Lessons from Bojack Horseman: Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places

I still remember the first time a friend recommended Netflix’s Bojack Horseman to me. An animated show about an anthropomorphic talking horse in a world where that is completely normal. This particular horse is a washed-up actor living in LA, whose story is used as an outlet for comedy, drama, and social commentary. The show does not present a Christian worldview, but there are a number of things that Christians should take note of. What are the lessons from Bojack Horseman? Understanding these issues better can not only be an aid in maintaining your own Christian life, but also in connecting with those who don’t know Christ.

Before going any further, I need to put a bit of a disclaimer on this. This is not necessarily an endorsement or recommendation of Bojack Horseman. It is not a show I can really recommend to most Christians. While I would say it is brilliantly written with incredibly nuanced characters, it is also filled with vulgar humor and explicit content. Don’t go into it if you’re not prepared for that.

1. Looking for Happiness in All the Wrong Places

Every season of this show follows a bit of a pattern. The season will open with Bojack, voiced by the wonderful Wil Arnett, in a pretty miserable state. Despite his wealth, fame, and beautiful home, he is almost the epitome of a broken horse…man? Between the alcoholism, drug addictions, depression, anxiety, parental abuse, failed relationships, and washed up career, this is a very unhappy horse. It feels like he has tried just about everything to get better. He has the obvious pitfalls like fame, sex, and drugs. But even the things we would consider wholesome like making friends, reuniting with family, and making successful art, have not changed him. Every season, Bojack sabotages what little good he has built and hits rock bottom. The season might end on a relatively high note, as he slowly gets back on his feet and tries to fix the damage he’s caused, but the next will follow a similar formula.

Everyone has problems. Except Todd.

There are a handful of other major characters besides the titular horseman who all, to varying degrees, have the same problem as Bojack. They want some of the greatest things in life but constantly fail to attain them. They are looking for happiness, purpose, love, forgiveness, fulfillment, and yet they are looking in all the wrong places. A thought from King David might be appropriate.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

2. Proof By the Opposite

When asked about the revival of Christianity following the end of the Soviet Union, Russian cosmologist Andrei Grib explained it like this. “In mathematics we have something called ‘proof by the opposite.’ You can prove something to be true by showing its opposite is false. For seventy years we have tried Marxist atheism in this country, and it didn’t work. So everybody figured the opposite must be true!” Obviously Bojack Horseman is fictional, and is dictated by a writer, not reality. But these writers have gone to great effort to create nuanced and believable characters. These characters have looked for every possible way to find happiness and fulfillment in a godless existence. The show provides a great deal of depth, and I don’t want to oversimplify too much by just saying “Y’all need Jesus!” But consider, if nothing in a godless life has worked, is it time to try the opposite? No, converting to Christianity is not a cure-all for life’s troubles. Any Christian can tell you of the pains and frustrations they still have. But In Proverbs we are told,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

3. The Problem is Me

Chesterton was quite the honest man.

There’s one other thing that the writers have done a great job at recognizing. While Bojack is a man who had a horrible childhood, they don’t sugarcoat him with “It’s not his fault, he’s just a victim.” One of the most brutal moments in the show is when perhaps the nicest character in the show gets so fed up with Bojack that he lays it all out. “No. No, BoJack, just… stop. You are all the things that are wrong with you. It’s not the alcohol, or the drugs, or any of the s****y things that happened to you in your career, or when you were a kid, it’s you. Alright? It’s you.” We live in a world broken by sin. While it can be hard to acknowledge our own problems, there comes a time where we’ve run out of excuses. All we are left with is how G.K. Chesterton answered, “What is wrong with the world? I am.” In another brutal moment, Bojack’s own mother tells him, “It’s not just you, you know. Your father and I, we… well… you come by it honestly, the ugliness inside of you. You were born broken, that’s your birthright. And now you can fill your life with projects… your books and your movies and your little girlfriends, but it won’t make you whole. You’re BoJack Horseman. There’s no cure for that.”

Bojack lives without hope, but he’s also been misled. There is a cure, and he is waiting with open arms for each and every one of us.

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