Mental health is an issue often discussed in films and television series. But the problem with it is that it’s often misinterpreted and stereotyped.
Shows like Dexter or Hannibal portray people with mental illness having negative personality traits that are too harmful to society.
Whereas shows like Monk or Sherlock turn their leads into some sort of heroic characters.
Netflix has been able to come up with some good as well as not so good shows depicting mental illness.
The latest show After Life starring Ricky Gervais somewhat shows what it’s like living with depression and having suicidal thoughts.
Whereas 13 Reasons Why has been accused of portraying mental illness in a very poor way.
But there is one TV show that stands out as one of the most accurate depiction of life and mental illness.
BoJack Horseman is an adult animated comedy-drama series created by Raphael Bob-Waskberg.
The show first aired on August 22, 2014, on Netflix. And it has been critically acclaimed for its portrayal of character and stories.
Since this is an animated show, anything is possible in BoJack’s world. Therefore, the creator has gone ahead and made their lead a humanoid horse.
In the universe where BoJack exists, there are people, animals, and birds living alongside one another. They do things that only humans are able to in real life. And the whole set up is in a fictional Los Angeles.
Actor/comedian Will Arnett gives his voice as the lead character BoJack Horseman.
BoJack is a washed-up 90’s sitcom star who has lost his light and fame as a star.
He once starred in one of the most popular sitcoms in the 90s, Horsin’ Around. He played the character of a single humanoid horse that adopts 3 human children and live together solving each others problems.
As the show is canceled abruptly, BoJack’s career also deteriorates.
He turns to addiction and his mental health worsens as time passes.
Even though BoJack is the lead character, he is somewhat of an antihero, similar to Walter White (Breaking Bad) or Pablo Escobar (Narcos).
They’re all antiheroes yet admirable to the collective audience.
His failure turns him into a depressed, self-loathing protagonist who is in a quest to find a real reason to be happy.
Happiness is always the most important element that everyone seeks, be it in real life or in the fictional world.
In general, people assume that one becomes happy when he has lots of money and material things. For some, things that money can’t buy is what gives us real happiness.
However, according to BoJack Horseman, happiness is ephemeral in nature, meaning it won’t last long.
And this very concept is what the makers are trying to portray in the show.
BoJack, as depressed as he is, tries really hard to change the status he is living in. He craves for deeper happiness.
But his actions show otherwise.
The washed-up actor, in order to remain visible, wants to write a memoir of himself.
On the first season when Diane (Alison Brie) asks BoJack what would truly make him happy, he says finishing his memoir would.
However, after it happens, he’s more upset that Diane turned him into a narcissistic character. Which, in reality, he is.
His concept of happiness shifts from writing his memoir to starring as the lead in the biography of his idol Secretariat.
But he soon realizes that Secretariat and BoJack are two different people with nothing in common.
If money would buy happiness, BoJack has plenty, yet his depression overpowers his emotions.
If it’s love that makes us happier, he’s had plenty of women in his life. Yet, he never seems to be satisfied.
Therefore, he sets out to find something that could make him feel alive. Be it sexual escapades, drugs, and alcohol, or any form of pleasure.
But what the show does is it subverts narrative. By stepping away from the archetypical portrayal of mental illness, it does a more truthful and honest depiction.
The show centers around BoJack Horseman as he tries to tackle different issues he has. But almost all other characters live with some form of mental disorder.
Diane, the ghostwriter of BoJack’s memoir and his crush has a general anxiety disorder.
Diane’s husband, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) might have Histrionic Personality Disorder. As he constantly tries to seek attention and has an excessive need for approval.
Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), BoJack’s agent and ex-girlfriend has OCD as she always has to have everything in proper order.
And as for Todd (Aaron Paul), he has a clear case of ADHD.
It’s not important that every character has to have a mental disorder to be on the show. However, what is more important is how subtly the show handles the complexity of mental health.
They all come from different places harboring complexities.
BoJack grew up in an abusive household and the constant pressure he felt in pleasing his mother led to him hating her even more.
This directly affected him later in his life as he kept pushing himself away from people, yet seeking reconciliation.
Most TV series and films focus on giving a happy ending to the audience by making everything work out at the end.
BoJack, however, is different. Here, the characters deal with the same issues they’re having the entire time.
BoJack seeks closure and wants a simpler life just like the sitcom he starred in years ago.
In the sitcom, the mistakes were easily forgiven and the lies were easily distorted.
This influences BoJack to think that real life is also similar.
However, after the cancellation of the show, he is forced to live a normal life.
This is where he finds out life isn’t what films and television portray it to be.
He learns that existing is hard, which is the underlying ethos of the whole show.
And life doesn’t have happy endings. It is rather a series of positive and negative moments in time. This is the foundation of the entire show.