Warning: spoilers throughout.
The creators of Netflix’s “Bojack Horseman” have always known the protagonist and the very premise of the show was terribly un-woke. In the opening scene in the very first episode of the first season, Bojack sits down to do an interview with Charlie Rose — who ironically became another casualty of the Me Too movement after the show first debuted in 2014. In the interview, Bojack admits he’s very drunk and that he’s parked in a handicapped spot — two things that tip us off right away that he’s a deeply flawed character.
Me Too Revisited
In season five, following his success playing “Secretariat,” Bojack is given the lead role in a detective show, “Philbert.” He’s initially paired with Vance Waggoner, an actor who has done and said really terrible things regarding women and ethnic minorities (clearly inspired by Mel Gibson, with a soupcon of Alec Baldwin). This role is to be Waggoner’s comeback, but his re-entry to Hollywoo is foiled when Bojack accidentally becomes distracted and fails to applaud when Waggoner receives an award-show honor for his fervent apologies.
Pleased with the positive attention he gets — for what other people incorrectly think is taking a stand against a man with a history of domestic violence — Bojack becomes intoxicated with the status he gets posing as a male feminist.
Bojack botches his activist act when he falls deeper into dependency on pain pills and begins to have a hard time staying lucid. The similarities between his onscreen and offscreen persona become blurred and his paranoia drives him to turn a fake strangling of his costar and love interest, Gina, into something very real. The attack is filmed by others on set and leaked to the media.
Meanwhile, asexual Todd Chavez attempts to get back together with his horny ex-girlfriend and, in the process of wooing her, creates a sex robot. The robot’s aggressive, pre-recorded phrases delight others at WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com, the website that’s streaming “Philbert.” They promote it to the site’s CEO. But ultimately, the robot’s tenure leads to the demise of the company and the show — although he’s quickly offered a golden opportunity elsewhere.
Why Bojack’s Creators Tear Down Hollywoo’s Toxic Men
It’s clear the show’s creators are uncomfortable with the cultural moment they find themselves in and are attempting to reconcile the show’s namesake character with the cultural standards that have vastly evolved over the past four years — especially after the start of the Me Too moment. In an interview with HuffPo, Bojack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg reveals why the most recent season of the animated series was extra heavy on the condemnation: because Harvey Weinstein is a fan of the show.
Then as we were breaking [down] the story about [a badly behaved Mel Gibson-type named] Vance Waggoner, we started to think, ‘Well, how is BoJack different from this? Are we hypocrites if we constantly want our audience to feel bad for BoJack while also saying what a terrible thing it is that our industry forgives guys like Vance Waggoner?’
That dichotomy of how we want to forgive the people we care about (and how I think we should forgive the people we care about), but how we don’t want to forgive public figures (and how I think we should be harder on public figures) ― the push and pull of that was the [starting point for the] beginning of the season. And then all this stuff happened in the news as we were making the season that kind of fed into it. But we didn’t make this season thinking, ‘We’re going to respond to this stuff that’s happening.’
So the show’s creators discover Weinstein is a fan, and responded by developing several Weinstein-esque archetypes who all suffer the consequences of living in a society that no longer tolerates their kind. But in order to spend so much time sending this message, the season fails to live up to the emotional depth for which it became known. The characters are stunted, confined, and lack the emotional arcs developed in earlier seasons of the show.
Woke Woman Saves Man From His Toxicity
Bojack’s foil, Diane Nguyen, the eternally woke writer and wife of Bojack’s rival, served as the show’s conscience. Whenever the washed-up sitcom star says something insensitive or does something bad, she was there to tell him his behavior was not okay.
Throughout all five season of the show, Diane has been there to tell the audience we should care about the environment, that abortion is okay, and that driving a Prius and listening to public radio are very important things to do. But this season, Diane harnesses all of her self-righteous powers to force Bojack to recognize that he is a toxic man.
She discovers that Bojack has been hiding the time he went to New Mexico and attempted to make a move on an underage girl, who was also his ex-girlfriend’s daughter. Season five’s climax reaches its peak when Diane, who works as a writer for “Philbert,” writes a scene into the show forcing Bojack to reenact the real-life encounter. This drives him to wig out and ultimately check himself into rehab, which Diane drives him to in the final moments of the last episode.
Season five ends with the woke writer chick driving the toxic man, who has repeatedly taken advantage of vulnerable women, to realize how scummy he is and check into rehab. This scene ultimately mirrors real-life: the show’s creators clearly feel Bojack must experience rehabilitation in order to stay on our screens.
Little Character Development Is The Price Fans Must Pay
We don’t learn much about Bojack’s past this season, as we have in other seasons. The most powerful and dynamic episode is arguably episode six, in which Bojack delivers a 20-minute eulogy at his mother’s funeral and reveals some more of the complexities between their relationship.
The show, which has a reputation of disrupting viewer expectations to deliver an episode in a truly dynamic format that breaks from the rest of the series, accomplishes that again in this episode. In his 20-minute soliloquy, Bojack unravels years of pain, disappointment, and rejection from his mother, all while begging for her approval. He half-jokingly asks his mom to “knock once” from inside her casket to indicate she likes his joke. When she doesn’t (because she is dead) he gleefully touts her rejection as if it were a triumph.
Beyond this funeral episode, we are given next to nothing about Bojack’s backstory or reasons he does the destructive and awful things that he does, but that doesn’t seem to be on accident. Throughout the show, Diane expresses frustration at Bojack and other toxic men’s likability, including that of her ex-husband, Mr. Peanutbutter. Understanding why Bojack does the bad things that he does adds to his likability as a character.
It doesn’t seem to be at all accidental that Bojack is given little depth this season, because, after all, the creators have the same problem Diane does when she desperately tries to prevent “Philbert” from ever airing. They are uncomfortable with fans liking men like Bojack too wholeheartedly, and rooting for him even when we know his faults too well.