Aaron DiManna
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The Significance of Driving in “BoJack Horseman”

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Highway interchange in a downtown city setting
Photo: pxfuel via DCMA

“BoJack Horseman” may have released its final episode more than a year ago, but it remains a masterpiece. It deftly balances absurd — and delightfully pun-filled — humor with heady issues like alcoholism, self-loathing, anxiety, and so, so much more. It’s an animated show about a world filled with anthropomorphic animals where the theft of the “d” from the Hollywood sign results in everyone referring to the city as “Hollywoo.” But, sometimes, it also leverages driving as a way to depict and relate to personal struggles.

There are some spoilers for “BoJack Horseman” ahead, as well as depictions of some themes you may not want to engage with if you struggle with mental health. Read on at your own discretion.


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Drunk driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that “one person was killed in a drunk-driving crash every 50 minutes in the United States in 2018,” and that, during the same year, nearly 22 percent of individuals who died as a result of drunk driving were 14 years old or younger.

Throughout “BoJack Horseman,” drunk driving is something of a running theme. During one particularly devastating episode, we watch BoJack and a friend go on a bender while driving across the country. The results are pretty tragic. In a flashback, we see BoJack’s grandmother — still in her younger years and distraught over the death of her son Crackerjack — convince her daughter to drive them home. Things do not go well. There’s even an episode where BoJack reverses his car through a window into pool below in the midst of a drunken stupor.

Depression

You might not expect a Netflix Original that features a game show called “Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things? Let’s Find Out!” to dive into the murky depths of mental health. But that’s “BoJack Horseman’s” bread and butter. In one instance, we see the titular Bojack speeding down the highway in the same car he once backed into the pool. He’s tremendously depressed for multiple reasons, so he puts the pedal to the floor. The last number the odometer shows is 92 mph, but the implication is that he had no intention of stopping there. Then he takes his hands off of the wheel and leans back.

He didn’t die or even crash during that drive. But in the heat of the moment, his vehicle was his escape — in more ways than one.

A brief aside

This article has been a bit heavy. So, I wanted to say that the aforementioned game show was created by a fictionalized version of J.D. Salinger, who wrote “The Catcher in the Rye.” It was also hosted by a dog/main character named Mr. Peanutbutter. Isn’t that fun?

Avoidance

As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, driving can feel like an incredible escape, even if it only takes you around the block a couple of times. “BoJack Horseman” adds a layer of anxiety and avoidance to that idea that’s honest but troubling.

After the young woman he believes to be his daughter says someone should get milk for his ailing mother, he volunteers. Instead, he takes his car to the bar and gets drunk enough to deal with the demands of everyday life. Hours pass. Eventually, he returns home. After another incident, he does it again. She asks him, “Where do you go when you disappear all day?” He responds, “Just Drive around. Sometimes I go to a bar. Sometimes I pull over to the side of the road. Just sit there. For hours.”

The takeaway

Drunk driving has never been in the cards for me. But, as someone who has written on The News Wheel about driving with anxiety, I can relate to the idea of just leaving — getting in your car, playing the coin-flip game, or just sitting in a parking lot to be somewhere different. Maybe you’re only out for around 20 or 30 minutes, which I can confirm is more than enough time to eat a shameful number of Slim Jims. Or, maybe you go for a long drive and see where the road takes you.

The point being that “BoJack Horseman,” which is not a show about a responsible (horse)man, shines a light on some of the escape routes and dangers that vehicles put squarely in front of us. So, please don’t ever get behind the wheel when you’re under the influence, but feel free to take a ride around town when you need a little space. But, above all, contact a trusted healthcare worker if you have a substance abuse problem or issues with anxiety or depression.


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