Breaking Down Bojack: A Flawless Look at Mental Health
Why ‘Bojack Horseman’ is the Perfect Narrative for Mental Health.
Warning, spoilers for all five seasons of Bojack Horseman are present in this article. If you have not finished Season Five, please consider saving this link and revisiting the article afterwards.
Breaking Down Bojack is a new original article series from Project-Nerd. The article series will feature a new article each month diving deep into the depths of what the Netflix comedy series, Bojack Horesman, is all about.
Because mental health is now less of a taboo subject more people are willing to talk about it, so Hollywoo has produced more mental health conscious content. Film and television writers see the emergence of mental health conversation as an opportunity to financially benefit and indirectly share their own experiences with mental health.
Unfortunately, more often than not, writers create poor representations of types of mental illnesses and the people who are affected by them. Community and Sherlock, two critically acclaimed shows, made mental illness quirky, cool, and sometimes useful. 13 Reasons Why and The End of the F***ing World miss the point and leave those not familiar with mental illness frustrated and confused. Then then are shows such as Shameless or Netflix’s, new limited series, Maniac which adequately present mental illness, but then fail by not holding those mentally ill characters accountable for their actions.
Hiding in plain sight, disguised as a shallow, raunchy, satirical sitcom, is Netflix’s Bojack Horseman; the most accurate portrayal and deepest narrative about mental health on television today.
If you break down each of the five main characters, you find that each is battling something completely different, and although some characters might be much more destructive than others, they all have their demons that the series highlights.
The show’s eponymous character Bojack Horseman is the mentally ill alcoholic who turns to addiction to try and solve his problems and abuses all of those around him, including constantly blowing up his own life and relationships.
Diane’s depression makes her feel as if she is not good enough and she constantly sets herself up for failure and fractures her relationships, all while remaining loyal to a fault to those who deserve it the least.
Princess Carolyn is the friend who tries so hard to be successful that she constantly sacrifices her own life and her relationships with those closest to her as she runs around trying to fix everybody else’s problems and manage more than she can handle to prove herself.
Mr. Peanut Butter is constantly exceedingly nice and awkwardly optimistic as he continuously searches for people to accept him and show him a level of affection he desires, which in doing so isolates him from those closest to him.
Todd, who seems as if he is the most healthy mentally, is dealing with a lack of motivation, little desire to connect with others, and an innate ability to get into his own head – all of which is driven by a serious bout of depression.
All five main characters are battling with their inner demons while being intertwined with each other. And even though other programs instead show people with depression, personality disorders, and other mental health issues, these look so real. The reason? Each one of the characters could be recast with people from your own life, even if those friends (or enemies) of yours aren’t half horse, washed-up television stars.
The evolution of the series, and its incredible ability to make satire of itself and its industry, makes the growth and change of the characters that much deeper. From the first season to the newly aired fifth season, we watch as Bojack’s self-destructive behavior fails to evolve, instead watching the responses of those around him changing, causing him to question himself and his decisions more. Whereas at the beginning we focused mainly on the washed up star, by season five we have that deep look at each of the main characters allowing us to accurately breakdown their issues as illustrated above.
Although depression is the primary issue which motivates most of the character decisions and behaviors, Bojack suffers from much more; an untreated case (although the show has never actually labeled it) of Borderline Personality Disorder. Through five seasons he proves to be consistently self-destructive, drawn to substance abuse, using sex and affairs to punish himself, willing to inflict physical pain on himself, quick to damage relationships with those that care the most about him in fear of abandonment, and refuses to get help believing he can handle it on his own.
As somebody who was married to a real life Bojack, the series speaks deeply to me. Each time he impacts his loved ones with the aforementioned actions, I am reminded that I am not alone in having cared for somebody like that for much too long; and that these crazy antics aren’t just for a laugh in a sitcom, but are something that really happens in everyday life.
Bojack Horseman is not a likeable character. Sure, we occasionally enjoy his antics, and his self-destruction makes for some rather entertaining television, but much like in real life he seems like he’s fine or ‘fixed’ sometimes, only to slide back into a state that we’ve seen from him too often. In fact, where other shows make it completely obvious somebody is mentally ill from open to close, Bojack Horseman reminds you that real mental health issues don’t come across as obvious at every moment. Not everybody who is depressed stays in bed and calls in sick every morning. Not everybody with anxiety can’t face a tough situation today. Not everybody with Borderline Personality Disorder sets out everyday to destroy a relationship. For the most part, these people appear normal to the outside world.
But it’s not just Bojack that we relate to, it’s the entire cast. All of them are relatable because they are accurately portrayed, and we recognize them in ourselves or somebody we truly care about.
Bojack Horseman remains meaningful because in between each laugh it serves up a painful reminder of the internal battle either we or our friends are facing. As Diane concludes at the end of another powerful season… (paraphrasing) “there aren’t good people, there aren’t bad people. There are just people who do good things and bad things.” Right before she stands with her friend one more time in hopes he will finally get on the path to doing what is right.