My Favorite Television Show
Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
“Everything Exists in Limited Quantity, Especially Happiness.” ‑Pablo Picasso
The good news is that the meaning of life is simple and known to all: happiness.
The bad news is that happiness is ephemeral and difficult to obtain.
Industrial society has conquered darkness, hunger, and boredom. But we have made no progress at all in bringing more happiness to the world.
Many of us took Calculus and Chemistry classes in high school, but none of us took a class on happiness. That’s perfectly ridiculous. Kids aren’t taught that fame and material possessions are worthless and pointless unless they bring you closer to happiness.
On the surface, Bojack Horseman (Will Arnett) is an undeniable success. He became a household name in the 1990s when he starred in the sitcom “Horsin’ Around.” His residual checks ensure that he will never want for anything.
But now he’s in his fifties and he’s as insecure, self-destructive, and miserable as ever.
Netflix animated series “Bojack Horseman” is half about the madness of Hollywood, and half about the mystery and ennui of the human condition.
“Bojack” shows how a life in showbiz consistently leads you away from happiness. “One day you’re going to look around and realize that everybody loves you but nobody likes you,” Bojack opines. “And that is the loneliest feeling in the world.”
Bojack’s agent Princess Carolyn is a good lady who genuinely cares about Bojack. But she’s in a business that systemically commoditizes and exploits human beings.
We experience the ghastly downfall of Bojack’s “Horsin’ Around” co-star Sarah Lynn. The sitcom made her a child star. Her TV catchphrase “That’s too much, man!” is genuinely delightful.
But fame without love annihilated poor Sarah Lynn’s soul. When we meet her, she’s a restless druggie sociopath. “Bojack Horseman” shows us that Hollywood introduces people to drugs, doesn’t judge celebrities for using them, and makes sure that they have a steady supply so that they will never quit.
“Bojack Horseman” is a funnier show than I’m making it sound and the comedy keeps you watching. But it’s the quiet moments of deep sorrow that make the show unique.
We learn about the genesis of Bojack’s self-loathing by meeting his WASPy mother. Bojack’s mom was abusive, unsupportive, and downright awful. All she did was insult him even after he got rich and famous.
By season 4, she’s in a nursing home and doesn’t even recognize her son anymore. Someone turns on an old episode of “Horsin’ Around.” Suddenly, Bojack’s mom is engaged and happy. She has clearly seen the episode before.
This is a subtle gut punch to Bojack. It turns out that his cruel mother has secretly enjoyed his work for years. But she never told him and now she’s too far gone for them to bond over it. Show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg is a master of bittersweet drama. Only in Bojack’s world, it’s always 10% sweet, 90% bitter.
Another highlight of the series is the marriage between Diane Nguyen and Mr. Peanutbutter. I’ve never seen a more honest and insightful exploration of a challenging relationship. Their marriage is always teetering on the edge of failure even though they love each other and are both trying earnestly to make it work.
In our world, comfort comes easy and material success is achievable for most. But happiness remains elusive. The magnificent drama “Bojack Horseman” explores this reality as well as any series since “Mad Man.” Please give “Bojack” a look.
[Beware: Season 1 is mediocre; I actually recommend skipping it and beginning your experience with Season 2]