Tag: mental health

Shows

The Absurd Worldview of Mr. Peanutbutter: Let’s talk about Toxic Positivity

As I’m about to graduate college, I’ve been thinking about BoJack Horseman again. I literally love this show so much, probably because it makes me think about people and the patterns they find themselves in. I’ve also found it interesting that the show includes characters of all different age groups. BoJack is in his fifties. Princess Carolyn is around 40, and Diane is a few years younger than her. Sarah Lynn and Todd are thirty. Hollyhock and Penny are a teens and then young adults. Several characters go through big life changes and experience growth. But I’m not sure that works for everyone. BoJack struggles to make lasting changes over time, but if there is anyone who fails to change over time, it is Mr. Peanutbutter.

I have been thinking lately about mental health and BoJack Horseman and about how Mr. Peanutbutter is the perfect example of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is a term that I’ve seen everywhere. There are even toxic positivity memes out there. We have all heard the usually well-meaning advice to just stay positive and choose to be happy every day. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

And what is toxic positivity, exactly? According to Medical News Today, Toxic Positivity is “is an obsession with positive thinking. It is the belief that people should put a spin on all experiences, even those that are profoundly tragic. Toxic positivity can silence negative emotions, demean grief, and make people feel under pressure to pretend to be happy even when they are struggling.”

Don’t get me wrong, looking for things you are grateful for and appreciating the people around you are good things, but that simply isn’t the answer for every life situation, especially the painful parts of life. Ignoring life’s tragedies and pain for the sake of positivity is deeply toxic. But before we dive into toxic positivity, it is important to understand Mr. Peanutbutter as a whole.

He is one of those characters that I love to hate, or more accurately, he is one of those people who annoy me, but I can’t help loving them a little anyway. He is funny and always so happy. But his happiness is a strange one. He is willingly oblivious, which seems like a quirk at first. If you think about it though, he’s actually pretty harmful—even if he isn’t causing harm on purpose.

Mr. Peanutbutter’s worldview is actually one of the most complexly thought out. When I first watched the show, I figured he was one of those characters who never thought of big questions about life and just enjoyed being rich and famous. After all, money is quite distracting, life is distracting. Not everyone constructs a worldview or decides to understand their place in the world. I thought maybe Mr. Peanutbutter was happier than BoJack because he never thought about the world and just enjoyed the good stuff. Boy, I was wrong. He has thought of his actions and what it means to be in this world. In one episode, he tells Diane.

 “The universe is a cruel, uncaring void. The key to being happy isn’t a search for meaning. It’s to just keep yourself busy with unimportant nonsense, and eventually, you’ll be dead.”

Wow, I can’t quite agree with you on that, bud. I understand that we can’t figure out the answer to every question or solve the world’s problems, but wow. He also uses the word unimportant nonsense, which indicates that there are important things to do with your life. He could be trying to help others and help with issues he does care about. He does care about the people close to him, Diane, for instance. And he’s not in a position where he can’t help others be happier and safer.

As an actor, he has a lot of money. He already recognizes that it won’t buy him happiness or make his life perfect, so why doesn’t he help the less fortunate? Diane, in contrast, is all about saving people. She knows that the world is full of pain and harm, and she wants to help other people. But she breaks down when she realizes she isn’t making lasting change. That’s totally understandable. The world is full of hurt, but I feel like our best efforts are worth it. I agree with Diane’s decisions at the end, she does help people in a new way. But there is an alternative worldview and way to look at things. We don’t have to give up, and we don’t have to fix everything. So, I wonder if a middle ground between Diane’s activism and Mr. Peanutbutter’s denial would be recognizing that you can’t fix everything and that bad things will continue to happen. But do good anyway. Mr. Peanutbutter also, in deciding that there is no point in helping, ignores the privileges that he has that others do not. Few people are able to distract themselves with “unimportant nonsense” without worrying about bills, health, and other life struggles. Even if you take up the view that life is all nonsense, why not allow others to enjoy nonsense the way you do. That brings me to the next point, the episode, “The Face of Depression.”

The Face of Depression

I find it interesting how when Mr. Peanutbutter is labeled, The Face of Depression, BoJack and Diane are completely skeptical. He’s so happy all the time, how can he possibly be depressed? Diane is diagnosed with depression and it sounds like BoJack has it as well from what we see.

I wonder why they have to be so skeptical that their friend has depression. Even though Mr. Peanutbutter is generally a happy person, that doesn’t mean he can’t suffer from depression. Anyone can have any mental illness regardless of their personality or the face they put on in public.

But Mr. Peanutbutter doesn’t have depression. The show says he does not, and that is partially why he works as an example of toxic positivity. He is absurdist in philosophy and deep into toxic positivity. Now, when we hear the term positive, we wonder, what is wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with being happy and having a good view of life? Is it wrong to be an optimist and to see the glass is half full?

Well, frankly, it depends. Toxic positivity refers to downplaying any emotions that are not positive.

Of course, we all want our friends to be happy and we want ourselves to be happy too. We don’t want them to be going through hard times or to feel bad. When we feel good about life, we want other people to as well. That is a normal feeling and a human one. But happiness isn’t something we should expect out of other people. No one should have to pretend to be happy when they are feeling miserable. I get his ignorance, however. I personally do not have depression, and I can only imagine what it would be like for others.

I understand that it can be hard to understand why someone’s external circumstances seem so good on the outside, but they might be unhappy. Take this conversation between Mr. Peanutbutter and BoJack.

BoJack Horseman No. Of everything. Everything comes so easy for you.

Mr. Peanutbutter Oh, and it doesn’t for you? You’re a millionaire movie star with a girlfriend who loves you, acting in your dream movie. What more do you want? What else could the universe possible owe you?

