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BoJack Horseman: How I Ended Up Relating to a Cartoon Horse

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There’s something about BoJack Horseman that gets under your skin. He makes you laugh, he pisses you off, and he makes you sad. More than that, though, he finds his way under your skin because in a lot of ways, he’s just about one of the most human characters on television today.

Somehow, series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has found a way to inject his comedy show with a hefty dose of existential realness. The hilariously topical and on-point pop culture references serve as the spoonful of sugar to the cod liver oil that I believe is the real heart of BoJack Horseman: its deep, meaningful (though sometimes depressing) ruminations on what it means to be okay with yourself.

Perhaps the best example of this is an episode where BoJack goes on a drug-fueled bender. The trip can only be described as a cartoon version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but what happens at the end of that monster trip completely wrecks me every time I see it.

The typical drug antics happen: hallucinations, trips within trips, weird talking, freaky imagery, etc. But right at the end, BoJack finds himself amidst a dreamy hallucination of what his life could have been had he followed his true love to Maine. Cozy house, kids, a peaceful life, all a far cry from the self-loathing that defines his real life.

For a moment, just like BoJack, we forget that this isn’t real. We forget that this trip will soon be coming to an end, that we’ll come careening back into reality with nothing but memories of something that never was.

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BoJack’s ringtone, the Horsin’ Around theme song, interrupts his dream life. It’s fitting, almost; a dream being cancelled out by his inability to let go of the past.

The entire trip is centered around BoJack’s past finally catching up with him. When he has nothing else to guard himself with, when he’s at his most vulnerable, without his alcohol, his fans, his money, he is overwhelmed by how not okay he is. His escape into drugs was ostensibly to help him write his autobiography in less than 24 hours, but it passed that point soon after it started, and it became a dense microcosm of the entire season.

In BoJack’s attempts to do better and be a better (horse) person, there are echoes of truth that resonate deeply within the show’s creator–and us. In an interview with Vulture, he explained:

Season one is a guy realizing he has to change, and season two is a guy trying to figure out if he can change. Are we who we are, or are we who we try to be? All of us have a person we see ourselves as, like a perfect person — if I were just a little better or if I were slightly kinder, I could be that person. And can we be? I don’t know. It’s something I struggle with. This is too real! I might be admitting too much now about how I see myself and the world.

It’s rare for a show to ask these questions at all without it becoming corny or overwrought. It’s rarer still for a show to get people to relate to its characters so deeply.

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We want to see the characters succeed. We want to believe that they can be happy and okay with themselves because we see ourselves in them; we want to believe that we can be happy and okay with ourselves. We all want to know if it’s too late for any of us, if things will be okay. Just like BoJack, we want to know one thing: are we good people?

It is in all their failings and all their shortcomings that we can find ourselves in a narcissistic horse, a couch-surfing loyal but dimwitted friend, an overworked cat, a happy-go-lucky but unfulfilled dog, or a writer who isn’t sure where she belongs in the world.

BoJack is special not because of its edgy jokes, its irreverent send ups, or its star power. No, it’s special because it doesn’t pull punches. It has its own unique way of getting you attached and connected to these characters that pulls you in and keeps you invested. It’s brutal and swift in its honesty in a way that leaves you reeling yet somehow asking for more.

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