What you see on this nature show should come as no surprise to any animal documentary vet. What you hear, though, is another matter.
It might seem that the phrases “existential pathos” and “animated talking horse” would be, in most conceivable worlds, mutually exclusive. Like, say, “liver” and “ice cream” or “skateboard” and “goldfish,” it doesn’t seem like one should have anything to do with the other.
But that was before Netflix’s BoJack Horseman rode into town.
BoJack is a horse. And a man. He’s also the former star of Horsin’ Around, a wildly popular (if critically scorned) 1990s sitcom that propelled him to a life of comfort and C-list celebrity. He lacks for little.
And yet, he still feels like there’s something missing. That his past success isn’t enough to fill the aching void in his life. He wonders what would make his life feel more worthwhile. A return to the top of the celebrity heap? A hit movie? An Oscar? What about a new, wildly sexual relationship with a buzzy reality star? Or is he missing something deeper? Something more intrinsic?
But before he can delve too deeply into such questions, his agent, a cat named Princess Carolyn, gets him a gig on a TV game show. Or he has to bail his shiftless, slacker human friend and former roomie, Todd, out of jail. Or deal with friend-rival golden retriever, Mr. Peanutbutter. It’s always something.
Yes, BoJack Horseman is a very strange show—one that might explore the insanity of celebrity while a character holds a book titled “A Tale of Two Kitties,” or mull middle-age melancholy by a jukebox playing “Macaque the Knife.”
The Season Three poster for BoJack Horseman namechecks some of television’s most notoriously angsty antiheroes: “Soprano. Draper. Underwood. Horseman.” It’s a joke, only not really. Which neatly encapsulates the show itself. It’s funny, only not really.
Few folks really knew what to make of BoJack Horseman when Netflix unveiled it in 2014. But critics have warmed to the show: It sports a 100% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won the Critics’ Choice Television Awards for Best Animated Series in 2016.
And the series does have some merit. In fact, in its own strange way, BoJack emphasizes many of the same messages that we’re always harping on at Plugged In. Its surreal take on Hollywood and celebrity culture emphasizes just how crazy it all is in real life. And BoJack’s selfish, vacuous existence—and his occasional misgivings about it—reminds viewers that it’s far better to have a real connection with others than it is to have fame and fortune.
“I’m thinking about my legacy now,” BoJack tells an artsy, avant-garde spider who’s asked BoJack why he’s pursuing an Oscar. “I want to do things that connect with people. Things that matter. Things that last.”
“But that’s the whole point,” the spider says. “Nothing lasts.” Lines like that one remind us that it’s not just talking horses that can set the wrong priorities, imagining that fleeting fame and fortune might satisfy. We do it, too.
But while Plugged In can mine a few decent messages from BoJack Horseman, that hardly mitigates the show’s messes.
Netflix rates BoJack for mature audiences only, and it earns that rating every five minutes or so. In the midst of his perpetual existential crisis, BoJack sleeps around a lot. We hear banter about sex and sometimes see BoJack and his latest conquest in various stages of animated undress. Abortion and forbidden relationships have popped up as plot points, too.
And while violence isn’t a regular part of the show, it can rear its horsey head at times. Indeed, sometimes sex and violence mix, such as the time BoJack was accused of murdering a stripper in Season Three. Meanwhile, in Season Four we see BoJack’s grandmother allow her daughter to drive—never mind that the older woman is drunk and that she tries violently to grab the wheel.
Then there’s the language: Uncensored s-words fly, along with a stable of other profanities. Bojack and others have also relied heavily on alcohol, and sometimes on illicit drugs, to get them through the day. (However, the latest season begins with Bojack checking himself into rehab and trying to get his life back in order.)
BoJack Horseman makes me a little sad, and not just because of the show’s bleak, melancholy tone. This animated dramedy has something to say. But the way it says it leaves a lot to be desired. This is one horse you don’t want to look in the mouth: You never know what might be going in it or coming out of it.
After his friend dies from a drug overdose, Bojack checks himself into a rehab facility to break his alcohol addiction. While there, he tries to help a young teen start taking steps to get her life together.
Bojack chugs a bottle of wine. A woman spikes Bojack’s orange juice with vodka to help him “loosen up” for a kissing scene with a famous actress. At a party, high school students drink from kegs, beer cans and bottles. A group of teens play beer pong, one guy passes out drunk and a seal balances a keg on his nose while doing tricks.
In a flashback to a party from his own teenage years, Bojack initially refused to drink because he was underage, but eventually gave into peer pressure after watching a bully chug from a keg. In another flashback, a tween Bojack is offered a Jack and Coke by his dad after catching his dad in the act of adultery. In final flashback, an even younger Bojack finds his parents passed out drunk after a party. He takes a swig from a leftover vodka bottle before curling up in his mom’s lap to sleep as well.
Someone is loaded into an ambulance and we later learn she died from a heroin overdose. Bojack mentions that both he and the person who died used to do a lot of drugs. A joke is made about a man named Mario who is addicted to painkillers from breaking bricks on his head. Bojack smokes cigarettes throughout the episode. Students vape at a party. Bojack’s car is littered with beer cans, vodka bottles and cigarette butts. A person’s house is similarly littered with beer cans and broken bottles. A girl sneaks vodka into rehab via a water bottle.
Two teens make out on a couch: He touches her clothed breast and they fall off screen (sex is implied since we see his hips moving up and down). Bojack walks in on his dad and his dad’s secretary kissing. They quickly fix their clothing and the woman leaves. Bojack bends an actress over to kiss her passionately. A director offers to kiss Bojack to show him how it’s done. Someone says a girl is about to jump into a pool naked. Another person talks about people having sex in a bathroom. Women are seen in sports bras, crop tops, bikinis and short shorts.