BoJack Horseman I… want… to feel good about myself. The way you do. And I don’t know how. I don’t know if I can.

On Mr. Peanutbutter’s end, it sounds like BoJack has every reason to be happy. Shouldn’t these good things, love, and career success make him happy?

The two of them end up reconciling, and I’m not sure if Mr. Peanutbutter understands BoJack in the end or not. I’d say his worldview makes it hard for him to understand people. Mr. Peanutbutter, because he sees the world as meaningless, doesn’t recognize that others think differently than he does. If life is about doing silly things, why doesn’t everyone go with the flow and enjoy them? Nothing has any inherent value or meaning, and if it doesn’t matter–why not have fun?  

This is why he and Diane clash. Diane doesn’t like large parties and being in the spotlight, but Mr. Peanutbutter just assumes she’ll love it. It is fun for him, so why doesn’t everyone else want that? As an introvert, I can relate to Diane. She’s awkward at parties and doesn’t feel comfortable in a large group of strangers.

But Mr. Peanutbutter never tries to consider her perspective because it doesn’t matter. He sees almost all parts of life as things to embrace. Unlike BoJack, he is willing to take any role, no matter how silly, cliché, or even downright harmful. Birthday Dad, a knockoff of BoJack’s show, and an app that later enables sexual harassment are never a no for Mr. Peanutbutter. He goes along with whatever comes his way. There is something to be admired in going with the flow and accepting challenges or when life doesn’t look what you expect, but Mr. Peanutbutter takes it to the extreme. He is utterly thoughtless, and his moral code is weak. He cares about niceness and friendliness, which BoJack lacks, but he also doesn’t look beyond the surface level.

He refuses to, and he refuses to see any deeper meaning in life.

Toxic Positivity in Real Life

I don’t think that belief that the world is meaningless is the inherent cause of toxic positivity, though it certainly can lead to it. I have heard about it in various subgroups. People who are passionate about their jobs or about the opportunity to study in college can fall prey to toxic positivity. I’ve seen this mentality amongst Christians, even though Jesus showed a wide range of emotions and wasn’t exceedingly positive. He cried and got angry and was pretty human and he validated people’s emotions and didn’t pretend sadness didn’t exist.

If that’s the case, I don’t get why we all shouldn’t be like that. God has given blessings and there are good things in the world, so we should appreciate them. Every day is a gift, there is a beautiful creation and there are the joys of coffee and friends. I don’t disagree with that, but creation can also be terrifying and horrific. There are hurricanes and tsunamis and nature is frankly, a wild beast. While I agree being thankful and focusing on blessings is important, we don’t always feel happy even with the good things in our lives.

One instance I can think of during college was a situation with academics. In my English classes, I read fantastic literature and listened to great lectures. But does that mean I’m not going to be stressed that I have to read 200 pages for one class by next Thursday in one class and 60 pages in another? No way.

If a friend is stressed about school, it is tempting to say to them, “But we have it good here. Our classes are amazing and the books we are reading are profound and beautiful. We have good friends here and our professors are helpful and kind. Classes are fun, why complain if they are hard and you feel anxious? Just enjoy them.” Now, saying that sounds incredibly dumb. College is stressful. Heck, life is stressful. Why should we pretend like it is not. Just like it is absurd to convince our friends to be miserable when they are happy, it is absurd to convince our friends to be happy when they miserable.

Instead, we should listen to people and validate their emotions. Let them let the guard down a little and don’t be afraid to talk about how you’re feeling if you’re upset or something is bothering you. If you feel academic stress, for instance, I know that sometimes a lot of people feel the same way but are a bit afraid to say it. I like x aspects of school, but I’m struggling with x. Or it bothers me when x.

No matter how good things appear on the outside, let yourself feel your feelings. Then learn about them. Understand them. Talk to a counselor if you feel like it could help to have someone else help you understand yourself more.

Toxic Patterns

I think that one of the people that Mr. Peanutbutter hurts the most from his actions is himself. He jumps from wife to wife and doesn’t have any stable foundation. He keeps up a cycle of denial, and that can’t be the right way to live. He also has been deeply sheltered from anything “bad” in the world. His parents raised him on a farm and never taught him to be empathetic or emotionally intelligent. They stunted him.

Toxic positivity does the same thing. It stunts us. It tells us to deny, deny, deny when bad things happen to us, and when life exists outside that bubble of contentment that we’ve created for ourselves. Whenever he faces a challenge, he just moves on to the next thing. He doesn’t reflect on his experiences, and he repeats the same toxic patterns. Bad parts of life exist, and we should learn from them. We should live with them and acknowledge them. Otherwise, we might make the same mistakes. Associating a negative emotion with a certain choice can help us avoid it. For instance, Diane feels disappointed when Mr. Peanutbutter does a big gesture. Instead of recognizing that and seeing it as an opportunity to learn more about his girlfriend and be a better boyfriend, he just moves forward like nothing happened.

His constant invalidation of others’ emotions is pretty terrible. And how are we supposed to learn and love ourselves and the people around us if we do not understand them? If we sort all life’s events into the category of good, there is no opportunity to recognize wrong.

But I can’t just critique his toxic positivity without realizing how it works with his philosophy of life. Mr. Peanutbutter thinks that nothing matters, but it kind of does. His running for governor, for instance, impacts real people around him. To Mr. Peanutbutter, why not run, it sounds like fun. He’s rich, he can do whatever he wants. But Diane admits that he wouldn’t make a good governor. But she doesn’t tell him. Mr. Peanutbutter is never told no, so he keeps doing whatever he feels.

