If you like TV shows, chances are you have seen or heard of “BoJack Horseman.” “BoJack Horseman” is an animated Netflix Original TV show aimed at adults. It focuses on the life of a TV star horse-man named BoJack who lives in Hollywoo(d). BoJack gets his fame and fortune from acting in a ‘90s sitcom called “Horsin’ Around.” However, nowadays BoJack spends his time drinking, partying and inevitably reflecting on his life.
What makes BoJack Horseman particularly appealing to its cult following is his honest and uncensored way of living. BoJack clearly struggles with his mental health; many would diagnose him with depression. However, while BoJack Horseman clearly struggles to find purpose and meaning in his life, he is also constantly battling his predisposition for having unstable, unhealthy relationships. Some fans attribute these deep-seated commitment and trust issues to BoJack’s undiagnosed borderline personality disorder (BPD). These diagnoses are neither from mental health professionals nor are they intentionally represented by the producers. The writers of the show have made clear that they had no intention to give BoJack concrete mental illnesses but just wanted to make him a complex character with thoughts and feelings that presented him in the most human way (ironic, since he’s a horse). And to be frank, I have not seen any other TV show or character depict mental health and internal struggles so well. Although it would be even better if the show explicitly diagnosed BoJack to provide better representation and raise awareness, I also understand why ambiguity makes the show that much more interesting.
The reality of living with mental illnesses and personality disorders is that one’s outlook on life resembles muddy waters. Many people with disorders like BoJack do not even know what is “wrong” with them. The nature of such disorders makes it so that by the time the person realizes that they are acting in ways that are telling of unhealthy traits, they are up to their waist in the aforementioned muddy waters. Many sufferers spend their lives struggling to establish long-lasting relationships with others and live their adulthood sulking in unresolved childhood trauma. There is value in seeing BoJack, relating to BoJack and being a witness to his constant search for validation as well as his hope that deep down he is a good person (or horse). BoJack Horseman has little to no awareness of who he is and how his actions affect the people around him. In fact, it takes his friend Todd blowing up in frustration for BoJack to finally hear that he is directly responsible for all his actions and he cannot live his life blaming his flaws on the circumstances of his life. BoJack is self-centered and has trouble identifying appropriate sexual and substance behavior. Bojack has sex with groupies, friends, friends of friends and children of friends. While there is nothing wrong with being sexually active, BoJack uses sex as an unhealthy coping mechanism for deviation from emotional attachment and personal responsibility. He is clearly suffering and does not understand why, which is unfortunately what makes him so relatable.
As viewers, we cannot reach through our computer screens and shake BoJack into the realization that he needs help. But what we can do is understand why he acts the way he does. What do we know about mental health? Do we know things? Would we be able to recognize BoJack if he stared at us through our bathroom mirrors? BoJack is not a character that teaches us about ethics and morality necessarily but he teaches us that it is possible to love and root for someone who is not perfect.