Today I binge watched the new Netflix series BoJack Horseman. I had plans today, but I hurt my knee yesterday and let that be an excuse to sit on the couch instead of doing much of anything. When I first saw the promo material for this show I thought it would be a two-dimensional comedy with a few witty bits and some overdone hackney acting. After one episode I saw that this show had something to offer. I didn’t think it was gonna be gold, but rather high grade bronze. Well, I just barreled through all twelve episodes and I’m happy to report I was dead wrong.
This show was fantastic for many reasons. I’ll start with those we can all appreciate and then go into what made it resonate with me like a mirrored tuning fork.
The acting: I loved Will Arnett in Arrested Development. I thought he was okay in 30 Rock. I haven’t liked any of his other work that I can recall. I thought he was a one note actor who could deliver a few punchlines well and that was about it. He proved with this show that he’s got amazing depth. I felt for this character so hard. Aaron Paul was amazing in Breaking Bad, but did he have any other note? Yep. He starts as the typical stoner comedy relief, but as the show coalesces into something bigger than the vast majority of comedy shows ever become, his character becomes a multi-dimensional force that I both loved and understood. I don’t wanna belabor my point by singling out every actor so I’ll just say that I didn’t pick up on a single bad performance by any of the actors regular or guest star.
The comedy: As someone who’s been performing comedy my entire adult life I get a bit numb to it. I love to laugh, but I don’t always laugh as easily or as often at TV and movies as I think most people do. That said, when I find something I love (George Carlin, Freaks & Geeks, Groundhog Day, etc.) I cherish it. It’s like my brain is a VIP club that only let’s the best of the best comedy performances in, but once in there I elevate them to Platinum member status immediately. This show does comedy in a way that reminds me of The Simpsons (one of the absolute best) while not copying it. Sure, BoJack uses a lot of comedic devices that every writer uses, but I look at those devices like bricks or tools. If you’re gonna be a plumber, you have to use a wrench. If you’re gonna be a comedy writer you have to use a few styles of joke and scene juxtaposition. I truly can’t think of any other animated show this was like. When I say it reminds me of The Simpsons, I mean that only in the way that someone who grew up watching The Simpsons can relate to. But by no means was it copied. Raphael Bob-Waksberg and his team of writers made a show familiar enough to relate to and original enough to spark interest.
The story lines: Somehow this show transcends through it’s twelve episode arc from a lot of jokes and seemingly tired character types (stoner loser, uptight feminist smart girl, full of himself guy, oblivious happy dude) to a heart tugging, truth telling show that hits the well constructed jokes even harder, but never detracts from the real human experience (irony since half the characters are animals) that makes it such an amazing piece of literature.
The wisdom: Fair warning, I’m gonna share some quotes from later in the show. I don’t believe they are spoilers, but just in case you’re super sensitive to that, avoid this next paragraph.
“Sometimes I feel I was born with a leak. And any goodness I started with just slowly spilt out of me. And now it’s all gone. And I’ll never get it back in me.”
“BoJack, when people find out that someone like you who seems larger than life is actually just as wounded and vulnerable as they are it makes them feel less lonely.”
“Maybe that’s what flawed, sad fatties want from other celebrities, but from BoJack Horseman they want a heroic horse stud who is awesome and can save them from their flawed sad fatty lives.”
“That’s the problem with life, right? Either you know what you want and you don’t get what you want. Or you get what you want and then you don’t know what you want.”
“That’s the thing, I don’t think I believe in a deep down. I kinda think all you are is just the things that you do.”
“No, I’m running from nothing. I’m terrified of nothing. People come up to me. They want my autograph. They want my picture. They think they recognize something in me. And I wanna be that person they think I am, but I’m not. They see greatness in me that they mistake for goodness. I know there’s nothing there. As fast as I run, I can’t get away from that.”
