Anti-heroes have always been the heart of any great story. Whether it be in literature, film, or television, audiences love a character with substance that they can relate to and root for, even though they know they shouldn’t be. Anti-heroes make it known that nobody is perfect, and there are always multiple perspectives to any story.
The newest, and highly acclaimed, anti-hero is none other than BoJack Horseman, the animated horse voiced by Will Arnett on Netflix’s original series BoJack Horseman. I fell in love with this show’s uniqueness, storytelling ability, and character development this past summer, and recently binged watch the newest season in two days. After this most recent season (which was amazing!!!), I’ve realized that this animated horse might just be television’s greatest anti-hero.
BoJack Horseman is a middle-aged, substance addicted human-like horse who made his claim to fame through a popular, but fictional, nineties sitcom, Horsin’ Around. The show follows BoJack as he struggles to come to grip with his fleeting fame, his horrible upbringing, drug and alcohol addiction, and friendships gone terribly wrong. Basically, we see BoJack, who is very lovable and personable, battle with himself as he tries to remain a “good guy” while his terrible tendencies cause him to do unfavorable things to prove this untrue. Yet, the show also makes you feel a sense empathy for an animated horse, and that in itself is truly groundbreaking and makes BoJack unlike any other anti-hero on television.
For BoJack, the transition from being a enormously loved TV dad to a nearly unknown Hollywood face is a big time struggle for a horse whose ego possesses the fragility of glass, which is shattered so easily spiraling him into his next 48 hour bender. Comically, he is always seen rewatching box sets of his own shown. Though he seems to love his show, he often feels he is not capable of any kind of acting that isn’t his signature Danny Tanner-like role. Hence, his repetitive, depressive mantra “This is all I am and all I’ll ever be”.
As the story progresses, BoJack does end up in some gritty roles proving his prowess as an actually talented actor who can do more than deliver catch phrases. Yet, he still feels this sense of insecurity with his abilities, which is something I personally resonate with as a writer on a daily basis.
This insecurities stem from BoJack’s yearning to make his mother, who never once voiced her appreciation or love for her only son, proud. Born out of wedlock, BoJack was often pegged as the reason for his parents fighting. His father was a failed novelist, and his mother was an heiress who was dissatisfied with the way her life turned out. Growing up in that environment shapes the way he sees himself now, which in return results in his insecurity-driven antics.
The main reoccurring issue with BoJack is his substance abuse problems. The show introduces us to middle-aged BoJack as he makes a smoothie filled with pills, absinthe, and a little fruit for breakfast. In the beginning, it seems as if he just thinks he’s a crazy partier, but soon his actions take serious repercussions. He often blacks out and misses call times and other career obligations, or makes a large life changing mistake. When these things happen, he gets upset, then finds comfort in vodka, beer, pills, and boxes on boxes of pizza.
Like all substance abusers, his addiction and tendencies make life harder for the people around him. For example, when he first met his autobiography ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), he would constantly make her life harder by not complying with their set schedule because he would be too messed up. Similarly, his long-time girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) leaves him within the first few episodes because she couldn’t keep up anymore.
BoJack also inevitably becomes a bad influence on anyone he meets and entices to party to with. Especially with his ex-sitcom co-star, Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal), who has grown up and also became addicted to drugs. However, it’s BoJack, the adult she’s looked up to her whole life, who coaxes her to break her sobriety anytime she tries to be clean.
The show’s ability to create such an intricate, deep, perplexing character out of a man-horse, while also keeping up with the high standards of comedic television, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Even if BoJack was a normal, live action character on HBO, his inner workings and character development are so moving he transcends his anti-hero predecessors.