Exploring two deceptively similar shows.
It’s quite fitting that both BoJack Horseman and The Good Place ended in the same week. Both are existential comedies that tug at your heart-strings through a combination of extremely identifiable-with characters, wacky visuals and great writing, and both take a lot of time to explore the depths of the human existence.
SPOILERS FOR BOTH SHOWS INCOMING
The Good Place explores what I would call “high-level” morality. The stakes are high, the philosophy involved makes the in-show ethics classes benefit not just the characters, but also the viewer.
BoJack focuses on “low-level” morality. It never outwardly refers to the lofty ideas of philosophy, focusing instead on the day-to-day lives of extremely flawed people and how they deal with their own hubris, selfishness and search for happiness.
Yet, both shows seem to be asking the same question, over and over, in nearly every episode.
Can a flawed person become a good one?
When we meet Eleanor, she’s not dissimilar from BoJack, aside from not being an animated horse, of course. They’re both highly intelligent, cynical, self-absorbed, hedonistic douchebags, traits we learn they’ve inherited from broken family lives and the constant anxiety that comes with them. Yet, by the end of both shows, Eleanor willingly returns her essence to the universe, feeling that her existence is now complete, yet BoJack is back in the spot he was a thousand times. Lost, alone and scared of his future.
Despite the contrast in the two endings, one a heartwarming piece of closure, the other, a heartbreaking open bookend, both come to the same conclusion, in their own way.
You just need time. And the right people.
While BoJack himself is once again broken after another relapse leads him to trash his own home and a near-death experience in his pool, all the other characters around him seem to have finally found happiness.
Princess Carolyn marries Judah, a man who truly respects and admires her. Todd reconnects with his mother and finally get an apartment of his own. Diane stops trying to turn her traumas into writing and marries an extremely supportive Guy. Mr. Peanutbutter works through his dependency on helping other people and learns to live with himself.
All of them managed to find happiness only because they took the time to actually try. All of them were helped by the right people, which quite fittingly is also how The Good Place’s Team Cockroach set up the afterlife—a test that will see, whether in the right circumstances if pushed in the right direction, a person can be good enough to enter paradise.
Can BoJack become good enough?
However, given that BoJack actually had the time, had the people, yet failed to grow out of his true addiction—the adoration of the crowd—could he ever enter The Good Place. In theory? Chidi’s system tells us that everyone (who I’m guessing isn’t an absolute psychopath) is redeemable… but what if a person like BoJack is the exception that proves the rule?
BoJack’s problems go deeper than any member’s of Team Cockroach, or in fact, any character’s shown to us by Michael Schur. A part of it is that The Good Place prefers to focus on character archetypes, while BoJack enjoys fleshing out its characters more.
BoJack arrogance clearly stems from his insecurities. He’s extremely self-aware most of the time, yet clueless when it comes to the power dynamics he abuses. Is there a right person for him? Every single one that seemed like they may be it, left him in the end. While The Good Place is full of people who never quite realized their flaws, never really tried to resolve them, BoJack constantly confronts himself with his failures, oft in torturous, dream-like sequences.
BoJack’s pursuit of happiness and betterment has failed over and over because he relies on others to deliver it to him, something that he both knows and fails to deal with as he focuses on other addictions.
Would an infinite amount of tries finally help him break his Sisyphean cycle? Or is he, like Todd suggested, bound to forever either be breaking a new record in sobriety or picking himself back up off the ground, as his stone rolls back down Mount Clusterf**k?
It’s impossible to tell.
At the end of the day, the shows ending on back-to-back days was extremely fitting not just because they were the defining comedies of recent years, but because they managed to relay a similar message through similar means, yet in a completely different tone.
The Good Place goes for bittersweet, while BoJack goes for cathartically depressing. Both complete themselves in a weird way. The former gives us the philosophical contexts required to interpret parts of the other. While I don’t know whether BoJack himself would ever find his way to The Good Place, and if he did, whether he’d find his way to the door.
That’s because the point of these shows was never quite to give us these answers, but to make us look inside ourselves. Inspire us to search for ways to better ourselves, but also warn us about the treacherous path that lies ahead. BoJack may never reach The Good Place, but we still can reach what it represents—happiness, even if we have to nail it in one try.