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Some Days, I Feel Like Letting a Talking Horse Talk for Me

Bojack Horseman is the unlikely vehicle for our generational ennui.

by Skinny Friedman
Jul 17 2015, 4:59pm

Screen grab via YouTube.

Bojack Horseman is an amazing show about a washed up comedian/anthropomorphic horse figuring out his life post-fame. "Washed up" might be the wrong term; Bojack is still rich and still recognized as a celebrity when out in public, but he's a minor one, permanently associated with Horsin' Around, the bland, early 90s sitcom which made him famous. During the height of his career he spent most of his time partying and alienating large swaths of Hollywood. The show's first season is technically about Bojack's attempt to write an autobiography with the help of a (human) ghostwriter voiced by Allison Brie, but mostly it's about his search for happiness. The second season premiered on Netflix last night. You should watch it.

For a few months, the back half of Bojack season one was my semi-regular nightcap. I would come home drunk on a Saturday or Tuesday night or whatever, get stoned, and commiserate with a cartoon horse loosely based on Bob Saget and voiced by Will Arnett. My focus was the short arc of a character named Charlotte, a deer voiced by Olivia Wilde. In a mid-season flashback, we see her skip out on Hollywood in the 80s to pursue the simple life in Maine. Several episodes later, Bojack goes on a mystery pharmie binge and hallucinates an alternate version of his life where he cuts his showbiz dreams short and follows Charlotte into the woods. They live out their days happily and quietly, raising a daughter (who is a deer, I think) in a log cabin. He then dies peacefully in the pond in their backyard.

You have to squint a bit to understand why I identified with this scene—I'm not rich and famous, I'm not subtly haunted by something I passed up years ago, and I'm not a horse. Instead, I'm in my 30s and on my tenth year in Brooklyn. I moved here with vague notions of becoming a professional DJ and/or writer and/or music producer and, after a couple years of doing what I actually went to school for (genomics), I quit my day job. For eight years, I've been paying my bills with a rotating arsenal of hustles. I'm not ballin' out of control, but I do fine; I rarely have to do anything I hate or wake up before noon if I don't want to. My debt is manageable and I have health insurance.

That said, I have no idea what I'm doing in the long term. I've got a bunch of irons in the fire and slowly unfurling schemes scheduled to pay off months later, but no real plan for how I would raise a family. I've had job offers but none that seemed better than my current situation. Given the ongoing flux in the publishing and music industries, it's hard to think of any position as long-term. I don't want to freelance forever, but there's not much incentive to stop hustling and find something more stable.

This paralysis is symptomatic of my generation. We grew up hearing we were capable of anything and being encouraged to pursue our passions, even if they involved accumulating six-figure debt to get advanced degrees in poetry. Then we graduated into an economy dominated by corporations loath to pay anyone without an MBA anywhere near what they were worth. Meanwhile, the rise of the internet drastically lowered the bar to entry for going out on your own. Sites like Etsy and Soundcloud and Vimeo and Amazon provided a marketplace, PayPal gave anyone access to online billing and social media opened up untold opportunities for marketing and networking. It's never been easier to make a living doing some creative shit you're good at, and the alternative has never looked less appealing. The corollary is that it's harder than ever to know when to pack it in and find a day job.

(A note: It's hard to find data to back up my point. The tally of freelance workers in America also includes those taking on side projects to make ends meet and folks who had their positions restructured so their employers could avoid giving them benefits. Which is also to say I acknowledge there's a level of privilege in my position. But the average household computer is capable of making a professional quality album and everyone's phone has an HD camera in it. Ask Soulja Boy, who's living proof you can DIY your way to a pop culture dynasty.)

Screen grab via YouTube.

Earlier last year, I went through a similar phase with the Tonight Show arc in season three of Louie, in which the titular comedian backs into a chance to take Jay Leno's hosting slot when he retires. He meets with his ex-wife to mull over the offer and hash out how their kids would deal with bicoastal parenting. She brutally cuts him down to size, making it clear that as a touring comedian whose best days are behind him, this could be his last shot to level up. His success is more important than his parenting. (I won't spoil it for you, but David Lynch and Parker Posey are amazing.)

But Louie CK comes from a different era. Twenty years ago, making ends meet as a comedian (or a musician, writer, artist, etc.) was an all-or-nothing proposition. It took years of hard work and dues-paying and a good bit of luck to even sniff the level of stability afforded to me and anyone like me. The fictional Louie already overcame great odds to stall out on a much higher plateau; the idea that he has to reach another level is almost comically demoralizing.

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This brings us back to me, properly zooted at 3 AM on a Thursday, watching Bojack Horseman watch his own personal version of Sliding Doors. To Bojack, life with Charlotte means more than just the satisfaction of raising a family: the day-to-day challenges of life in the woods provide structure and discipline he so badly craves, to the point where he follows a straight path all the way through to his own death. There's something very appealing about that calm logic when your life lacks obvious direction, whether you got there by making a successful fictional sitcom, or by establishing yourself as a freelancer.

That said, things turn out all right for Bojack. After hitting rock bottom, he bounces back and ends season one set to star in a biopic about Secretariat. It's his dream role, as he has idolized the famed racehorse his entire life, a project with enough personal heft to give his life the meaning and direction he sought in life with Charlotte. Can he live up to the demands and responsibilities of a life with purpose? Find out in the second season! I will be tuning in to find out, probably at 3 AM in the middle of the week, for the next few months.

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