BoJack Horseman explores mental illness in a way never seen on TV

By Hermes


This post contains spoilers for Season 4 of BoJack Horseman. Reader discretion is advised.


Vincent Adultman does not make an appearance. I know that’s what everyone came to this article wondering. I’m just waiting for him to get a spin-off series with Neal McBeal at this point.

I was pretty excited to see that BoJack Horseman was coming out with a fourth season. They pretty much said it was happening as soon as the third season came out. It’s taken me way longer to write this post than I’d like, but the announcement for the fifth season is out and I’m ready to dive in.

With all this in mind, what did I correctly predict for Season 4? Where was I off? Did I know things? What do I know? Let’s find out!

What happened

There was a lot of commentary in the writing, which I thought made this the best season we’ve seen yet. The show examined mental illnesses (“The Old Sugarman Place,” “Stupid Piece of Shit,” “Time’s Arrow”), issues surrounding gun control (“Thoughts and Prayers”) and, of course, the 2016 presidential election. Some of it was truly groundbreaking television.

It’s not like most television shows are willing to show dementia and critical self-talk that is synonymous with mental health issues, but BoJack surely did. A large part of the season was about BoJack’s mother Bea’s sudden onset dementia, which has essentially robbed her of her (terrible) personhood. BoJack is forced to provide the same care his mother never gave him, and in some ways, her now-selective memory foreshadows a major plot twist (I’ll get to it) at the end of the season.

We also learn why Bea was a terrible mother to BoJack his entire life. In no way does it make any of her physical, emotional or psychological abuse forgivable, but it certainly makes a strong point that we are just a collection of our memories and experiences, for better or for worse. Bea is resentful at her entire life and took it out on what happened as a result of her actions: BoJack. Bea is also a product of her wealthy parents, and her family certainly is an indirect nod to the Kennedy family.

Her father Joseph, eponymous with the Kennedy patriarch and a wealthy businessman, immediately gets his wife a lobotomy after she suffers from some form of hysteria following her son Crackerjack’s death in World War II. Joseph also burns all of Bea’s toys when she comes down with scarlet fever. It’s pretty clear she has her own trauma, which she then projects onto BoJack.

With all of this in mind, this is where we see BoJack’s first step toward happiness. He puts his mother in the worst home he can find for her. However, when she does recognize him, instead of giving her the “fuck you” he wanted to give, he decides to put her mindset in the place where she was last happy, which is a huge step for him as a person. He typically would just do whatever he wanted for himself and himself only, but for him to put his own feelings aside for her showed he can change; he doesn’t need some B.S. audiobook narrated by George Takei force-feeding him shallow, fake positivity to do so.

Each season of BoJack gets one uttered f-bomb. I feel like this season’s “fuck” had the element of surprise on its side, but did not have the kick in the urethra synonymous with the “fuck” of the first three seasons. I guess it was proving a point for where the direction of the show is going, but I would have rather seen it in the Bea flashback storyline. BoJack dumping his mom at the home and saying “fuck you” when she recognized him would have had even less of an impact.

We also see negative self-talk, something I experience on a regular basis but have never seen on TV — until now. It was relatable in a very messed-up way and I appreciated how much they were willing to show BoJack at an intimate level in several ways, this one being the most intimate of all. We see why BoJack is accused of fetishizing his own sadness, and why he self-medicates by binging on sex, drugs and alcohol. He is clearly a person with relatively high-functioning depression, among other things. He could likely be many other things, but I am a reviewer, not a psychologist.

Back to an earlier point: BoJack’s family got bigger, just not in the way we expected. Hollyhock, his half-sister, and not his daughter, is willing to continue a relationship with him as a sibling, and this is something he can handle far more easily. In previous seasons, it’s been clear BoJack could not handle being a real dad when he folded under self-induced pressure from his TV children Sarah Lynn and Bradley, his friend and love interest Charlotte’s daughter Penny and his almost-TV granddaughter Julia. Now, he can feel intimacy with Hollyhock without worrying about the daddy issues he clearly has with his own “children.” Maybe now BoJack can feel some sort of love within his life from someone who also likes him and doesn’t have certain expectations or merely wants something out of him.

