princess Carolyn in his restaurant with the intention of firing her after a series of disastrous gambles made to secure him a big role.

Carolyn, the breakout character of the show, is desperate to retain her troubled client and the entire episode revolves around their relationship, how they met, what has kept them together and what is going to tear them apart.

Princess Carolyn debuted in the first episode of the show, where she dumps Bojack romantically in the very same restaurant before a clever reveal that she is also his agent, able to divide her personal and professional lives (to her detriment as the show progresses).

Constantly put upon to clean up after her clients (of which all of the main cast become at varying points) she is the voice of consistent dependability, always wrestling with dividing her desire for success with avoiding the despicable cynicism of the industry she loves. As she later puts it, "I got into show business because I love stories. They comfort us, they inspire us, they make a context for how we experience the world.”

These actions make Bojack’s betrayal so brutal. After the best part of three seasons and a whole episode of heated, uncomfortable arguing and seeming emotional reconciliation he goes through with it and fires her. Bojack does many terrible things but this is the one perhaps more than any other that cuts the deepest.

Tragically in this circumstance, he has put aside his usual self-destructive narcissism and genuinely believes that this move is better for both of them. When Bojack Horseman is at its best it exposes these uncomfortable truths, that you can love someone and know you should never be with them is a lesson that the show takes to the very end, the series finale doubling down on this sentiment.

Unfortunately, this episode inadvertently exposes the series’ greatest weakness as well. By focusing entirely on the two strongest characters it puts the supporting cast to shame, which forced me to consider their contribution to the show overall. Diane is vital to the storyline of season one but lacks importance afterwards, the series seeming to trip over itself to find things for her to do, whether it’s a failing marriage or her crumbling journalistic career. She also represents a strange misstep in casting Alison Brie as a Vietnamese-American, somewhat symbolic of the characters awkward handling.

Bojack’s sofa-surfing young “friend” Todd is the archetypal “wacky” sitcom character, which they try to push to an extreme without mirth. His late-show revelation that he’s asexual is wonderfully done but makes you wish he had that depth from the beginning.

Celebrity Labrador Retriever Mr Peanutbutter, on the other hand, is a perfect foil to Bojack, a creature of boundless pep and optimism but is overused and one-note. The one time he lets rip at Bojack is one of the best early show episodes, hinting at a more human and interesting side of the character but unfortunately rarely is seen again.

Smaller characters such as the aforementioned self-destructive teen idol Sarah Lynn, hyper-literal hipster Judah Mannowdog and centenarian movie mogul Lenny Turtletaub do a lot more with a lot less.

When I started the series I remembered being told by a colleague that it was a “nihilistic” show, an utterly bizarre description looking back on it as a whole. Yes, Bojack Horseman concedes that life is cruel, that we are often the architects of our own misery, that our expectations and reality will only rarely meet. Perhaps in cartoon form, this can seem overbearingly pessimistic to some but it’s missing the true message of the series.

Nihilism teaches that life is meaningless whereas Bojack learns that life is given definition by how we spend it and who we choose to live it with. To finish Princess Carolyn’s quote “…you have to be careful, because if you spend a lot of time with stories, you start to believe that life is just stories, and it's not. Life is life, and that's so sad because there's so little time and... what are we doing with it?”

When Bojack finally swallows his pride and plays along with Mr Peanutbutter’s fantasy of a crossover episode in the final season we see how far he’s come, finally treating the dreams of his peer as valid. He finishes his journey where it began, sitting on a roof with Diane as they did when he agreed to work with her on his memoirs.

Diane, having been influenced by his long time cynicism states “life’s a bitch and then you keep living”. Bojack looks to the stars, but where once it would have been him saying this he now looks unconvinced. As they look to the night sky they agree it’s a nice night, appreciating the kinds of stars that are so often overlooked in Hollywoob. The real thing.

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