I felt so many chords in myself struck by so much of this show. To me this show is so different from a lot of the stuff I grew up on. Or at least, I gleam different messages from this show than the stuff I grew up on. When I would watch shows as a kid, the characters seemed to be so much more black and white. There was always a clear bad guy and a good guy. I knew who to root for in Crocodile Dundee. And I knew who to root against. It was easy. And that seemed evident in a lot of movies that I loved and still do love. Ghostbusters, Robocop, The Running Man, Office Space, etc.
And it wasn’t just about good/bad guys. It was also love. We knew that no matter how many women Billy Crystal dated or how many men Meg Ryan dated, we the audience knew that they were right for each other. Every other character they hooked up with or dated were clearly just hurdles to leap over en route to the finish line – the love of their life. But real life isn’t a movie. After you hook up with your long term friend on New Year’s Eve (spoiler alert?) you still have to keep living life. And life will always have ups and downs. It’s filled with decisions that have no clear right or wrong choices, but rather just possibilities.
And I agree with the character of Diane who said she doesn’t believe in deep down. At least I think I do now. Before today I think I would have said that there is such a thing as inherently good or bad. But, what if there is no ‘real’ version of any of us that is good or bad? Maybe our ‘real’ selves are just constantly flowing time of experience. It’s not like at the deepest part of ourselves is a stone that is one color or another. But rather at the deepest depths of ourselves is nothing more than what we’re doing at the moment. And we’re all capable of doing ‘good’ things and ‘bad’ things. We’re all capable of having a moral code in our mind and breaking it on occasion for reasons that seem to completely not justify breaking it.
So, here are some of the bullet points I came away from after watching the twelve episodes of the show:
-Everyone is flawed and we all tend to appreciate each other’s flaws to a degree.
-It’s not abnormal to want to appear to be better than you are. In fact, a lot of us probably do that, but in so doing tend to make poor decisions.
-Asking for forgiveness does not give us the right or expectation to expect getting it.
-True love is likely a helluva lot more complicated than it is in any movie I’ve ever seen.
-Nothing is supposed to be. It simply is what becomes. Life is a lot like the weather. Tornadoes aren’t bad. The wind has no intent to destroy homes anymore than rain intends to help provide for life. We just try to adapt to everything and make the best choices we feel we can at the time.
-Sometimes what we think we want isn’t really the thing that will bring us happiness.
I don’t wanna go into all the details, but all of this really resonated with me. As an impatient actor who believes he is talented enough to be doing way better than he is (why am I writing that in third person?) I saw BoJack as a not wholly dissimilar prophetic character. We’re not exactly alike in how we were brought up, but his inability to experience joy despite achieving what he seemed to always want could easily be me if I ever got a modicum of wealth and fame.
And also, like BoJack I desperately need to believe that I’m a good person despite many past decisions that were clearly not indicative of the adjective ‘good.’ But I still see myself as a good guy. And I think the problem is that there’s no such thing as a good guy. There may be people who do ‘good’ things more often than others, but we’re all on a continuum. I’m not claiming anything outrageous like saying Hitler or Rasputin or Pol Pot are not wholly evil. But at the same time, I can’t equate them with the bad guys I read about in comic books. No matter how bad they were, any human being is still a complex web of choices and environment. We should all still get punished for making choices that go against the law, but I’ve broken the law myself. No felonies ever (that I’m aware of), but that doesn’t make me automatically better than someone who has broken other laws. If I was raised in a different circumstance, maybe I would have made different choices that would have lead to hard prison time.
In addition, I feel like I have to demonstrate to people that I’m awesome. I feel like I need to come off as a hero and not a flawed sad person. Not that I’m sad all the time, but I feel like I can’t show people that I ever get that way. And therefore I don’t allow myself to feel that way nearly as often as I really do. And feeling sad isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we have to go through all the emotions to maintain a healthy life.
This is all to say that I love the writers of film and TV who see the grey in humanity. Black and white just doesn’t ring true. That doesn’t mean a fantasy world where bad guys are wholly bad can be fine for certain stories. But I need to realize that some stories are just fantasy. While others (like BoJack for example) get closer to the complexities of real life. And in this particular case, the show spoke to me in a way that got me thinking a lot about myself and what life really is and how my choices affect everything else.