Bojack Horseman comes out of the stable

Danni Glover turns off the telly long enough to discuss Bojack Horseman’s recent coming-out storyline.

Spoiler alert! This article discusses the most recent plot developments in the animated Netflix sitcom Bojack Horseman. Proceed with caution.


There are shows you watch because they make you feel like your life isn’t as bad as it could be. I’ve never had to fight off a hoard of zombies; my boss isn’t as terrible as Michael Scott; none of the bullshit that has happened to Meredith Grey has ever happened to me. Then there are the shows that you watch because they make you feel better about the darkness you have experienced; Six Feet Under, Louis, Freaks and Geeks. Bojack Horseman is the latter type of show, an unexpectedly touching comedic tour de force featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Paul F. Tomkins (Thrilling Adventure Hour), Alison Brie (Community), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad). Arnett’s titular hero is a washed up 90s sitcom star, whose shit is most definitely not together, trying to reinvent his career after realising that the nostalgia upon which his show survives is fading and empty. He’s also a horse. I love some light absurdism with my psychological commentary.

While Bojack has been truly groundbreaking on other progressive issues, the show’s queer representation is scant. The most prominently LGBTQ+ character, at least until the most recent episode, is Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci), the creator of Bojack’s sitcom, who was fired from the show after becoming embroiled in a public sex scandal with another man (Bojack was too worried about his own career to stand up for his friend and collaborator- Bojack’s not an easy guy to love). When we’re introduced to him he has been living with cancer for some time and is alone. The only time we see him with another man is flashback footage of his arrest. Not ideal! Though the narrative of the story condemns the outcry around gay public figures, it would be nice to see positive and visible romantic encounters between queer people. Film director Kelsey Jannings (Maria Bamford), a mix of Kathryn Bigelow and Lisa Cholodenko and creator of the hilariously titled Women Who Love Women Who Love Recycling is identified as lesbian, but like Kazzaz she doesn’t enjoy an on-screen romantic interest. Other than that, LGBTQ+ people were more or less relegated to the background. Which is what made the most recent character developments of loveable layabout Todd Chavez (Paul) so surprising.

Film director Kelsey Jannings is identified as lesbian, but like Kazzaz she doesn’t enjoy an on-screen romantic interest. Other than that, LGBTQ+ people were more or less relegated to the background.

Todd has spent the three series indulging his most random and ill-advised business schemes (a rock opera; a taxi firm that’s a safe space for women, until men also want to use it; Disneyland). He’s never had a romantic subplot, but the audience isn’t expected to read too much into that – the character was more about the capers than the kissing, and that’s okay. When a friend from his teenage years shows up in the final series, it’s clear that she has always had a crush on him, but that he has never known how to respond to it. It’s safe to say it’s unreciprocated. In the series finale, Emily (Abbi Jacobson) plucks up the courage to ask him:

 

“What’s… your deal? I feel like you like me, but you don’t like me, but you like me, and I don’t know what that is. Are you gay? You can tell me if you’re gay, it’s fine. This isn’t the 1600s, or some places in the present.” But Todd isn’t gay. “ I mean, I don’t think I am. But… I don’t think I’m straight either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”

 

With the caveat that the show never uses the word “asexual” (TV shows are too often guilty of portraying a sexuality without giving it its name), it’s a big moment. Emily immediately accepts and affirms Todd’s asexuality without even referencing the disappointment she probably and understandably feels that her crush is unrequited. The show acknowledges and celebrates his asexuality with a frankness and open-mindedness that other adult animations have never replicated. He’s ridiculous, but it’s not because he doesn’t experience attraction, it’s because he does jewel heists with character actress Margo Martindale and eats spaghetti out of a baseball glove. Asexual representation typically leaves a lot to be desired, where it exists at all, and this is a huge step, especially for a show that doesn’t seem to take a huge interest in romantic and sexual diversity. And coming-out scenes of any description where the characters are met with immediate acceptance and love with no trauma or conflict are so few and far between that I was delighted to see such a positive example of one specifically for a section of the LGBTQ+ community that too often gets obscured by a plus sign.

He’s ridiculous, but it’s not because he doesn’t experience attraction, it’s because he does jewel heists with character actress Margo Martindale and eats spaghetti out of a baseball glove.

Though not all asexual and aromantic people identify as queer, it benefits us all to be exposed to the huge diversity of gender and sexual orientation in our community, particularly when these representations are so truthful, kind, and fun. Bojack Horseman is an important document of our times, one that teaches us that self-reflection is important, asexuals are worthy of our time and our love, and honeydew melon is bullshit.

 

Bojack Horseman is available to stream on Netflix.

Follow Danni on Twitter (@danvestite)

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