“That’s Too Much, Man”: Bojack Horseman and the Memory of Mental Health

I mean, I guess I got a happy ending, but every happy ending has the day after the happy ending, right? And the day after that.

Diane Nguyen, “One Trick Pony,” Bojack Horseman, Season 1, Episode 10

“The Bojack Horseman Story, Chapter One,” Season 1 Episode 1

On its face, Bojack Horseman seems like any other adult animated Netflix series, the type the streaming giant churns out many of every year. Set in a fictionalized world of anthropomorphic animals who live alongside humans, the show follows the titular Bojack, the washed up star of a 1990s sitcom “Horsin’ Around”, and his struggles with his fame, addiction, and self-worth. Premiering on Netflix in 2014, the show initially garnered mediocre reviews, but over time it became well regarded for its narrative, tone, complexity, and humor, and by the end of the show’s run in 2020 upon the conclusion of its sixth season, was almost universally lauded for its quality, and its unflinchingly faithful depictions of mental health and its struggles.

Balancing a wry comedic tone with darker, more dramatic elements surrounding mental health issues, and themes of substance abuse, depression, trauma, etc, Bojack Horseman encapsulates much of the way that mental health is seen in popular perception today: as an issue that affects everyone, but easier to cope with through honesty, humor, and compassion. It is a deeply personal examination of the struggles that come from mental health challenges, and is a perfect realization of how mental health is seen and remembered in media in the US in the present day.

Bojack primarily follows the titular Horseman, and a supporting cast of four other characters close to Bojack as he navigates the tumultuous world of Hollywoo. Through these relationships, the show tackles many issues of mental health, such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, among many others. Through that exploration, it also depicts the effects mental illness has on people, and how to live with, overcome, and grow in spite of such challenges. Bojack does this well through its run, and a few episodes of the series stand out as poignant examples of how mental health is popularly constructed, shown, and remembered.

I don’t believe in rock bottoms. I’ve had a lot of what I thought were rock bottoms only to discover – another rockier bottom underneath.

Bojack Horseman, “Xerox of a Xerox,” Bojack Horseman, Season 6, Episode 12

The show can be generally split in half, with the first three seasons being a gradual descent for Bojack, struggling deeply with his substance abuse, depression, narcissistic tendencies, indulging in his worst habits, and committing some of his most heinous acts. Season one’s “Downer Ending” introduces the audience to the severity of Bojack’s substance abuse problems, as well as the depth of his anxieties about his past and future. “Brand New Couch,” season two’s premiere, sees the perils of ignoring your mental health, and the hard work that it takes to actually address those issues. Season three is perhaps the lowest point for Bojack, with Todd chastising Bojack for his bad behavior and his attempts to abrogate his role in his behavior in “It’s You,” leading him to a drug-fueled bender with his Horsin’ Around co-star Sarah Lynn that results in her death, in “That’s Too Much, Man.”

“Later,” Season 1, Episode 12
“The Shot,” Season 2, Episode 9
“It’s You,” Season 3, Episode 10

The second half of the series shows Bojack’s attempts to better himself, and grow and change from his worst qualities, with many bumps along the road, and varied success. “The Old Sugarman Place” and Time’s Arrow” in season four revolve around Bojack’s mother, Beatrice, and how she passed on her childhood trauma to Bojack, being cold and abusive to him during his youth. Season five sees Bojack’s substance abuse at its worst, causing him to lose touch with reality, become paranoid, and hallucinate, culminating in his attack of a co-star in the penultimate episode of the season, “The Showstopper.” Bojack finally is put on the right path with season six’s “A Horse Walks Into Rehab,” finally growing beyond his worst behaviors by the series’ “happy ending” in “The Face of Depression.” But because there aren’t real happy endings in life, Bojack backslides into some of his worst patterns in the final episodes of the season, and ends the series on an upbeat, but bittersweet note in “Nice While It Lasted.”

“Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” Season 4, Episode 6
“The Showstopper,” Season 5, Episode 12 (Content Warning: Graphic depiction of violence)
“The Face of Depression,” Season 6, Episode 7

Bojack Horseman believes that mental illness, living with it and growing in spite of it, is hard. There are no easy answers, no magic pills, no simple tricks that make it easier. Living with mental illness and experiencing the struggles that come with it means you have to try just as hard to be the best person you can be, and that no matter what happens on any one day, you keep on going. There are no happy endings, there’s only the day after. Its pragmatism, honesty, and relatability make it a prime example of how mental health is seen today, and how these candid depictions represent an evolution of popular memory of mental health.

“Out to Sea,” Season 2, Episode 12
“Nice While It Lasted,” Season 6, Episode 16

Watch more: Bob-Waksberg, Raphael. BoJack Horseman. Tornante Television, 2014. https://www.netflix.com/title/70300800.