There will be spoilers…
So Netflix has just dropped a new season of Bojack Horseman which surprised me since season 4 ended on an unusually happy note, at least for Bojack and some of his friends. Things had taken a downward turn for Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter, but then no one’s ever permanently happy, not even in the world of Lisa Hanawalt’s cleverly designed anthropomorphic animals. Now that the show is back I’m taking the opportunity to revisit and expand on a previous post I wrote about the role of art and art history plays in the show, usually quietly and in the background.
History and how it affects us is one of the strongest themes throughout the series but it became even more prominent as season 4 delved deeply into the history of Bojack’s mother. It’s a history that, sadly, he’ll never know, but it affected, and still affects, his relationship with her, including his discovery that he has a half-sister. The works of art that appear in the background are often visual puns, sometimes foreshadowing, sometimes providing insight into a character, but collectively underline the idea of history as jumbled. Rather than the Hegelian view of art history as a series of steps or, in works like Gombrich’s The Story Of Art, a progression from “primitive” to “advanced” history isn’t really linear. It’s cumulative. It’s more like a a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, but that’s another show.
Interestingly this seems to contradict something Diane says in the final episode of season 1. When Bojack asks her if he’s a good person “deep down,” she replies, “I don’t think I believe in deep down. I kinda think that all you are is just the things that you do.” But maybe that’s the point: if all we are is what we do then there is no hope for redemption, no chance for understanding. Our actions have to be put in context, don’t they? And some moments in the show can be peeled apart to reveal weirdly hilarious meta-contexts, such as when Wallace Shawn agrees to do a movie so he can keep buying Mark Rothko paintings. Early on in My Dinner With Andre he reflects that, “I grew up on the Upper East Side, and when I was 10 years old, I was rich! I was an aristocrat. Riding around in taxis, surrounded by comfort, and all I thought about was art and music. Now I’m 36, and all I think about is money!” Rothko’s work was also the subject of a lawsuit when, after his death, his financial advisor sold a large number of his paintings to a gallery at a greatly reduced price. And never mind that we’re talking about works of art recreated, sometimes re-envisioned, in an animated world.
To get back to the subject, though, Bojack Horseman reminds us how much we are the sum of not just our choices but the world we live in. There’s more to us than just what’s on the surface because, deep down, the past is always present.