This season had more development for Todd — just look at my favorite episode, Episode 3, “Hooray! Todd Episode!” We learned what had been largely implied in the season finale: Todd is asexual, and he came running out of the closet, so to speak. We basically don’t see much of Emily since she is a heterosexual person who wants to have regular sex, but they’re still definitely good friends. She just isn’t going to help Todd develop as someone with different wants and needs. He was quick to join groups for aces, a common term for asexual people. It was pretty unusual, due to how seldom ace characters are normally seen on television.

Todd is likely one of the first characters in television history to verbally acknowledge his asexuality, and have it unquestioned and accepted by the other members of the cast. This was a big step for the LGBTQ+ community. It was just overall good to see arguably the kindest character on the show living a more happy, productive life. The entire season, but especially the aforementioned episode, was leaps and bounds for Todd’s character development. Oh, and he accidentally becomes a fashion icon and “asexually reproduces.”

Mr. Peanutbutter’s gubernatorial run was a clear satire of the presidential election. In the season premiere, Mr. Peanutbutter says, “even though I have zero qualifications, I honestly thought I would have made an even better governor!” If that is not a dig at Donald Trump, I don’t know what is. I mean, Mr. Peanutbutter is a businessman who’s gone bankrupt behind multiple foolish business ventures, so it’s not like the comparison isn’t there. Mr. Peanutbutter says foolish things and sticks by them, even if it hurts his relationship with Diane. They have weird (and honestly creepy) angry sex.

I nailed the idea of GirlCroosh being a BuzzFeed, and Diane is not a fan of her serious stories getting ignored in favor of stories about famous actors’ bulges and other shallow concerns. She does criticize Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign and him directly, but it’s more his fracking and anti-Second Amendment policies rather than his campaign, itself. Journalists are definitely criticized, but this is nothing new, as Tom Grumbo-Jumbo is basically a complete poke at cable news anchors. (He’s also voiced by a former cable news anchor.)

There was definitely commentary on gun culture, but not quite in the way I expected. The gun commentary intersected with sexism for an unusual two-punch political combo. Diane makes a post which helps women feel more comfortable with themselves by packing heat as they don’t feel comfortable with men’s sexually-harassing comments toward them. Guns become “uncool” when women begin regularly using them, and sensible gun control was passed by the state because “men hate women more than they love guns.” This was fantastic commentary, even if it would have probably worked better if the show took place in an state where guns are a more prominent part of the culture, such as Texas or Alabama.

I also briefly want to mention how rare it is for an animated comedy to talk about miscarriage, and in a serious, classy way; it was pulled off wonderfully. It’s a truly bar-none writing team. I was disappointed Princess Carolyn likely won’t have kids, but it goes right with the theme some things can’t get wrapped up in 22 minutes, and they certainly don’t always have a happy ending.

What’s next

I think BoJack is going back to acting, doing Princess Carolyn a favor by appearing in the whattimeisitrightnow.com original “Philbert,” which may be her new baby since the actual baby didn’t work out. I don’t know if she will get back together with Ralph, but I hope she does. They were good for each other, ignoring the fact his species is conditioned to hate her species.

I also could see Diane working on the show as some sort of script doctor, since there is a lot of work that’s needed to make it not a repeat of The BoJack Horseman Show. Maybe Mr. Peanutbutter will make a guest appearance on the show, bringing along his beloved assistant Todd.

It seems obvious Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are headed for a divorce, but I hope BoJack does not try to pursue Diane if this happens. It seems like they’re headed that way, and I think they can love each other, just not like that.

I don’t think politics will play as big of a role now the show’s been there, done that. The creators might not want to make a big statement against Trump when most of the people involved already do that on Twitter and other social media platforms quite frequently.

I definitely see Todd getting pretty serious with his new romantic interest, especially because they’re both ace.

And finally, it wouldn’t surprise me if they ended things after the fifth season. I don’t want them to, but I just don’t see them allowing themselves to become like The Simpsons or Family Guy (see our Rick and Morty chats for my feelings on this).

I’ll come back to this next summer. I’m excited for these characters’ stories to continue. ■



Home → Culture → Television


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