CONTENT WARNING: This article is going to contain spoilers for BoJack Horseman as well as mention of mental illness, drug use, and explicit language.
TV is a funny thing, especially in our modern golden age of television. There are excellent things out there that I’ll probably never watch (hello, Sopranos, and The Wire). And there are mediocre things I’ll watch religiously, hoping they’ll reach their full potential (looking at you, Avenue 5).
But every once in awhile, something comes into your life so perfectly that you can’t help but become that drunk girl at the club screaming, “Oh my gawd this song is about MEEEEEEEE!” For me, that thing was BoJack Horseman. Now that the series has wrapped, it seems like a good time to reflect on these last six years.
I’m going to spoil the end of this article right now and tell you that, like BoJack, this won’t end cleanly. I’m not going to sign off with “And I never drank again” or “She said ‘yes'” because that wouldn’t be true to life. Life is challenging and messy and ever-evolving.
So, with that, let’s begin at the beginning.
BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story, Chapter One
2014 should’ve been a banner year for me. I had recently graduated from college and bought my first house. I was working in college admission at what is still the highest salary I’ve ever made. I was getting promoted to Sergeant in my second job with the Indiana Army National Guard. And I was getting married.
But the college I worked for was still being assessed for regional accreditation (a multi-year process; and by the way, that’s the one that matters. National accreditation means fuck all. If you’re attending college, you need to demand a school with regional accreditation). I didn’t know it yet, but in the not-too-distant future, I’d be sent a memo saying the school had decided to no longer pursue regional accreditation. I can’t confirm this, but that almost certainly meant that they’d either been told or anticipated that they were going to be turned down, which said that I’d spent two years convincing people to shell out lots of money for a worthless degree. What I did find out in 2014, though, is that my fiancee did not want to marry me.
Deep down, I didn’t want to marry her either. But rejection is rejection. And, looking back, it’s painfully apparent that a lot of our issues boiled down to my not coming to terms with my depression and anxiety. And that, in turn, had lead to substance abuse and me pulling further and further away not just from her but from my friends, family, and reality.
The dirty secret about mental illness and addiction is that a lot of times, “rock bottom” never comes. Real-life rarely has that moment where you wake up on a park bench with a needle in your arm and a dildo in your ass surrounded by police where you say, “gosh, I really need to get my life together.”
The real kick in the balls, though, was that she told me she wanted to call off the wedding about five days before I was supposed to leave for a month-long school for non-commissioned officers (“NCOs” aka enlisted leadership positions) that was required for my Army promotion. I promptly went on a days-long bender (I won’t get into specifics, but it mainly involved gallons of booze and a substance that rhymes with “blowcaine”), cleaning up just in time to leave for the school.
Being away from home and surrounded by strangers during that time was hard. The difficulty was compounded by the comedown from an almost week-long high and the fear that I’d be drug tested or fail my PT test and be kicked out of the school. My way of coping with that stress during off-hours was to find shows to watch on Netflix on my phone. During my first couple of days, there a new show popped up that had an interesting animation style reminiscent of Ugly Americans (my favorite non-Adam Reed cartoon) and starred a lot of people I like. That show, of course, was BoJack Horseman.
Here was a show that was smart and hilarious. And the characters–despite being weird animal hybrids–were some of the most well-rounded and human I’d ever seen. And in BoJack, I saw myself, a heartbroken self-hating narcissist who consistently sabotaged his own chances of improvement. I think I watch the whole season in three nights. And then rewatched it, I don’t know how many times over that month.
When I finally got home from that training, I immediately started exploring my options for therapy. I also started mindfulness meditation, which is a practice I continue to this day and recommend every chance I get.
Finding a therapist was hard (insurance being what my options severely limit it). Although I recognize it was easier for me than it is for many. I live in a major metropolitan area, actually had insurance, and was lucky enough to find someone I clicked with on my first try. She is also someone I still see today every month. I also started taking some medication. That’s another thing that takes time to figure out. I spent months working with yet another doctor to figure out the correct substances and dosage.
