BoJack Horseman: A Narrative Analysis of Mental lliness and Substance Abuse




Barrish, Phillip

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Since the rise of various media forms, depictions of mental illness and substance abuse have mostly been one-dimensional. Historically, these portrayals have usually demonized or sensationalized these issues in ways that leave no room for nuance and discussion. However, the Nefflix series, BoJack Horseman, seeks to dismantle these narratives in favor of a more fair, comprehensive understanding of the lived experiences of various mental illnesses and substance abuse, particularly clinical depression and alcoholism, respectively. This thesis project seeks to explore the narrative tools and techniques employed by the creators of BoJack Horseman to depict arguably one of the most vivid and compelling portrayals of experiencing mental illness and addiction on television. By performing both a close reading of the dialogue itself alongside an analysis of the show's narrative tools, such as animation and serialization, the show is able to illuminate the chronic, self-destructive cycle that mental illness and addiction vortexes oneself and one's loved ones into. When commenting on BoJack Horseman, it is imperative to understand the way in which the show undermines key elements of traditional storytelling, such as the protagonist's redemption arc, in favor of deeper exploration about the subtleties surrounding the lived experience of mental illness and substance abuse. Finally, this show's particular way of storytelling positions itself to provide companionship for those who similarly suffer from these illnesses by investigating the ways that this show offers some form of solace and guidance in light with one's own lived experiences with mental illness and/or substance abuse.


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