If we go back to that original quote, where he asks BoJack what more could he want, I think Mr. Peanutbutter is jealous of BoJack just like BoJack is jealous of him. Horsin’ Around was a thing before Mr. Peanutbutter’s House. There is also Diane. I feel like a part of him noticed that Diane and BoJack connected emotionally in a way that he can’t with Diane or with any of the women he dates really. He starts dating younger and younger women, and he is never required to understand any of his wives.

Of course, Mr. Peanutbutter is a dog. Dogs are loyal and loving but not always understanding. They like doing different things, and they don’t see any inherent meaning in their actions. At least, I’m assuming they don’t. But none of this is to retract my points. Humans have a natural craving for meaning, and we experience emotions deeply and they hurt. It is tempting to shove our emotions down and pretend we’re fine. It is tempting to say “at least….” when someone shares bad news or says their day was bad.

But that doesn’t make the pain go away. In fact, it lets us suppress the pain and force ourselves to put on a happy face for the person who asked us. Mr. Peanutbutter is a dog, but it is okay if he is a sad dog sometimes. A self-aware dog would be nice to see too.

Have you heard of toxic positivity or watched BoJack Horseman? What are your thoughts on the subject of Mr. Peanutbutter? Let me know down in the comments below.

Links:

https://theconversation.com/how-to-avoid-toxic-positivity-and-take-the-less-direct-route-to-happiness-170260

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/toxic-positivity

Books

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: A Beautiful, Honest, and Hilarious Story That Argues That Human Connection Is An Antidote to Loneliness

Trigger Warning: this book discusses self-harm, suicide, depression, and alcoholism.

Pros

  • Features a hilarious and intriguing main character
  • Eleanor keeps her individuality while learning to love others and care for their needs and her own
  • Keeps the reader hooked, even in slower plotlines
  • Lovable side characters
  • Good message of love and human connectivity
  • Well written take on introverts, trauma, mental health (depression, alcoholism), and the effects of self-isolation

CONS

  • I didn’t see many cons
  • Makeover scene: the message seemed to promote spending money for looks
  • Overemphasis on social rituals

Over the summer, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I was looking at the book as an Easter gift my mom bought for me to read at the beach. I actually started reading before I went to the beach, which is surprising. I’m an English major, so usually after finals, the last thing I want to do is stare at paper for hours and absorb words. I usually feel hesitant to read again after finals, but the cover drew me in.

My copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has an eye-catching bright blue and orange design, and it features our heroine with her arms crossed over her. She’s almost insisting to us that she is completely fine after all. I read the back and was intrigued too. What sort of character is this? Then I read that Reese Witherspoon recommended this book, so I was encouraged. I have never read a Reese Witherspoon-approved novel before, but I trust her taste. I was right to do so. 

Eleanor Oliphant is a nearly thirty-year-old woman who has never been particularly social. She works in an office, she does crossword puzzles, and she lives a rather boring life. But when I read her perspective, I found that I was not, for even a second, bored.

Getting inside Eleanor’s head was going through a funhouse, you never know what you will see next and everything you see comes out of nowhere and is intensely amusing. I hardly put the book down. Eleanor’s wit is often unintentional but fantastic.

She has no idea how funny and unusual she is because she grew up isolated from most people. After her mother went away, Eleanor was shuffled between foster homes. She never had stability or comfort and her abusive mother regularly calls her every single Wednesday to insult her. This mother is terrifying. Every phone call is emotionally abusive. I never met a woman like this and I never hope to. Eleanor did not have friends growing up either, so she is very unskilled regarding understanding and following social norms. For example, in one scene she goes to a dance. Eleanor is trying to learn how to dance and interact with people at a party, but she has never danced before.

“Free-form jigging, communal shapes in the air; Dancing was easy!…YMCA! YMCA! Arms in the air, mimicking the letters – what a marvelous idea! Who knew that dancing could be so logical? …From my limited exposure to popular music, people did seem to sing about umbrellas and firstarting and Emily Bronte novels, so, I supposed, why not a gender-and faith-based youth organization?”

Eleanor on dancing

She describes the world the way someone unfamiliar with it would. Rather than being cast off as an odd recluse or weirdo, her differences make her unique and lovable. Her perspective is honest and looks at human life in ways I haven’t considered before. The social rituals that we go through make little sense on the outside, and she can see the beauty and humor in them.

Eleanor’s keen sense of humor keeps the book interesting, even though there are often scenes where not much happens. The simple experience of shopping at a grocery store is wonderful and hilarious to witness. There was also very little filler. All the scenes, big and small, impact the plot. Part of Eleanor’s journey is her goal to meet a man she has seen once in person. To Eleanor, he is intellectually fascinating, extremely handsome, and a genuine person. He is also a semi-famous musician. She is ambitious, so I will give her that.

If we look at side characters, almost everyone is equally lovely. Eleanor runs into particular trouble when she and the IT guy, Raymond, end up saving a stranger’s life together. The unexpected event leads them on an adventure that neither expected.

Raymond is such a delightful character. He is not someone Eleanor would ever choose to associate with, his wardrobe consists of graphic tees and jogging shoes, which Eleanor remarks are primarily worn by people who never set foot in a gym. He spends most weekends playing video games until dawn, and he lacks table manners. Eleanor grew up learning to imitate high society and about the importance of putting a fork in the right place at all times. They make quite the pair.

The man that they save, Sammy, is also delightful. He is a kind man who introduces them to his family. The story is one of found families. Family is foraged from love, rather than blood. Though blood and love often coexist. Raymond’s mother also makes an appearance, and she is lovely.

