Netflix’s Bojack Horseman is one of my favorite shows to be airing right now. I’ve watched it over 8 times in the span of its 5 season run and I don’t regret it. It just does so much right- the colors are vivid and delightful to see, the voice actors put so much time and effort into the show that the two leads have been producing the show since it has aired, its dedication to talking about mental health and have it be a constant point of character motivations- the show just really tries so hard to be amazing.
This isn’t a review because if I did that, it’d be a bit of a redundant read. Rather, let’s talk about something useful! As we are all artists in our own sort of way, let’s see what we can learn from the show and see how we can use it in our work. Welcome to part one in a series of deconstructive analyses of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman!
I know this is just a sitcom starring a cartoon horse that lives in this colorful world of animals and characters and that this show isn’t always serious. However, thinking like that undermines the work being done on the show and the show uses that to shape the story and its world. This brings us to the first thing I want to talk about- characters.
Picture this- a washed up actor waiting for his comeback because he feels like he deserves one but does everything he can to ignore or stop future acting gigs because he also feels like this next project wasn’t worth his time. That’s Bojack Horseman, a horse that treats everyone he knows poorly, drinks all day, and has an on and off relationship with his agent and strangers. The show knows this- that is Bojack and he has no reason to want to be better since he’s in a sitcom. Bojack’s character arc is defined by the genre he’s a part of and it’s because of this that we don’t see a change in his character until the third, arguably fourth, season.
What does that have to do with character? Well, it’s the shows dedicated to Bojack’s flaws that make him such a likable and relatable guy. The things that kept us laughing and engaged through the show are his imperfections. We’re not supposed to identify with Bojack at all, and the show makes this idea very clear. Bojack is the way he is because of where he is and how he got there and we shouldn’t feel validated because of it. His flaws do play a huge role in his relationships with the people around him which makes him that much more relatable.
Bojack’s past is deeply rooted in issues so realistic it’s uncomfortable, but that’s also why he’s so empathetic. The exploration of his past is the reason why he becomes so compelling and enduring. We just want to see him get and be better. He’s flawed because of the situation he was born into and had his entire life molded by the horrible things he has done. He has to live with the consequences of what he’s done in the past. Somewhere in all that mess, is a person (or horse) that’s trying. It’s not crazy different but it’s progress.
So what do we take from all that? If you’re trying to write a character, for any sort of media, keep in mind who you’re writing for. Bojack Horseman’s greatest strength as a show is the balancing act of silly humor with reality and to find the sadness in the comedy. If your character is going to go through a change, don’t make it sudden. People don’t change as fast as we’d like them to; change is slow and scary, especially when the character knows that they have to do it for themselves rather than the people around them. Finally, if you’re truly dead set on making a flawed character, it needs to have real grounding. The show does this by playing around with genre troops and attaching them to something real. Now, you don’t have to do that because that’d be a crazy thing to constantly keep doing, but you should make their flaws realistic and most importantly attached to characteristics already established so that the emotional climax is real.
This is just the first part in my series of analyzing Bojack Horseman! Come back to read more later!