In praise of BoJack Horseman

In a recent post I wrote about Nostalgia television. I recently discovered a bit of advertising about a Netflix-only tv show called BoJack Horseman, which rings quite poignantly to what I wrote. Bojack Horseman is a show about a fictional television show in the 1990s which had the status of a long running and popular show, yet its stars had careers of differing success afterwards, and the director (spoiler ahead) suffered a career death after his sexuality was discovered and professional associations with him became toxic.

 

The protagonist, BoJack Horseman (whom I have a passing physical resemblance to), is a character who relives his life through continuously watching his show. There’s a certain amount of social commentary in the show, which interestingly reflects the  marketing of the show.

 

The show explores life in Hollywood as well as the very trend-setting nature of trying to find the next best thing. At one point in the season, the ‘D’ letter in the Hollywood sign is stolen and henceforth is referred to as Hollywoo. Likewise we see certain ridiculous trends mentioned and discussed and eventually become part of the furniture of life in LA.

 

The show was advertised heavily on Netflix (which I’m using to watch a lot of Highlander, much like Bojack watches his own ‘Horsin around’), and I am very impressed at how the whole season was released at once. I watched it in about 4-5 days and I quite like the model of releasing television (is it called television if I saw it mostly on my computer and tablet?) shows. It is kind of like the zeitgeist that Bojack Horseman captures as a show.

 

In one episode the ghostwriter character’s biography project is compared to a ‘journalist’ writing an article for Buzzfeed, and Buzzfeed is thoroughly trashed. There was much comparison between the 1990s and 2010s implicit in the show, and I love how television shows try to have their finger on the button of what it is to be in the 2010s.

 

When I was watching BoJack in between episodes of Highlander, I thought to myself, Bojack Horseman is a character reminiscent of his past career, the common phrase of the show is an onlooker saying ‘weren’t you on that show Horsin’ around??’, which often leads to a one night stand or confrontation, or both! In an age obsessed with both disposable trends and celebrities we are bound to leave characters as scarred as Bojack around.

 

Although perhaps unfair to say he is anything like BoJack. When I watch those 1990s episodes of Highlander I think of how some of the zeitgeist is captured of that time. In one episode an author is looking for an actor for an 18th century highland Scotsman, to which, Duncan Mcleod replies: why don’t you try Mel Gibson? It took me a moment to realise why that was funny as it was around 1995 when the film Braveheart came out.

 

I do sometimes wonder, as I love the Highlander show so much, what has happened to the actors. I know that Adrian Paul has had a lot of love from fans since the show ended and has continued to be known as Duncan McLeod from Highlander, even when the Highlander Francise did not have such a positive enduring reputation. One of the consequences of having nostalgia TV is that actors can be so heavily defined by their past work that their appearance has a certain kind of aura (in the Benjamin sense) as we cherish more of our memnories of that past show. A similar example of such fame comes from Matt LeBlanc’s character in Episodes, who plays a version of himself after his success as ‘Joey from Friends’.

 

Bojack is a character haunted by his success and as the show progresses, displays a sense of depth and redemption that the celebrity culture that made and destroyed him would not allow him to have on their terms. I loved the honesty of the show as well as the confrontation of his own demons. Here’s to you Bojack, you fictional anthropomorphic horse.

 

Nostalgia Television

Recently I’ve gotten a Netflix subscription and one of the first things I did was try to finish watching Breaking Bad, as I’ve been trying to finish that series for a year but I find it as uncomfortable as chewing a lightbulb. I keep getting TV show recommendations about edgy and dark dramas which have foreign languages and murder stories or complex psychological profiles (I must admit I recommended Luther to a friend on that very basis). The one kind of show, however that is the complete antithesis of the modern edgy television show is what I call Nostalgia television.

 

Nostalgia television is of a time that is no longer immediately relevant. Nostalgia TV is something we like simply because we happened to grow up with it despite how naff the production values were, or how problematic its gender and racial politics were.This principle also relates to me love of the 1980s and 1990s action film.

 

When I watch X-Men, the animated series, I am taken back to the wonder of being 6-7 years old and getting up at 6am just to get the VHS tape recorder ready to record X-Men on BBC’s Going Live. I see how my nephew is always talking about things like Ben Ten and Ultimate Spiderman (I will never tell him that I actually watch that too). Nostalgia television is a comfort, a sense of familiarity, a nice bit of kitsch that doesn’t challenge you.

 

There’s something about reminiscing the past. The past to some degree is fixed (but not our perception of it), and being fixed there is a permanence to it. Watching old episodes of X-Men I will know how it ends as I’ve seen many of the episodes countless times. I know when the good bits are coming, and sometimes I notice new details that I didn’t notice before, within the context of what is familiar.

 

Another recent bit of nostalgia television that I’m watching is Highlander: the series. There’s a lot about the show that seems to have seeped into my adult psyche and its kind of obvious too. The ponytail on Duncan McLeod, the reverence of japanese bushido customs and sword play and those cape like long jackets.

 

Highlander is not a great show objectively speaking, but to me, it is an amazing show for reasons that I can only communicate through my own personal preferences (namely, how it has shaped mine).

 

Another thing that has become nostalgia television for me is Peep Show. As I am getting to the ages of the protagonist characters in the early seasons, I am starting to the banalities of Mark Corrigan’s mundane life, things such as deciding ‘socks before shirt’ when getting ready in the morning or obsessing over Alpen cereal. Because Peep Show is a series which has gone on from 2003 until recent years (said to have its final season this year) I can see a continuum of how the show has come from 2003 to the present day and in so doing I see the little idiosyncracies of a recent yesteryear as opposed to a distant one.

 

Peep show counts as nostalgia TV to me because as the seasons go on, the premise of the show wears thinner, but also there are aspects in which the show really shows its age, such as referring to politicans who are no longer in their referred offices today. Maybe nostalgia television happens too quickly. In watching recent episodes of Breaking Bad circa 2010-2011, or even episodes of House, MD. I can see things like flip-opening mobile phones and other pre-smartphones.

 

I am reminded of how quickly times change when I have reflected on certain views that I’ve had and blogged about around 2008-2009 and they are out of date. Even as I live in the present I am a dinosaur becoming slowly obsolescent. It’s so hard to capture the zeitgeist that I don’t even try when I enjoy nostalgia television. It is, I suppose, a part of my aesthetic character to enjoy ordinary garden variety things, despite the pretentions I otherwise purport to of more ‘challenging’ things.