How a Cartoon Helped Me (Finally) Love L.A.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because television not only rots your brain but can also shape your life!
By M.D. Reynolds
For those of you — like me — who’ve headed west searching for something and found nothing, BoJack Horseman might make for unsafe viewing. Sure, it’s an absurd, frequently hilarious cartoon packed with anthropomorphic horses and sheep and cuddly dogs trying to survive in show business. But it also captures a slice of Los Angeles so unpleasant it’ll have you staring at the people you pass on the street like the vacant, empty vessels you always suspected they were.
For the rest of you (those living in Topeka or Tulsa; those pure of heart), binge-watch BoJack now so that you may join me in world-weary cynicism and existential hopelessness. I promise it’ll be a fun journey. Did I mention it’s about show business?
There’s more to people than the facade, even if the facade is what’s celebrated here.
The creation of Raphael Bob-Waksberg, BoJack follows the tragicomic wanderings of ’90s-sitcom-star-turned-bitter-showbiz-outcast — and talking horse — BoJack Horseman, voiced by Will Arnett in a performance several decibels more relatable and less insane than his turn as Gob Bluth. Arnett’s unique blend of gruff depravity and earnest self-delusion is on full display as BoJack, the fulcrum around which a galaxy of damaged characters spin in lonely orbit. “The BoJack character was the cherry on top,” says Linda Lamontagne, the show’s casting director. “We’d secured all the other roles first, then circled back and got who we wanted.”
Living in L.A., I’ve found comfort in the negativity and occasional bitterness that courses through the show — it has the distinctive flair of New York transplants writing about the showbiz Gomorrah. But I’ve equally been touched by the depth of feeling in characters who initially seemed like L.A. clichés, vacuous shells of human beings (or animals) you pass slowly in traffic on the way from nowhere to nowhere. I’d spent almost all of my late adolescence and adult life in New York — my worldview was formed there — and when I moved, I felt I’d lost my grip on reality. At first, Los Angeles seemed like a city full of people (a) in willful denial of the emptiness here, (b) totally oblivious to it and (c) loving every minute of it. All were terrifying. And yet — of course — there’s more to people than the facade, even if the facade is what’s celebrated here. “Hollywood’s a massive pool of all kinds of people trying to make it. I think the show’s very real … it captures a lot of struggle,” Lamontagne says. “There are some things in there that will make you think twice.”
I sure think twice all the time in L.A. — I’ve never before had the experience of constantly questioning the veracity of and intentions behind literally every word spoken. In some respects, the show is too real — binge-watching can be emotionally exhausting, reflecting a terrifyingly convincing version of everyday life in Los Angeles that feels inescapable. But BoJack also manages to find humanity in even the most broken of human shells. Beneath the makeup, the spray tans, the perfect smiles and the false platitudes are real human beings, with relatable problems. Characters who deserve empathy. As such, BoJack Horseman has helped me understand, accept and love Los Angeles. I’d never have thought it possible.
- M.D. Reynolds Contact M.D. Reynolds