Bojack uses humor to deflect from his problems at rehab. When a psychiatrist points this out, he starts yelling and calling out all the other participants for lying as well. One girl tells Bojack her dad “overreacted” when he found her not breathing and that he doesn’t really care about her since he has a new baby. Her dad later reveals she has been lying at rehab and that the baby she complains about is her own child: He says that he just wants to help his daughter get her life straight.
Bojack vomits into a trash can. Two girls steal a painting from a house. A girl steals her boyfriend’s car. A man purchases black-market porcupine milk. Two people smash up a car with a variety of weapons. A knife fight between two men ends in a hug. A kid is made fun of for being poor.
The s-word makes an appearance several times (once written on a bag) as well as “h—.” Two play on words nearly use curse words. Jesus’ and God’s names are taken in vain (twice paired with “d–n”). Crass comments are made about both male and female body parts.
BoJack struggles with a salacious nude role involving himself and his love interest, Gina, in a new television series. Princess Carolyn visits an adoption agency. Mr. Peanutbutter and his wife, Diane, review their divorce papers. Todd’s asexual girlfriend, Yolanda, worries about Todd’s directionless life plans, until he’s interviewed by a white-collar company.
BoJack’s new role requires him, and other women, to be completely naked. He sketches a nude woman (from behind) and we hear discussions involving male and female genitalia, other private areas and the process of sexual pleasure. BoJack and Gina have sex (we see movements and hear sounds). A director looks for women who are “hot and haunted” to play the part of a stripper and complains about their unwillingness to get naked in front of the camera. A woman dressed as a KKK member draws nipples on her costume. Todd and Yolanda talk about a dating app for asexuals. A note on the wall says “sexy violent sex.” BoJack is shot with a gun on set (fake blood covers his shirt). BoJack also makes other violent joes (including seducing a woman to steal her fake leg and beat someone with it). Divorce is casually discussed.
Men and male animals are seen shirtless. Women and fish wear bikinis and other revealing outfits and discuss their undergarments. People and animals drink, smoke cigarettes and get drunk on beer and hard liquor. Harsh language includes Jesus’ name misused once as well as the s-word heard once. Other profanities include “h—,” b–ch,” “d–k” and “a–.”
Season Four’s opening episode begins with a missing BoJack. In his absence, the golden retriever Mr. Peanutbutter decides he wants to run for governor of California. That whips Diane into a frenzy, and she repeatedly tries to reach BoJack. Although he doesn’t answer, Diane keeps calling him daily to give him updates on what’s happening.
We see a flashback to Mr. Peanutbutter’s rise to fame in 1992. Back in the present, he’s running for governor of California against Governor Woodchuck Coodchuck-Berkowitz—a bizarre turn of events given how Mr. Peanutbutter had only been known for being a TV celebrity. Having no political skills, Mr. Peanutbutter must resort to crowd hype in order to gain the trust of his fans. So he challenges the current governor to a ski race, a contest Woodchuck agrees to once several laws are overruled and the Constitution is changed. (The thinly veiled satirical humor here obviously comments upon our current political moment.)
Elsewhere, Todd has recently been dumped by his girlfriend for being, supposedly, asexual. To help ease his post-breakup pain, Todd’s girlfriend gives him a drone on which to ride and eat kettle corn. Courtesy of that drone, Todd accidentally wins the ski race, making him the surprising new governor of California. But he declines that honor, which in turn sends Mr. Peanutbutter back into a campaign frenzy.
Diane makes a crude reference to a celebrity’s genitals. Mr. Peanutbutter tells a transgender joke. The governor’s wife is shown in pink lingerie. Princess Carolyn’s lover, the Mouse, refers to their sex life. Conversation about a past pregnancy perhaps alludes at an abortion, though now Carolyn seems open to an intentional pregnancy. There’s also a reference to babies having access to vaping devices.
We hear one use each of “a–hole,” “h—” and a misuse of the Lord’s name. Someone says Mr. Peanutbutter has a “dumb dog brain.”
Secretariat, the movie that Bojack Horseman believes may be his ticket back to relevancy, is done. And Bojack’s on the junket circuit, doing publicity in the hope of garnering an Oscar nomination. But he’s harboring a deep, dark, secret: While he supposedly stars in the movie, it’s not really him at all.
Bojack goes to bed with a manatee journalist. We see both of them partially undressed, with Bojack in his boxer shorts and the manatee in her bra, and they talk sexually to each other. But the interlude is cut short when the manatee says something that reminds Bojack of a horrific mistake he nearly made last season. (Bojack visited an old flame and was nearly seduced by her daughter, who was about to graduate high school.) Bojack’s would-be romp with the manatee was precipitated by drinking during his interview with her. (He orders three whiskey sours while she quaffs champagne.) He also drinks heavily during other interviews, with piles of empty liquor bottles beside his chair. He pours booze into his milk and passes out for the rest of the night, while another accidentally drinks the milk and has hallucinations. Characters smoke too.
When Bojack finds slacker Todd stowed away in his suitcase, Bojack’s publicist Ana quips that he “smuggled a young boy into his hotel” and dismissively says that movie stars do that sort of thing all the time. In the opening credits, an animated woman swims past the camera in a bikini. We hear references to someone not wearing underwear. Someone wants Bojack to star in an avant-garde play in which he would appear naked and covered in milk.
A pigeon tries to commit suicide by jumping from a rooftop, and she curses when she remembers she has wings. Bojack, who’s tired of answering the same questions, makes a reference to wanting to “blow my brains out.” Characters say the s-word four times, “a–” three times, “h—” a couple of times and misuse God’s name four times (once with the word “d–n”). Someone wonders whether “dyke” is OK to say again.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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