I was talking to my aunt about TV show recommendations and, as always, brought up “BoJack Horseman,” my favorite show of all time. My aunt asked what the show was about, and I started explaining that it takes place in a world where anthropomorphic cartoon animals and humans live side by side. I was cut off by a disapproving head shake. Because of the cartoonish and fantastical nature of “BoJack Horseman,” my aunt was no longer interested.
This was hardly a shocker. It is well known that there is a stigma against adult animation, a genre that is often seen as lighthearted and childish. The animated elements of “BoJack” — its colorful setting, goofy humor and wacky characters — are all essential to its success as one of the most masterful dramedies of all time, but they don’t take away from its ability to strive for more. While “BoJack” does feature all of the aforementioned fun and potentially off-putting animation staples, it also addresses deep subjects such as addiction, regret and self-loathing.
“BoJack Horseman” centers on the life of its titular character — an aptly named horse/man hybrid — in a fictionalized version of Los Angeles. BoJack is a former ’90s sitcom star who lacks direction and happiness in his life despite his immense wealth. Throughout the series, he attempts to make a comeback in the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, he struggles to maintain relationships with the other characters as a result of his selfish actions, and simultaneously battles his inner demons and traumatic childhood.
Some of the actions BoJack takes are so obviously terrible that they cannot possibly be relatable for most viewers; however, the themes associated with these actions are much more universal. Most viewers haven’t sabotaged a friend’s rock opera just to prevent him from outgrowing them, but many have dealt with insecurity surrounding friendships and other relationships. No more than a small percentage of viewers have convinced their impressionable friend to accompany them on a bender that leads to her overdose, but many have dealt with drug abuse or even dependency in general.
One might wonder how such a dark and gloomy show could reach as wide an audience as “BoJack Horseman.” It all comes back to the show’s animated elements and comedic style. How do the show’s creators manage to keep viewers invested in a narcissistic jerk of a character? They do it by surrounding him with characters like Todd and Mr. Peanut Butter, whose youthful spirits, gullibility and relentlessly friendly demeanors make them the perfect foils for BoJack. Adult characters like these would not be believable on live-action TV, but they make perfect sense in animation. How does the show reconcile upsetting plot lines, like BoJack ending his 10-year friendship with Princess Carolyn? They do it by sprinkling hilariously absurd bits alongside punny and witty dialogue. These same jokes might come across as corny in a live-action setting, but they work well within the confines of a bright cartoon world.
This combination of tones is how “BoJack Horseman” became as close an allegory for life itself as there ever has been on television. Thanks to the creative freedom that animation offers, the writers of “BoJack” were able to build a show where opposing presentations of life coexist. Live-action could never accomplish such a feat without appearing unnatural, but since animation already requires the viewer to suspend their disbelief, the inclusion of multiple tones is not an issue.
Many live-action sitcoms avoid diving into the troubling aspects of life. Instead, they take place in a world where the only problems are unrealistically cute, or maybe there are genuinely difficult issues, but the solutions are too easy. Similarly, plenty of dramas present a picture of the world that is far too bleak — a universe where everything is gloomy and hopeless is just as unrealistic as one that is eternally happy and chill. Real-life is not just one of these two things, but both. “BoJack” juxtaposes the positives and negatives of life by balancing the vibes of a dark drama and a cartoon seamlessly.
So, said aunt — and anyone else for that matter — if you are reading this article, please give “BoJack” a chance.
Daily Arts Writer Aidan Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.