By: Abi Hillrich
When I sat down to watch BoJack Horseman, a Netflix original comedy cartoon, I didn’t expect it to have such an impact on me as it has. For reference: this show follows a washed up actor in his middle-aged funk. He’s rich and famous, unhappy and selfish. He’s also half horse, half man (see his last name). There are countless other characters at play in this show: his agent, a cat-woman named Princess Caroline; his friend Todd, a human who crashed on BoJack’s couch after a party and never left; a dog-man named Mr. Peanut Butter whose career has gone similarly to BoJack’s; Mr. Peanut-Butter’s wife named Diane, who enters the show by ghost-writing BoJack’s memoir. But, despite this ridiculous premise, by the end of (at most) episode seven of the first season, you’ve picked up on it. BoJack is not a good person, and he doesn’t even want to be (until about the end of season one episode eleven). He uses his fame and influence to take advantage of women, he’s selfish and narcissistic, he falls into the same unhealthy habits over and over (and over). Amidst all of this, though, BoJack reminds the audience of themselves. I’ve been selfish, I’ve been manipulative, I’ve wanted to get better without knowing how. I’m sure you have too.
I know each person’s faith journey is unique and spirituality means something different to everyone, but for me, it was the realization that I could never be perfect (or even good) on my own that began a search for something larger than myself. BoJack goes through this same process as he recognizes that there’s nothing or no one to blame for his wrongdoings outside himself. “You’re all the things that are wrong with you,” Todd yells at BoJack after getting fed up with being hurt by someone he’d considered a friend. Todd forces BoJack to look at his life without blinders, and see his bad decisions for what they really are. It isn’t until the fifth, and most recent, season that BoJack finally realizes he’ll need help and support from others to continue in bettering himself.
Though BoJack does not choose to turn to religion or spirituality throughout the series, there is a moment that he is exposed to this option. A friend from his past turns to practices reminiscent of Eastern religions, professing to have discovered the secret to happiness. “Only after you give up everything can you begin to find a way to be happy,” he says while drinking tea near an excluded hut in the mountains, sitting cross legged on a hammock-like chair. BoJack leaves this encounter with a dismissive “man, what a nut” on the drive home, and never considers this path for himself. However, the inclusion of this scene reminds the viewer that spirituality and the traditions of those who may choose to sacrifice material goods for fulfillment in life are valid practices.
This show may not directly address spirituality, but there are echoes of it in every episode. BoJack is constantly looking for something outside of himself to fix himself. He tries drugs, alcohol, sex, and fame to no avail. It is in this same way that many people accept religion or Christianity, as if because they call themselves religious and follow specific practices, they become good people. It seems that the only people (and animals) that have found true happiness and fulfillment in this show have chosen the hardest path: to make the decision to do what is right day after day after day.
I’ve watched BoJack Horseman with people who shut it off after the first episode because of its profane and offensive content. This show addresses the hard stuff: alcoholism, addiction, sexual double standards, loneliness, sexism, and dangerous drug use. But it’s not hiding anything; the creators of BoJack Horseman are not trying to put on a front of something sterile or pure. I think this is the reason it’s taught me so much about God. It reminds me a little bit of the Bible, a book full of stories of people messing up over and over, and learning to be better through the grace and truth of God. But, the process is active. If BoJack Horseman teaches us anything, it’s that if you sit around and wait to become a better person, you’ll continue to disappoint yourself.