If you have seen even one episode of the Netflix series Bojack Horseman, you have probably experienced the show’s ability to make you feel like you’re strapped to an emotional rollercoaster. The animated comedy-drama takes a satirical look at the caricatured lives of Hollywoo residents dealing with love, loss, and the glamor of showbiz. Bojack, the show’s title character, is a beacon of substance abuse and self-destructive behaviors that stem from his own childhood traumas. I was glued to the TV when the first season premiered in 2014, mostly because I felt like my own trauma had been given a voice. I could relate to Bojack because even though it’s a cartoon with anthropomorphic characters, the events and emotions attached to them are very real. Bojack Horseman made me realize that when life absolutely sucks, the only way out is through.
In 2003, eleven years before the show’s premiere, my family lost everything in a housefire. I had experienced traumatic events before; everything from broken bones to losing loved ones. But the fire was different. It wasn’t like the death of a loved one, something you mourn and move on from. This flipped our lives entirely upside down. We stayed in a drug-ridden motel for a week, a gift from the Red Cross. My mother was given $300 to buy clothes for six people. We lived on food vouchers from the diner across the street and all we salvaged were a few photo albums and a couple of keepsakes. Fourteen years later, the albums still have black smudges on them. The smell of smoke is still stuck in my throat.
Kids at school asked questions. “Was anyone home when it happened?” “I heard your house burned down, did you get to ride on the firetruck?” “Your dogs died in the fire? That sucks.” I wanted so desperately to crawl in a hole and hide. I was made fun of for dressing like a poor person, in donated hand-me-downs. Kids teased me and called me homeless. I tried so hard to act like everything was fine. I had to toughen up. I began forcing myself to hide all of my emotions and to act like nothing hurt me, but it hurt. It hurt to breathe. I didn’t want my older siblings calling me a cry-baby anymore, so I only cried when I was alone.
“Bojack Horseman made me realize that when life absolutely sucks, the only way out is through.”
Bojack Horseman and I are two sides of the same coin, although our childhood traumas stem from separate branches. His trauma was birthed from years of emotional and physical abuse from his parents. To cope, he drinks, smokes, self-destructs, just like I did when I was in my teens. His father, Butterscotch Horseman, was an alcoholic and an adulterer. He blamed his affair on Bojack’s mother for her refusal to get an abortion and often criticized Bojack’s attempts at affection. Beatrice, Bojack’s mother, was a once-beautiful heiress to the Sugarman Sugarcube fortune. She grew up with an emotionally abusive father and a lobotomized mother. Beatrice’s brother Crackerjack died in the war, an event that destroyed her family and caused years of emotional turmoil. This makes Bojack’s mother cold and distant. Beatrice’s mother tells her, “love does things to a person, terrible things. Beatrice, promise me you’ll never love anyone as much as I loved Crackerjack.” Beatrice promises.
Bojack was told by his mother that he didn’t deserve to cry. I was told that I was a crybaby by my brother and sister. In the season two episode “The Shot”, Bojack is told to cry for his film Secretariat, but he can’t bring himself to cry in front of his director Kelsey. She sits him down and tells him, “This is the moment that Secretariat stops running, because this is the moment you realize something inside you is broken and it can never be fixed.” She tells Bojack that they got the shot, even though he didn’t cry. Moments later we see Bojack outside by himself, where he bursts into tears. It’s something you do when you internalize all of your trauma. You cry alone. You self-medicate. You convince yourself and everyone else that yes, you’re fine, and no, you don’t want to talk about it.
When I was 18, I didn’t think I would live to see 26. I guess we’re all full of surprises. I was a depressed teenager with a drinking problem and a shitty attitude, brought on by years of internalizing my problems. I thought having fun was partying five nights a week. I worked part time at a coffee shop. I went to work hungover and occasionally threw up in front of customers. I thought friends were the kids who came over because I could get alcohol. Much like Bojack, I was surrounded by people, but left alone to deal with myself.
We are constantly seeing Bojack surrounded by others. He is a famous Hollywoo celebrity after all. We see recurring characters, like his couch-surfing housemate Todd and his ex-agent-slash-lover Princess Carolyn. But we also see characters that are around Bojack Horseman simply because he’s Bojack Horseman. He’s going to events, throwing parties, simply existing as a celebrity in Hollywoo. Countless people celebrate his Oscar nomination, only to leave once they realize he’s not actually been nominated for an Oscar. Once again, Bojack is all alone.
I had a few close-knit friends in high school that I ended up losing (yes I thought it was my fault and yes I still feel that way) and even with those close friends, I never felt like I could be myself. I was constantly putting on a show. I was so afraid for people to find out about who I really was because I felt like I was a crazy person. It wasn’t until they all left me that I realized I was right. I thought they didn’t like me because of my problems, but now I realize they didn’t like that I lied about them.
I wish I had this show eight years ago, when I was binge-drinking on weeknights with people who didn’t actually give a shit about me. I wish I had this show to tell me that it’s okay to not be okay. One of my favorite scenes from the entire show comes from the season two finale, “Out to Sea”. Bojack is reluctantly trying to get into shape by running. He falls over and a stranger stands over him and says, “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.” When I first watched that scene, I cried. I cried because if someone said that to me eight years ago when I was depressed I would have replied with “yeah fucking right.” But guess what? It did get easier.
I watch Bojack Horseman now, at 26, and it makes me sad, but also hopeful. It makes me sad to see myself in all of these characters, mostly because they go through very real situations and they have complex and raw emotions that I tried run and hide from when i was 18. It gives me hope for other kids that can’t relate to anybody. This show makes me face all of my darkest fears about myself, and for that I am thankful. Bojack helps me connect my reactions to present-day situations to events that happened when I was 12, and when I was 18. It has helped me understand the worst parts of my history and forced me to turn around and face them.
Bojack Horseman is a genre-bending feat of animation and wit that portrays ugly, messy relationships and disturbing traumas that mold the characters into dark and twisted caricatures of real life things. It has made my messy, disturbing life more livable. More relatable. I’m being more honest with myself and with the people who love me. I’m stepping back and saying, “I’m fucked up. If I have to live with myself, you do too.” Like Todd says while trying to escape rabid clown-dentists in the woods, “the only way out is through.”
I don’t binge drink anymore. In fact, I barely drink at all. I stopped smoking a year and a half ago. I still get scared and I trip over my words, but I am still learning how to be honest about these things. I wake up every single day knowing that it gets easier. The hard parts are as good as over.
Bojack Horseman was just renewed for its fifth season. When I watch it, I will be 27. I know there will be more things that I will have discovered about myself. I’m going to have panic attacks. I’m going to cry in front of somebody. I’m going to laugh and be so incredibly raw and human because I owe it to myself. Time’s arrow marches forward and we must march with it. Bojack Horseman is not Ibsen, sure, but it’s still pretty fucking good. •
Taylor Kraus lives and works in Charlotte, North Carolina. She likes pizza, coffee, and listening to sad music. You can find her twitter.