The Entertaining Existential Crisis And Lurid Magical Realism of Bojack Horseman

Amanda Eagleson
3 min readFeb 26, 2020

(spoilers abound)

That’s the thing. I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kind of think all you are is just the things that you do.-Diane Nguyen

It was nice while it lasted. Bojack Horseman was three seasons in by the time I started watching. Suffering through a bout of insomnia and praying I wouldn’t slide into mania I selected Bojack from my Netflix recommendations. It had enough episodes built up to binge when I was sleepless.

For anyone struggling with mental health issues, addictive personalities, or family trauma (so…a lot of people) the show’s bright dreamscape of anthropomorphic characters was one of the most representative shows to have ever aired.

The pessimism of Bojack was refreshing. When you’re depressed it can feel like the world demands optimism. Like you are surrounded by Pollyannas trying to convince you if you just looked at the bright side you would be able to crawl out of bed and walk into the world again.

I would find myself clinging to scientific studies about optimism bias and depressive realism. Research detailing how mildly depressed people are better at predicting when they are in control of outcomes.

So there was a bit of sad comfort in this alcoholic, narcissistic, chronically depressed horse saying of his aggressively optimistic neighbour, “He’s so stupid he doesn’t realize how miserable he should be. I envy that.”

This isn’t to say the show glorified Bojack’s perspective. Depression sucks. And optimism seems to have evolved at the same time as our awareness of mortality. Likely so we would keep moving forward and not flounder in a perpetual state of existential crisis like Bojack does for six seasons.

There is an existentialist theme running throughout Bojack. He wrestles with the guilt of past wrongs while simultaneously causing more damage to the people who care about him. Succumbing to his need for praise and attention as much alcohol or drugs.

There’s no soul to be saved, the show insists. You just need to be a better person (or horse).

There are some standout episodes which explore our shared humanity and vulnerability:

Amanda Eagleson

Poet, Writer at Optimistic Learner and Digital Economy Forum. Board member at Vancouver Poetry House.