The novel tells us that the meaning of life and reason to live is human connection. The relationships that Eleanor develops encourage and help her when she is miserable. I found this message to be both uplifting and a little lacking.

The show also mentions human rituals as a meaningful aspect of life, and Eleanor gushes over her makeover and gets her nails done. These rituals require a deal of wealth and material success; Eleanor can easily afford to get her hair, nails, and toes done because she can afford to drop over a hundred dollars. Her experiences at the hair and nail salons felt a little romanticized. I enjoy getting my nails done and my hair cut as much as the next person, but they do not feel like the meaningful rituals that connect me and create an intimacy between myself and the people who perform them for me. If these are are a primary way to happiness, only those with the money can afford these luxuries. The novel also ignores that the people who do her hairdo work to eat and provide for themselves. They may be tired after a long day and just want to go home. It is an act of service, I suppose, but it feels a little shallow. The nail stylist does not necessarily want to interact with Eleanor or help her look good or whatever. The novel shows that the people don’t always care, but Eleanor’s romanticization makes it feel like we should agree with her.

Outside of material good, the novel does mention the beauty of nature a little. There is one particular scene where Eleanor and Raymond are walking outdoors, and they look at the beauty of the sunset. That moment is fleeting but beautiful. A case for the good in nature rather than hair products is probably preferable if we seek a moral center.

The message seems to be a humanist one. Humanism is a philosophy that affirms human importance rather than the importance of the divine. The novel does not offer religion or spirituality as a way to find meaning, grace, or purpose. Eleanor doesn’t believe, nor does anyone else.

A humanist method of seeing the world can have problems. I loved this book, but it is also interesting to pay attention to the views it promotes. Otherwise, honestly, I don’t have a lot of critiques for this book. It was well written, and the humor and scenes of connection between people were beyond beautiful.

However, there are other aspects to life than human beings: the appreciation of nature, a desire to learn about religion, and care for animals. Eleanor does get a pet cat, so she does connect with animals and a being other than humans. The cat was adorable. I was a bit skeptical at a couple of parts of the novel, though. Human connection is also not so perfect and pure at times. The novel is not open to religion or other ideas as an aid or solution, so the cure relies on humans and our ability to care for each other.

I will say the novel felt a little idealistic at times. Her coworkers, for instance, who disliked her before, throw a party for her. It feels a bit off. It was nice to see the people she works with putting her needs before their prejudices. They saw that she was struggling and were empathetic, even if she was a little odd. We must look out and care for each other. W.H. Auden says that “we must love one another or die.” That is brutal, but it is the reality of both life and this book. Without love for each other, life is simply worth living.

Look, Eleanor has her hobbies. She does her crossword puzzles and her daily rituals. Eleanor completes many tasks that the CDC would recommend for a healthy life: seeing people at work five days a week, going outside on walks, reading regularly, eating regular meals, and a well-balanced diet. Eleanor is also a professional success; she is a good employee, she works hard, and keeps her job. She doesn’t take sick days, she returns back from the weekends with her stress forgotten; she never lets her personal life affect the job. She attended university, and she keeps her brain active with puzzles…I could go on. But even if she didn’t live with trauma and depression, I don’t think Eleanor would be happy and satified with this alone. 

I think the point is that none of us should be. Gail Honeyman said of the book:

“Eleanor Oliphant isn’t me, or anyone I know [but] of course I’ve felt loneliness-everyone does.”

Gail Honeyman

The novel addresses the loneliness inside us and that everyone needs somebody. We need others and we need to be there for others when they are around and when they are alive. After all, we don’t live forever. The novel reminds us of that. I think this novel could show life as absolutely perfect if not for the fact that it ends.

The sections about death were tragic. Eleanor has no hope for an afterlife or anything beyond. It is sad, but the novel shows that death is part of life for all of us. Eleanor accepts death as a fact of life and still celebrates all the joys of living. Eleanor Oliphant’s world is filled with life. There are people on the bus and friends all around, there are parties and dancing and going to coffee with friends–those moments make life worth living for Eleanor. Her friendships and interactions with others are well-written and funny. To get on a less morbid topic, let’s talk about makeovers.

One of Eleanor’s decisions to get her crush, the musician, to like her is to get a makeover. I rarely like makeover scenes in movies, because they usually start with a protagonist who is happy with their appearance and then changes so that a love interest finds them attractive and so they can fit in with the popular kids. Eleanor’s makeover also made it seem like she had to change to be accepted by her coworkers. She keeps her sense of humor, but why does she have to get a makeover? This feels like a Disney movie. Eleanor is an adult, she shouldn’t have to change her appearance, which was nice. She took care of her appearance, so it is not like she was careless and sloppy or anything.

I also wish she’d stayed in touch with Sammy, the man whose life she saved’s family more. I would have liked to see her and Laura become friends, it seemed like a no-brainer. To pair a person who is more focused on appearances with a friend who doesn’t care at all could be entertaining. It would have been nice to have two close friends. Both could learn from each other, and Laura seemed pretty chill from what we know about her. They could learn from each other and support each other; after all, they both knew Sammy.

Otherwise, I found the novel uplifting. The message is that when you feel down and lonely, spending time with others is of great benefit. Eleanor learns this and also builds a friendship with Raymond. She doesn’t have to do life alone. She has a friend, and she also starts going to a counselor. The positive portrayal of seeking help was nice. Sometimes you need help in a professional setting as well.

It was also nice to watch Eleanor remain true to herself. She still likes crossword puzzles and has her quirky sense of humor, and no one expects or demands her to change. She also learns to accept others for who they are and to reserve judgment before knowing someone.

I cannot say enough how much I loved Raymond and their relationship. He is incredibly sweet and caring. His outgoing dorkiness and kindness are a perfect match for her blunt and nerdy eccentricity.

When I first read the description, I was expecting a romance between Eleanor and the IT guy (Raymond) to be the main plot, and I was pleasantly surprised when it was not the case. So many stories show the socially isolated and damaged characters finding a love interest that shows them how to live life to the fullest. Realistically, it is probably Eleanor needs time to work on herself and then start dating someone. Unfortunately, this is rarely true in a ton of books I see.

Like those romance covers that talk about a “bad boy” with a troubled past who finds a woman to love, and then she fixes him, and everything is okay, that is stupid. Eleanor thinks finding a guy will help her and she chases the hottest one she can find, but he is a terrible person. He also doesn’t care about a stranger he’s never met. He is a selfish idiot. I don’t get why any other results could have occurred if we look at the situation realistically. 

Confession: I have never read one of these bad-boy romance books, but I feel like I see them everywhere.

Honeyman’s decision to focus on Eleanor’s growth as a character is truly refreshing. There is a hint that something romantic might happen with them in the end, but it feels right. They have become friends first. Maybe dating could work out for them, maybe it wouldn’t, but the book gives us hope that their friendship will continue no matter what. She has a solid friendship and learns that isolation is not the answer.

Eleanor initially believes she is strong for being alone. She is independent, she doesn’t need anybody.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself.”

Eleanor

Is there a case that sometimes we need to be alone? Absolutely. Learning to enjoy quiet and solitude is an important life skill. It is a good thing to be able to spend a Friday night alone without plans and enjoy spending time by yourself. Friends sometimes have plans, and sometimes people are busy when you are free. You can learn from spending part of your day alone, but should we do this all the time? Absolutely not. After all, we do live in a community; life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. Humans are social creatures.

So, thinking of our need for others, I ask is Eleanor Completely Fine? The answer is no. No one is fine; nobody is perfectly happy alone. We all need alone time. Some need alone time more than others. That is why many introverts relate to this book; it is about being alone and how we like being alone, just not all the time. We all need other humans and to live in a community with each other. When we’re struggling, staying by ourselves isn’t always the answer.

It wasn’t the answer for Eleanor. Spending time with others gets us out of our heads, we can see how others live, how they experience life, and we can learn from them and care about them as they do for us. We need friends, and sometimes we need professional help to sort ourselves out.

Eleanor is a character who rejects using socially acceptable language. She is blunt and doesn’t think to stop and think before speaking. The word filter has probably never crossed her mind. Falsities are not Eleanor Oliphant, but she does tell one lie in particular. Eleanor is a woman with a giant vocabulary. Eleanor possesses extensive knowledge of words and language, but this one social norm cannot escape her, as it does for most of us. It is in conversation, under a burden of pain, that Eleanor grasps for one of the most overused expressions in the English language. When people ask how she is doing Eleanor Oliphant replies: “I am fine.”

If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Eleanor Oliphant

To say this broke my heart would be an understatement. I want to reach out to Eleanor and, luckily, she has someone who does, and says to her. To quote Five Seconds of Summer, Eleanor, you are not fine; you’re really not fine at all, and that is okay. You don’t have to be, right now. You are not alone.

Have you read or heard of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or have you read any novels with an odd protagonist and a human-centered message? I have a feeling there are more Eleanors to come, and I’m curious to see what they look like. There is also a movie coming out, which I am both excited and nervous about. As always, let me know down in the comments below.

Shows

5 Reasons Bojack Horseman Is Perfect for Gen Z

Sad Horses. I can not remember the last time I watched a show with anthropomorphic animals that made me so sad, maybe Charlotte’s Web? I was around eight, and I watched the 1973 version. It always cracked me up when I was having a bad day. Does anyone remember the rat paradise scene? I’d recommend checking it out if you haven’t seen it before. He walks around the fair and eats a bunch of fair food. A mood perhaps. Anyway, I the ending of Charlotte’s Web made me cry the first time I saw it, but Bojack has so much more sadness.

So, why do I keep talking about this? Why is this odd show starring anthropomorphic animals and cartoon humans so good? Look at this picture.

There were loads of pictures and great scenes I could have introduced BoJack with, but this one fits my gut reaction to the show best. BoJack Horseman forces us to see ourselves. The show serves as a mirror to ourselves. It shows the world we live in, the lines on our faces, our mistakes, our biggest regrets. Our days of Horsin Around have ended. Hard times and self-reflection have begun. The days of animal puns, a deep dive into various facets of the human psyche, and all the worst parts about ourselves are just beginning.

Raphael Bob Waksberg is incredibly talented. If you are an optimistic person and have a high view of human nature, buckle up. You will be in for a bumpy ride. Do you see that one with all the potholes? Yes, we are in the right place. We are going to fasten our seatbelts now. If you are in the camp of people who feel stuck a lot of the time and struggle to get better, prepare for more disappointment in humanity and animality. I am not saying the characters are unlikable. Many of them–like Princess Carolyn, Todd, and Diane–are fascinating and deeply imperfect. Others are awful people or random criminal masterminds, like Margo Martindale, and almost everyone is miserable.

There are also moments like this:

The fire department saves this poor cat quickly. Unfortunately, when people get stuck in a bad situation due to their personal choices, we cannot become free from what got us there. A few people, a truck, and a ladder cannot solve their unhealthy patterns. Mistakes come with long-term consequences and sometimes permanent damage to relationships. How we acknowledge and continue to live after our mistakes is a question that the show asks. And if you want more animal puns, BoJack Horseman contains many, many more of them. 

So here is a Spoiler-free list of all the reasons to watch Bojack Horseman.

So, why do you watch that weird show with the talking horse? That is a question I heard a few times this summer from family and friends when I told them I watched Bojack Horseman on Netflix. Bojack Horseman, known for sad themes, is often called the Sad Horse show. Bojack Horseman was the type of show I watched a couple of episodes at a time a few days a week. I would never binge the series in a week. Like a fine wine, Bojack works best when you take a sip and let it sit with you for a while. Perhaps I have not convinced you to watch yet, fair enough. I had not watched many adult cartoons before this one, and I was a little skeptical about a talking horse show.

Thankfully, a few scenes popped enough on my youtube recommendations. After witnessing enormous emotional depth and character development packed in a few short clips, I needed to watch BoJack Horseman. When I finished the sixth season, the tall, depressed, anthropomorphic horse actor and his friends won my heart. Despite, or even because the show focused on this fifty-something talking horse rather than some live actor. BoJack Horseman felt more human than anything I have watched in a while. Here are some reasons why you should give BoJack a try.

  1. Excellent Character Development
136 Hidden Jokes You Probably Missed On "BoJack Horseman" | Bojack  horseman, Horseman, Cartoon cat
Princess Carolyn, agent

Many of the characters are unique and have different backstories and goals for life. I recognized myself in several of the characters. BoJack is a washed-up actor trying to find out what will give him purpose.

Princess Carolyn is focused on her career and longs for a baby. Her desire to be a mother and issues conceiving feel very real. She works with BoJack, which is complicated for several reasons, one is his egoism. She often takes care of other people over herself and after all these years, she still isn’t where she wants in life.

Diane is a passionate writer and wants to help others and make a difference. She is a humanitarian and she wants to do good, but she still hasn’t figured out how her ambitions fit with the soullessness of LA. She is dating Mr. Peanutbutter, whose constant optimism clashes with her dissatisfaction with the world.

Todd is a young guy who is oddly successful with his wacky business ideas until they crash and burn. He crashes at BoJack’s and he is trying to find his place in the world. I’m going to add a minor spoiler here.

A part of Todd’s storyline is his discovery of his sexuality. Todd finds out that he is asexual in the fourth season. Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction to anyone. In a world where romance and sex are rampant, I appreciated how much the writers cared about the storyline. They took an established and lovable character, Todd is so sweet and funny, and showed him figuring out that he is ace. This storyline made me love him all the more. Todd meets other asexual people, and we learn about their asexual experiences too. Todd is a great character and represents a group of people (1% of the population) rarely seen on screen.

Overall, everyone is on a unique path to understanding themselves and the world better. Everyone in BoJack Horseman is grappling with life dissatisfaction at the beginning of the series. Everyone is shaped and drawn to certain behaviors for better or worse, but they all have to figure out how to live in this world. Every person or animal must grapple with cycles of bad habits and character flaws as they try to create meaning for their lives.

Their parents and past shows shaped their current selves. How does someone develop and find peace after leaving behind an unhealthy childhood? Most of the characters are stuck in their careers and lifestyles. But does that mean that they are successful and happy? What does it mean to be a success, anyway? And where do we go next if our choices aren’t making us happy? What does happiness mean for us? How do we get there?

Every character has a unique set of passions, goals, and personalities. The road to happiness is not a straight drive, and I root for all of them along the way.

2. Mental Health Representation, Depression, Alcoholism, and Abusive Childhoods

Bojack and Todd Vibing in Bojack’s Mansion

There is not much accurate representation on TV for any of these experiences. Recently, mental health awareness has become more popular and widespread. Representation in media helps people with these experiences feel seen and helps educate others about people who suffer from depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues. BoJack Horseman shows the day-to-day life of a person experiencing depression. Season 4, Episode 6, “Stupid Piece of Sh*t”, is celebrated for portraying the inner monologue of someone dealing with depression and alcoholism. “The Face of Depression” and “Good Damage” give an inside look into depression from another perspective and capture the feelings some people with depression experience. Both characters struggle with depression but they both experience, process, and deal with the symptoms differently. 

Bojack Horseman shows how childhood abuse affects self-worth. Get prepared for flashbacks! And bring the tissues and the tomatoes. I disliked quite a few people in the show. I would not boo them off stage, but I want to. I also want to keep watching. The people in this show are sometimes the worst. Most come from complicated lives and have reasons for why they are the way they are. 

3. It is honest

Princess Carolyn and Bojack

Bojack Horseman shows that life is hard; Wacksberg never shies away from critiquing Hollywood, the deep flaws within our culture, and the tragedies that befall people who become famous at a young age. If you heard about the cast of Full House or the case of Britney Spears, famous people are often treated like dirt, by their audiences, by each other, and by the industry itself.

I found myself understanding and empathizing with many characters even though I never experienced fame myself. Everyone in Bojack Horseman is flawed and human. They also have moments where they are funny, kind-hearted, and creative. Shows like the Simpsons and other sitcoms are funny and sometimes heartwarming, but I can never get invested in them. No one truly changes or grows, and few acknowledge existential angst. They are comfortable, sometimes they complain about the monotony of life, sure, but they don’t question their place in the world. They never desperately long for a change but go about it in the wrong ways.

Full House is good if you want to turn your brain off for a few hours. If you are looking for another Fuller House or Friends to watch, I would not recommend watching Bojack Horseman (except maybe season 1). I love Full House, but when each episode ends, you wonder, that is it? They solved this complex issue in thirty minutes. This character never makes the same mistake again, and if they do, they solve it in another 30 minutes? Bojack realized that in real life, with real human beings, reaching such a satisfying conclusion is impossible.

It is a deep show, man. Bojack asks questions like; what type of person should I be? How do I become a better person? Why do I keep failing? Why are the things that I am doing not making me happy? They all bring me back to reality. Often, at the end of an episode, I would feel sad. There is no grand speech or gesture that makes it happy again. In a typical comedy, characters make stupid and occasionally cruel choices and act dumb, but they never really change. Nor do their mistakes have any consequences after the episode has aired. Every action follows the characters of Bojack Horseman. Just watch the opening credits. Every season and even episode changes.

In life, there is not an easy fix or an easy answer. We make decisions. Then we fall and start over. We do good and then screw it up; we have to decide if we should get up and try again.

Life is not clean-cut and easily understood. Every decision in the world of Bojack leads to repercussions and sometimes permanent damage to their relationships with others. There is no reset button with every episode. We do not just forget that our friend betrayed us. There is forgiveness, but forgiveness does not make everything right or make consequences disappear. We have to learn from our mistakes and move forward where we are. Getting better results requires us to act kinder to ourselves and others right now. Every person keeps going, living with choices they made in the episodes before.

In life, there is no easy fix or an easy answer. We make decisions, we fall and start over, we do good and screw it up and have to decide if we should get up and try again. The characters get stuck in unhealthy patterns and screw up in a world where people only care about fame, power, and individual happiness. The decision to do good is often made alone in a world that does not give a damn. The support from others certainly helps, and it does, but we can not fix other people or their unhealthy patterns. The actions one takes and the consequences are something that every character must understand and learn from themselves.

4. Witty animal puns and jokes

This show is so punny. I need to rewatch it to get all the jokes. Bojack Horseman contains countless animal puns and pop culture references; we are in Hollywood, after all. The animals act like actual animals. Mr. Peanutbutter is a happy-go-lucky golden retriever. He gets excited when guests ring the doorbell, stick his head out the window in the car, and hoards tennis balls. Princess Carolyn says she is not catty, but she keeps a scratching post in her office and always lands on her feet. Pretty much everyone gets an animal pun, so lookout. The artwork, background characters, and regulars are full of puns. Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter bring plenty of wacky hijinks that never cease to amaze me.

Like Tuca and Bertie, the humor is self-aware and witty. Though Bojack is a total jerk, Bojack has a great sense of sarcastic horse humor.

5. It provides understanding into the time we live in

When I first started watching Bojack Horseman, to put it bluntly, I saw a cynical show full of miserable people. The show gets darker after each passing episode, but there are many heartwarming moments. If you are making your way through the show right now, I will tell you it gets better. It also gets worse but in a good way.

But why is it so sad?

I would say that the show causes so much distress and sadness is because of its harsh criticism of our culture, past, and present. There is little that the characters of Bojack can hold onto for comfort. Many characters are alone and struggle to communicate with one another. The resolutions are not the happy talks we expect from Full House. I would also argue that the show refuses to sugarcoat what it believes to be true about reality. Life is not all gloom and doom, but the nature of our existence and state as beings in this world, if we really want to live well, according to the creators, requires us to accept some harsh truths.

Bojack Horseman refutes common beliefs about love, family, death, redemption, and friendship. Whether or not you agree with how the show approaches these topics and others, Bojack Horseman is consistent and seldom shallow. Cue cringy pool joke about the opening credits here.

Bojack Horseman carefully considers the characters and their decisions and what the audience takes away from the show. A question I often ask is, what do the writers think of the characters? They, after all, write every decision that the characters make and have to make them likable or redeemable enough to keep people watching. There are some fantastic meta moments later. They might make you question things, or they may not.

Overall, Bojack Horseman is correctly called the Sad Horse show. It made me laugh out loud, I fell in love with the characters, and it made me (awfully) sad sometimes. I found it to be a pretty accurate representation of our culture and (some of) our generation’s view of the past and the human condition. Life is hard and, this show never shies away from, well, anything. Bojack Horseman is layered and well written. The dialogue hits hard, and characters call each other out on their crap. I love watching people get called out. But it is also sad to watch. I would recommend the show to anyone looking for a new show to watch. If you feel in the mood for a chipper, happy-go-lucky, Disney-like comedy, I would not recommend watching the entirety of Bojack Horseman now. It can be sad. You could always watch a few of the best-rated episodes from IMDB. Time’s Arrow is my favorite episode.

One more thing, if you do give it a watch, a final reminder, DO NOT skip the intro! The intro is a total bop, and the background of the credits changes and gives some hints and Easter eggs.

Have you seen Bojack Horseman or any shows that deal with sad themes; what do you like about it? What are some of your favorite shows? Let me know what you think of this review in the comments below.

Shows

Absurdity, Anxiety, and Friendship in Tuca and Bertie

Dirt: Imagineering architecture in Tuca & Bertie and My Favorite Shapes -  by Dirt - Dirt

A spoiler-free review of Tuca and Bertie Season One

If I were to describe the last 2 years, or maybe even the last 5 years in one word, I might go with surreal. Often life just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know why things happen the way they do. A worldwide pandemic is an event that only a movie like Contagion or the Simpsons could predict, and we’re still grappling with all this uncertainty.

Life can just be weird and events sometimes don’t make sense; I often wonder where I fit into it all, but nevertheless, here I am, embracing the absurd parts. Of course, other times, I get so wrapped up in habit and routine that life feels boring and predictable. I want silliness, oddness, and just to laugh again.

From snake busses, purple jaguars, careless plant teenagers, to bouncing boobs on buildings, Tuca and Bertie is a goofy show. If you’ve ever felt a craving for some more oddity, with some adult content, or if you’re just looking for a well-written animated sitcom, Netflix and Adult Swim have something for you.

Tuca and Bertie takes place in a world way more surreal than ours, it’s with a catchy theme song that juxtaposes their names. Tuca and Bertie are zany and bold as they wave their arms wildly to a catchy bop. Their theme song slaps, there, I said it. They’re both dancing around and doing their thing as they navigate the fun, stressful, and just plain absurd parts of life together.

The theme song is really fun, but to tell you the truth, the show gets dark. It’s not too sad, and it’s so good, I promise.

I discovered Tuca and Bertie partially by surprise. I had just completed the last episode of Bojack Horseman and felt completely wrecked. I’ll have more thoughts on this in other reviews, but basically, I simultaneously felt like I both never wanted to see anything that could make me feel things again and to dive into a new show to help me get over Bojack Horseman. I kind of wanted more Bojack too. Netflix kindly displayed a new program that seemed perfect. Tuca and Bertie were written and produced by Lisa Hanawalt, the animator of Bojack Horseman.

I found Tuca and Bertie more fun than Bojack, it deals with difficult topics at times, but Hanawalt’s show is nowhere near as bleak. Their world is bright and colorful and though Tuca and Bertie are so zany, their lives feel grounded and accessible. For me, it’s partially because the show is written from a female perspective. In adult cartoons and television generally, there aren’t a lot of narratives like Tuca and Bertie.

Creator Lisa Hanawalt said in an interview:

“I wasn’t consciously thinking, “How do I make this more relatable to women?” I was just writing stories from my own life, stories from my friends’ lives and things that I specifically haven’t seen in adult animation before. Like, that feeling when a plumber is in your apartment and you don’t know if he’s going to attack you or not. That’s really common for women.”

Lisa Hanawalt

Tuca and Bertie isn’t a tale of the lives of Hollywood celebrities, they’re real people, well, birds, learning about themselves and their place in the world. In comparison with characters from a lot of adult animation shows, the characters in Tuca and Bertie seem pretty put together on the surface.

Typical of TV best friends, Tuca and Bertie are classic polar opposites. Tuca, played by Tiffany Haddish is fun, free-spirited, resourceful. She’s “friend, hero, connoisseur of snacks, confident but relatable, wearer of short shorts.” She sounds like the cool girl that I’d want to be friends with but would be a bit intimidated to approach her. But once that first conversation started, by her making a snarky comment and me bursting out into uncontrollable laughter, we would know this friendship was going to be one for the long haul.

Once a Tuca is in your life, she and all her belongings become utterly intertwined with your apartment and your heart. Tuca is confident and kind, and as you get to know her, you see she’s got insecurities as well. Tuca begins the show as a recovering alcoholic and fears being alone. She’s given a lot of depth and even if you’ve never been the life of the party, you’ll feel for her as the show goes on.

Bertie, voiced by Ali Wong, is the total opposite, she’s a total introvert who admires Tuca’s ease with talking to people. She’s equally awesome. She’s introduced as a “professional amateur chef, people pleaser, fuss bucket”, which sounds like she could be a little stuffy, but early on, we learn that Bertie’s behaviors stem from her anxiety. Bertie’s kind of living the dream that many of us crave in our twenties, she’s got a nice apartment with a supportive partner, an awesome best friend, and a job as a senior operations analyst for a magazine.

Tuca e Bertie: perché è molto più di una commedia sull ...

That being said, Bertie’s anxiety often dominates her life. Television is just beginning to show characters with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and Bertie is one of the few characters that portray anxiety well. She is hardworking and passionate, but her thoughts can spiral, and she makes mistakes and feels isolated and alone at times. She’s also super kind, a total introvert, and a lover of romantic period dramas– I can totally relate to that last part, I could rewatch BBC’s Prude and Prejudice all day, and some of her experiences with anxiety as well.

I’ll say it now, Hanawalt is fantastic at writing self-aware humor. Hanawalt makes jokes in scenes portraying Bertie’s anxiety without mocking or discrediting the character’s or anyone else’s experiences. Bertie is totally hilarious, and the show mocks anxiety itself, because it makes no sense at times. Anxiety isn’t an overreaction or done for attention, in fact, these feelings are often the last way an anxious person wants to feel, but here they are right in the middle of the work, a date, or the grocery store. Luckily, she has friends to be there during the worst moments.

Tuca, Bertie, and Bertie’s lovable boyfriend Speckle (Steven Yuen), have a fun and complex dynamic together. Friendship is weird sometimes, especially as we grow up, relationships shift in some ways and stay the same in others. We put value into our relationships with others while juggling life, work, and for some, romantic relationships that also require our energy and time. Friendship isn’t always dancing and rainbows and the show digs into the complexities of our relationships with one another, the role of a friend, and all the uncertainty and stress we experience as we figure out what we mean to each other.

The background is totally wack, the jokes are unapologetically bawdy at times, but it never felt gross or offensive. The style is fun and Hanawalt uses the drawing style to show some side commentary on the characters and effects.

Needless to say, Tuca and Bertie is a great show that explores complex and dark themes with care and humor. It made me laugh and grow to care for these two silly birds. On days when things felt totally surreal, I’d watch this show and feel a little less alone.

I’d recommend Tuca and Bertie to anyone who doesn’t mind adult humor. The show also references to anxiety, sexual assault, and harassment.

If you’re curious about learning more about the show’s creator Lisa Hanawalt and her perspective writing the show, I found an interview of hers on the first season

About me

The Perusing Muse is a site where I look to culture as a means of understanding life and analyze what it says about living a meaningful one. In less overly philosophical mission terms, I analyze shows, books, movies, and comics that I like and talk about why I love them so much.