This stuff is hard. Just like working out and getting in shape (another thing I decided to start paying more attention to around that time), it takes time and effort. Putting aside 10 minutes a day to sit quietly and meditate sounds easy, but developing any habit, no matter how seemingly small, is hard. It’s even harder in the midst of a depressive episode. I missed more than a handful of therapy appointments because I couldn’t get out of bed (and insurance doesn’t pay for missed appointments). Of course, you know that a trip to the gym or a meditation session might be the thing that helps you snap out of your current funk, but sometimes that’s not enough to get you to do it.
Like meditation coaches like to remind us, there’s a reason it’s called a “practice.” It’s never something you really master. Depression and addiction are chronic diseases, and they’re something you live with your whole life. It’s like diabetes; you learn to treat it, but it’s not something you’ll wake up one day and have it be gone. There are things you have to avoid that other people don’t, and things that will be harder for you to do than they are for others, and something you have to do that others can avoid.
One of the best moments in the whole run of BoJack Horseman is the running baboon at the end of season two. The advice he gives a dejected BoJack is something that has always stuck with me: “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day–that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”
BoJack Horseman wasn’t a perfect show. Some of the digressions seemed not to go anywhere (particularly the totally-not-Scientology subplot in the season mentioned above two–I found it trite and didn’t think it added anything new to the conversation or develop the characters in any meaningful way). Sometimes it got a little too inside baseball about the entertainment industry or a little too cute. But somewhere in there, BoJack Horseman always had something to say, and say in a smart and meaningful way.
One of my favorite things the show did was develop Mr. Peanutbutter into a three-dimensional character. Here was a character who spent the first few seasons being little more than a comic relief foil for BoJack’s crushing depression. But through his relationship with–and eventual divorce from–Diane, the show managed to flesh him out as a real character. It showed that even people who seem to have it all together can struggle. Like I said earlier, that’s probably the dirtiest secret about mental illness, and why there are still a lot of people who believe depression doesn’t exist. We can’t believe that someone like Ben Affleck could possibly be anything less than perfectly content with his life. But paradoxically, that should be evidence that depression does exist. If someone who has it all can still suffer so much, maybe our brain chemistry has a more significant effect on us than we’re willing to admit.
BoJack Horseman didn’t just deal with depression. It also had great arcs that deal with grief, Alzheimer’s, childhood trauma, aging, and–in another thing that perfectly lined up with my actual life–the difficulty and guilt that comes with becoming a parent while trying to have a life. And it did all of this while continuing to be laugh-out-loud funny.
Nice While It Lasted
Another great thing about BoJack Horseman was that it ended. That’s a weird thing to say, but everything ends. A lot of times shows stretch out way too long or otherwise seems to be just filling space. For example, my biggest beef with the Netflix Marvel shows was that each season seemed about four episodes too long, seemingly for no reason other than they felt a season couldn’t be less than ten episodes. BoJack Horseman said what it had to say, took us through the relevant journeys of the characters, and wrapped up.
I discussed with a good friend about the way the series ended. He thought BoJack should’ve died in the penultimate episode, “The View From Halfway Down.” I admit this is a thought I also had while watching it. How great would it be if they killed off BoJack here, and the final episode was his friends dealing with the loss? After all, that is how many of these stories end in real life; eventually, self-destructive people succeed at self-destruction.
But ultimately, BoJack Horseman was a show about hope. For all their faults and falls, the characters we grew to love kept going. Will BoJack relapse after he gets out of prison? Maybe. Will he and Diane ever see one another again? Probably not, I think. Will Diane continue to confront and treat her demons? I hope so, but there’s no guarantee. That–I think–was the whole point of the show. Life is hard and messy and will often put its boot on your throat. But you have to keep fighting.
It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you have to do it every day–that’s the hard part. But it does get easier.