By: Tim De Pass
Season five of BoJack Horseman was released this past Friday on Netflix. At first glance, you would not think that an animated comedy series about an anthropomorphic horse would have such a significant portrayal of mental health. However, BoJack has been lauded by critics and viewers for carefully crafting a meaningful representation of mental health, trauma, and addiction. Television and movies constantly contribute to the misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental health issues. However, BoJack Horseman encapsulates issues of mental health without romanticizing it or increasing stigma, but with an honest depiction of the pervasiveness of mental illness.
The main character, BoJack, is a former TV sitcom star who has all the fame and fortune one could ask for. Yet, this does not defend him from struggles of depression or other mental health challenges. It is important that the audience sees this to remind viewers that no amount money or notoriety can protect you from mental health issues. Depression can impact anyone, no matter their circumstances. This is an important idea for viewers to notice, as it depicts how universal mental health is.
BoJack portrays mental health with a crafted nuance. There is a display of the ups and downs of our emotions and how they can change with such suddenness. It makes it clear that recovery is not linear. It is a drive filled with peaks and valleys, and is impacted by the destructive pattern of our relationships, work, and failures.
BoJack also meaningfully describes the impact of the inheritance of family patterns and childhood trauma on our mental health. In Season 2, Episode 1, this is on fully display when BoJack receives a call from his mom. The phone call is an explanation of how their family and BoJack’s upbringing severely impacted his current emotional traits. It is an incredibly sad moment, but it explains to the viewer how our childhood experiences develop our fundamental structure. We cannot escape our past, but it is no use to blame ourselves for the hard-wiring of our brains in childhood that we had no control over.
Lastly, BoJack does an exceptional job of depicting the role of negative self-talk and thinking patterns, and how that impacts self-image and overall mental health. In Season 4, Episode 6, the opening scene presents the inside of BoJack’s mind. The audience witnesses BoJack’s inner monologue first-hand, and it is filled with self-hatred and fear. Bojack’s self-talk is filled with anger, anxiety, and a general theme that he doesn’t deserve any sort of happiness. The constant stream of negative thoughts and consistent overthinking is a common tendency among those with depression and anxiety. Our thoughts become a weapon against us. The negative thoughts beat us down and strip away at our self-image, leaving only feelings of hopelessness, anger, and despair. BoJack Horseman puts the ugliness of these thoughts on full display and teaches us how self-destructive this thinking can be.
BoJack Horseman is not a show about mental health; it is about BoJack’s journey through life while encountering various comedic and tragic events. Just like someone who suffers from mental health issues, the issues should not be the defining explanation of their life. It plays a role in their life, just like how depression is a theme in BoJack Horseman. There is something special about seeing a TV show or reading a book and relating to it. It is almost relieving to experience something and feel like you are not the only one. Or to watch a show and finally feel like they have gotten something right about the emotions you feel. This is what BoJack Horseman does. You will laugh, then you will cry, and then you will do both at the same time. BoJack depicts the layered journey of mental health unlike any other TV series, even if it is focused around an animated talking horse.
All five seasons of BoJack Horseman can be streamed on Netflix. The show deals with mature themes; viewer discretion is advised.