Who knew a dark comedy about an anthropomorphized horse could be the most woke show on television? BoJack Horseman, the beloved Netflix animated series about an aging Hollywood celebrity constantly on the verge of a psychotic breakdown, has rolled out its most thoughtful season yet.
In the first couple of seasons, Bojack’s focus on mental health issues hit home for lots of folks. However, Bojack’s fast and loose celebrity lifestyle was not entirely relatable. We could only sympathize so much with an obscenely wealthy, middle-aged male celebrity; the main topics of conversation weren’t the most intersectional. Bojack Horseman became the most relatable show on television right now by including more diverse voices and perspectives in Season 5.
One brilliant act of inclusion in Bojack S5 was the addition of Gina, Bojack’s love interest and foil. Her internalized misogyny struck a chord with many women who have experienced inequality in the workplace. Voiced by Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, Gina’s story is a milestone for representation in television. Gina is one of the first fully fleshed out Latina characters in modern adult animation. Gina is more than a reflection of implicit bias. Most adult animated series, like Family Guy or South Park, pigeonhole Latinx characters in these trite stereotypes.
But not Gina. She’s empowered, independent, successful, and has a high-powered job. It’s fantastic to see a Latinx character that is more than a janitor, maid, immigrant, or drug dealer. Bojack undoubtedly spoke to an even broader audience with the inclusion of this awesome, well-rounded Latina character.
In Episode Seven, “INT. SUB” the audience meets a delightful Black lesbian couple on a dinner date: Dr. Indira (Diane and Bojack’s therapist) and her mediator wife, Mary-Beth. The two women discuss their clients in a hilariously discreet way. Though this is one of the more light-hearted, zany episodes of the season, it is totally dope to see two Black women represented as authoritative figures. Dr. Indira and Mary-Beth are highly intellectual, clearly maintain a wealthy lifestyle, and their conversation passes the Bechdel test. Hopefully, other shows will take note and characters like these will become more commonplace.
It wasn’t just new characters who upped inclusion on this season of Bojack Horseman. Creators extended larger arcs to pre-existing characters as well. There was a much bigger effort to focus on Diane and Princess Caroline. There were multiple episodes dedicated to diving deeper into their stories and unique experiences as women in the Entertainment industry. In fact, there were many points during this season when Bojack felt secondary to his own show — and that’s okay. The strong supplementary arcs didn’t undercut BoJack’s character at all; if anything, the inclusion bolstered BoJack and gave him an even stronger spotlight for Season 5’s groundbreaking and Emmy-worthy performance in Episode Six, “Free Churro”.
The pure pathos inspired by these breakaway episodes and diverse characters positively impacted the overall message of this season. Thanks to Bojack Horseman’s more varied and inclusive cast of characters, Season 5 can reach a similarly varied audience. That means even more people can connect and relate to this wonderfully absurd, hard-hitting animated series.
Not only did Bojack S5 do a fantastic job continuing the conversation on mental health, it also touched upon the #MeToo movement and toxic masculinity. This series is perfectly primed to talk about the problems facing America in a brutally honest, earnest fashion, and the writers went for it. Bojack’s unique style tackles these major social issues in a way that almost feels cathartic — especially for women.
There are many striking similarities between Bojack and the character he portrays in the “show-within-the-show” Philbert. Through this meta-narrative, the writers cleverly commented on Bojack’s destructive actions and behavior. The show even goes so far as to acknowledge the series’ cultural impact in the real world in a way that no other television show has done before.
In Episode Ten, “Head in the Clouds,” Bojack states the main message behind Philbert: “We are all terrible, and that’s okay.” Diane finds issue with this message and confronts Bojack. She questions whether or not her work on Philbert has had a positive impact on society, or if men simply use the critical acclaim of Philbert to justify their own problematic behavior. The same kind of behavior demonstrated by the womanizing ball of toxic masculinity Vance in Episode 4, “Bojack the Feminist.” The same kind of problematic behavior that inspired the #MeToo movement in the first place.
It’s interesting to note that most of the script for Season 5 was written pre-Weinstein scandal. Since it would be impossible to ignore the #MeToo movement, the writer’s reworked the script to include this satisfying bit. Hollywood has had a hard time in the past acknowledging its terrible, sexist practices. So, it’s rather refreshing to see a major production respond to this issue in such a positive and artful way.
Changing the Rhetoric
In previous seasons of BoJack Horseman, the show’s narrative was primarily based on getting viewers to feel sympathy for a fundamentally problematic male lead. In some ways, it was asking us to normalize and relate to toxic masculinity. In contrast, throughout the newest season, viewers were challenged to examine their own relationship with Bojack and ultimately come to the realization that Bojack’s behavior was irredeemable. The writers clearly understood the show’s influence, addressed it, and actively worked to change the series’ overarching rhetoric.
While this season was still peak Bojack and was everything society needs right now in a television series, the writers could have gone further to address racial discrimination in Hollywood. Particularly with representation in casting and the industry’s white-washed history. Especially considering that the character Diane Nguyen, a Vietnamese American, is voiced by White actor Alison Brie. One could debate whether or not this is really the show to explore these topics. However, one could also argue that this show, whose acclaim comes from its dissection of the entertainment industry, has a responsibility to do so.
Perhaps that will be the next issue to tackle in Season Six? Until then, stream every episode of this critically acclaimed series on Netflix.