Below The Surface.

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.

Or not so quietly.
Source: Daily Art Magazine

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.

Why, yes, that is a Klimt.
Source: Daily Art Magazine

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.

Thanks to Daily Art Magazine which has a pretty comprehensive list of art from the series.

14 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I went below the surface and followed your link to the Daily Art Magazine article. It was very informative and interesting, but I was surprised by how many typos, misspellings, and grammatical mistakes there were in it. That can spoil things for me.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I know at least one amazing blogger who produces amazing posts on a daily basis without typos, misspellings, and grammatical mistakes, so they can’t use their schedule as an excuse. Such errors can spoil things for me too which is why I try to avoid them.

      Reply
  2. Kristine @MumRevised

    Thank clinches it… I’m unevolved. I tend to watch TV and not look for the subtleties. I’m glad there are people out there like you, Chris, who do watch for them though. Those illustrators and writers were definitely talking to you, through a horse–but that is another story.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I know I say “Context matters” so often it might as well be tattooed on my forehead but sometimes it doesn’t matter if you miss the subtleties and references. Yeah, sometimes it’s okay to just sit back and enjoy the story and not be distracted by the details.

      Reply
  3. Jay

    Have you see Free Churro yet?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Is it missing? Sorry–couldn’t resist. I haven’t gotten into season 5 yet but hope to soon.

      Reply
    2. Arionis

      I just watched the Free Churro episode and thought wow, that was… different.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Thanks for holding back on the spoilers. I’ve kind of wondered how they’d top the episode with Bojack and the baby seahorse which still blows my mind.

        Reply
  4. BarbaraM

    It astounds me, the things that you know. And the fact that you can produce a blog every single day just floors me! (I tried the ceiling, but I just fell down).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s amazing what a person can seem to know with access to Wikipedia. And I haven’t quite managed to blog daily–I think if I did it would drive me up the wall.

      Reply
  5. mydangblog

    I’ll have to go back and try this series again through your lens and see if I enjoy it any better!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I get that it’s not for everyone. As I said previously it’s not everyone’s cup of tea–it’s for those who like their tea dark and bitter. Maybe you can just enjoy the art.

      Reply
  6. Arionis

    I have you to thank for getting me hooked on this show with your previous post. The new season just came out Friday and I’ve already burned through 5 episodes. I also have you to thank for me paying a lot more attention to the art in the background.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      If I were a superhero I think I’d be The Enabler. But I am glad you’re enjoying it. I’ve just watched the first few episodes and was kind of tickled that Diane is hanging a Monet print in her new apartment. I think that was the producers saying, “Here, you asked for it! and making it really obvious for fun.

      Reply

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