It is easy to forget that BoJack Horseman, an adult cartoon about a horse in Hollywood struggling with alcoholism, began with a memoir. But in the first episode of the award-winning Netflix series, the washed-up sitcom star sits down with a recorder to dictate BoJack Horseman: The BoJack Horseman Story and comes up with nothing.
BoJack’s recall is consistently spotty. He spends six seasons – the last episodes of which air on 31 January on Netflix – waxing nostalgic about his hit ‘90s sitcom Horsin’ Around. But he can hardly remember the last two decades since his career peaked, thanks to a potent mix of drugs, alcohol and depression. BoJack’s approach to life is right there in the title sequence: in rapid succession, he goes from bed, to a raging party, to a sun-soaked pool inflatable, all with the same blank look on his face.
The star of the show isn’t the only one with memory issues. As the series progresses, BoJack’s family and friends undergo their sweeping transformations too. Margo Martindale spent a season offscreen in a post-boat crash stupor, unable to speak or remember her troubling past. More recently, Gina Cazador, BoJack’s former co-star, has begun to display signs of post-traumatic stress disorder on set, triggered by an earlier assault.
When BoJack’s mother Beatrice develops dementia, which the show explored to wide acclaim in the episode “Time’s Arrow”, her memories appear intact, but a closer look reveals what she’s losing – or choosing to forget. Background figures dance around with featureless heads and one major character spends the whole episode hidden behind the angry black scratches of a pen.
Did You See This CB Softwares?
37 SOFTWARE TOOLS... FOR $27!?Join Affiliate Bots Right Away
Even for the most loyal fans, the dark comedy can be hard to stomach. But the lovable characters, years-long development of inside jokes and pitch-perfect satire of the entertainment industry have kept viewers going. So too has creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s careful consideration of the show’s core themes, which include self-respect, accountability and the messiness of memory.
Though Sarah Lynn, another former co-star, and BoJack take a lot of different drugs, BoJack doesn’t need substances to edit, obscure or outright destroy his memories. He gaslights his friends, blames his family for all his problems and manipulates every narrative until it flatters him. When his ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen, asks about his childhood, BoJack insists it was “very normal”. She eventually pushes past this facade to discover BoJack stores painfully clear memories of the abuse and neglect his embittered parents inflicted on him as a kid.
Later, when BoJack reads Diane’s unflattering draft, he interrupts her panel at a literary convention and begs, “I need you to tell me that I’m a good person. I know that I can be selfish and narcissistic and self-destructive, but underneath all that, deep down, I’m a good person, and I need you to tell me that I’m good. Diane? Tell me, please, Diane. Tell me that I’m good.” He’s met with silence.
“To maintain our sense of self-esteem, we have to believe we are good people,” says Adam Fetterman, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston with a fondness for dark cartoons. But that isn’t always easy, so “we reconstruct our memories to fit whatever we want to feel” and “the more you think about and reconstruct that memory, the more real it becomes”.
BoJack may not be able to run from his memories any more. The first half of season six set up a #MeToo-style reckoning the next few episodes promise to realise. With two reporters on his trail, someone may actually find the truth in this miasma of memory. It stands to destroy his self-esteem, his sobriety and, perhaps most importantly to BoJack, his legacy. After all, you only write a memoir if you want to be remembered.
More on these topics:
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe