Content Warning: “BoJack Horseman’s Top 10 Worst Moments!” references addiction, sexual assault, and violence against women.
BoJack Horseman is my favorite TV show. The six-season absurdist animated dark comedy has some of the most nuanced portrayals of mental illness, feminism, fame, and generational trauma on television…and also stars a talking alcoholic horse. BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) himself is a fascinating and brilliantly written character, managing to avoid the traps so many shows about ~troubled white dude protagonists~ land in by making their edgy leads just too likable or admirable. We understand, sympathize with, and even see ourselves in BoJack, but we never excuse his behavior.
There are many thoughtful takes to be had on the various themes the show tackles, and on BoJack’s character specifically, but today we’ll dive into the most headline-grabbing subject GirlCroosh has to offer, in a snappy viral numbered list that would make Diane cringe: what are the Top 10 Worst Things BoJack Horseman Has Ever Done? Let’s Find Out!
10: Framing Sharona
In the mid-Season 6 finale “The Face of Depression,” a newly sober BoJack ends up at an AA meeting where he is reunited with Sharona (Amy Sedaris), the hair stylist from his ‘90s TV show Horsin’ Around. Through flashbacks we discover that BoJack’s alcoholism during the show’s run led to child actress Sarah Lynn (Kristen Schaal) accessing alcohol and getting drunk for the first time—while on set. In order to keep the show going, BoJack lets Sharona, also an alcoholic, take the fall. Not only does this come immediately after BoJack betrayed his close friend Herb Kazzaz (which we’ll get to later), it’s also the first in a string of moments throughout their lives where BoJack failed Sarah Lynn (which we’ll also get to later) and refused to take responsibility for his actions. Sharona did however end up getting sober after she was fired from Horsin’ Around, and seems to have lived a happy and comfortable life leading up to the present, which is why this ranks so low on the list.
9: Burning a million dollars for charity to spite Daniel Radcliffe
This one often goes overlooked, but I think it’s genuinely pretty awful. In S2E8 “Let’s Find Out,” BoJack is a celebrity guest on the pilot episode of Mr. Peanutbutter & J. D. Salinger’s new TV show Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! (It’s at this point, if you haven’t seen BoJack, that I assume you’ve stopped reading.) On the reality show, BoJack ends up going head-to-head with “bigger” celebrity star Daniel Radcliffe (Daniel Radcliffe), who, though he had met BoJack in the past, cannot remember his name. In the final question, for $1,000,000 to charity, BoJack is asked the name of the celebrity he’s competing with. Out of nothing but pure spite, BoJack answers “Elijah Wood?” and the money is burned on stage on live TV. Was the burning part necessary on behalf of the show? No. Could Daniel Radcliffe have been less of a jackass to BoJack? Sure. Could BoJack have simply donated to charity at any given time in his life? Absolutely! But none of these answers change the fact that BoJack burnt a million dollars.
8: Hitting A Ryan Seacrest Type with a car
We tend to forget about this one because it’s played for laughs, but…he hit a man with a car.
A Ryan Seacrest Type does seem to be fine after BoJack smashes into him with a limo in S3E6 “Brrap Brrap Pew Pew”—his last appearance is in Season 5’s “BoJack the Feminist”, and he appears to be uninjured—but BoJack still HIT HIM WITH A CAR.
See also: hitting a deer in S2E4 “Party Foul” and not going to check on him until Wanda did first. Did you know it’s bad to hit someone with a car and only get them an ambulance in an effort to impress your girlfriend?
7: Not walking off Secretariat after Kelsey was fired…or calling her after
In S2E9, “The Shot,” BoJack is starring in the film biopic Secretariat, directed by Kelsey Jannings (Maria Bamford). BoJack and Kelsey break into the Nixon Library in order to film an emotional scene for the film and convince the studio that BoJack has the acting chops for the film to go in a more serious direction. Though eventually they succeed in getting the eponymous shot (in what is actually a very touching moment on BoJack), Kelsey is fired by the studio for participating in the break-in and the movie becomes a feel-good fluff comedy. Not only does BoJack fail to stand up for Kelsey, he never checks in on her due to his own shame (see “Fish Out of Water”) and ends up costing her two more films down the line on BoJack, eventually temporarily stunting her career as seen in S6E8 “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” Though Kelsey’s career would recover, it still cost her years of professional security and compounded her experiences of mistrust and sexist mistreatment within the industry. It also continues a pattern of BoJack putting his professional desires over the well-being of others.
6: Taking Hollyhock with him to go pick up illegal drugs
Hollyhock Manheim-Manheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack is maybe the most well-adjusted character on BoJack. As BoJack’s estranged half-sister, she has her fair share of Horseman family baggage, but having been raised by eight gay polyamorous dads, she has a good understanding of what real familial love and security feels like. That doesn’t stop BoJack from doing his best to traumatize her for the short time she’s a part of his life. In S5E9 “Ancient History,” BoJack is falling deeply back into his opioid addiction when Hollyhock comes to visit. After Hollyhock throws his painkillers away during a PTSD flashback to the last time she was in BoJack’s house, BoJack drives frantically around LA in an attempt to get access to more pills. The even bigger problem is…he takes Hollyhock with him. In the episode’s climax, BoJack brings Hollyhock to a drop-off point under the bridge where they filmed Grease to get illegal opioids, but it turns out to be a drug bust and the two have to run for their lives to escape. While Hollyhock seems more concerned for BoJack than herself by the end of the episode, it doesn’t change the fact that he put his half-sister—a minor—in an inordinate amount of danger, and within a context that was likely to trigger her.
5: Sabotaging Todd’s rock opera
This was the first moment most of us realized BoJack was a bad guy. In S1E4 “Zoës and Zeldas,” Todd Chavez (Aaron Paul), BoJack’s couch-crashing “best friend” and roommate, decides to get off the proverbial couch and become successful. He decides to write a rock opera, which, while initially rejected, BoJack helps him refine and the two of them end up solidifying their friendship as well. When it comes time for Todd to show the rock opera to a group of investors, he unfortunately becomes addicted to a video game from his youth (Decapathon VII) the night he’s supposed to write the final showstopping number for the opera. It’s a heartbreaking, if sitcom-y moment early on the show. And then…we find out it’s BoJack’s fault. Fearing Todd’s success would cause his only friend to leave him, BoJack used the help of Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale and a store clerk at Beast Buy to convince Todd to buy the addictive video game. It’s a truly unforgivable moment for Todd once he finds out BoJack was responsible, leading to the iconic “it’s you” speech at the end of Season 3.
4: Betraying Herb Kazzaz
Herb Kazzaz (Stanley Tucci) was BoJack’s best friend since before they were both famous. Herb created and wrote the TV show Horsin’ Around, on which BoJack starred and was able to launch his career. In S1E8, “The Telescope,” BoJack and Herb reunite for the first time in two decades after BoJack finds out Herb has colon cancer. While their meeting goes well at first, we discover that the cause for their split was anything but amicable. In the height of Horsin’ Around’s success, Herb was caught having public sexual relations with another man. When the network is poised to fire Herb to preserve their “family-friendly” image, Herb begs BoJack to stick with him, knowing if the star walks, the network will have no choice but to cave. BoJack initially agrees, but after having his career threatened by studio executive Angela Diaz, BoJack abandons Herb and continues to work on Horsin’ Around, leaving his best friend to be fired and essentially blacklisted from the industry. In the present at Herb’s house, Herb makes it clear to BoJack that he lived a fulfilling life, but at the time when he needed a friend most, BoJack never picked up the phone and Herb cannot ever forgive him for that. This first betrayal sticks with BoJack for his whole life—the parts we see in BoJack and not—creating a pattern in which he feels the need to prioritize his own career and stability over everyone else’s, all the while self-flagellating and never taking responsibility for his own actions.
3: Almost sleeping with Penny + abandoning Penny’s friend at the ER (tie)
Oof. Getting into the really heavy stuff. No jokes from here on out, y’all.
These both occurred on the same night and forever traumatized the lives of two underage girls, so they’re tying for the same slot. Seems fair?
“Escape From LA” (S2E11) is known best for the way it pulled the rug out from under the audience. BoJack has abandoned the filming of Secretariat and is living in New Mexico with an old friend—Charlotte Carson—and her family. The first half of the episode plays like a sitcom: BoJack living on his yacht in the Carson family’s driveway, eating dinner with them every night and taking Charlotte’s 17 year-old daughter, Penny, to prom.
Then Penny’s friend Maddy passes out from alcohol consumption from whiskey BoJack supplied her with. Upon arrival at the ER, BoJack, again consumed by his own image, abandons Maddy and her date and tells them to lie about where they got the whiskey from. We find out later in “A Quick One, While He’s Away” that Maddy had her stomach pumped and lived.
That would be bad enough.
Upon getting Penny home, Penny outright asks BoJack to have sex. A collective held breath from the audience, and—he rejects her. Penny goes upstairs crying, but we can all sleep at night knowing BoJack actually did the right thing. Maybe he has changed.
BoJack goes out to the back patio to catch up with Charlotte, the two reminisce and wind up kissing, until Charlotte rejects him and commits herself back to her family, shattering the sitcom ending a different show might have had. Then BoJack returns to his yacht, where he has to reject a still-awake Penny one last time. He leaves the door open.
Charlotte catches Penny and BoJack (thankfully still clothed) on his bed and drops the f-bomb for Season 2: “…if you ever try to contact me or my family again, I will f*cking kill you.”
The top three spots were incredibly difficult to parse, and any BoJack fan can probably tell which two we’re coming down to now. The episode pulls a bait-and-switch several times—as a viewer you can’t help but clutch your remote and go think…this is just a sitcom, right? He wouldn’t do it, would he? There are only a few “points of no return” for BoJack. New Mexico haunts him for the rest of the series, returning on his bender with Sarah Lynn in Season 3 and in the climax of the show in Season 6, when we find out Penny is still suffering from panic attacks due to her experience with BoJack. Wherever you may put it personally, almost sleeping with Penny is easily one of the worst things BoJack has ever done.
2: Assaulting Gina
Gina Cazador (Stephanie Beatriz) was BoJack’s co-star and girlfriend during his time on the TV show Philbert in Season 5. As BoJack’s addictions spiral out of control and he loses touch with reality, he ends up choking Gina for real during a stunt fight for the show. There’s no setup for this, no context, no pattern in his life leading up to this moment aside from his addictions and unwillingness to get help. Gina is at the height of her career at the time of the assault, having just become famous for her performance on Philbert. She refuses to go public with the assault, not wanting to be remembered as the girl BoJack choked; eventually in “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” we find out that the assault has caused her to have flashbacks while filming an action movie and gets her labeled as a “difficult” actress. Gina’s story is heartbreaking and all too familiar for women (or any people) who have lived through sexual or emotional trauma in real life. The victims who choose to stay silent for their own sake often end up suffering regardless, and the powerful perpetrators face no consequences or their actions.
Honorable mentions (have a laugh break for a moment):
- Stealing a car and causing an accident after Princess Carolyn said a baby was cute
- Wrestling Herb Hazzaz when Herb had cancer
- Leaving Todd in prison
- Forcing Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale into a life of crime
- Sleeping with Emily (knowing it would hurt Todd)
- Firing Princess Carolyn in “Best Thing That Ever Happened,” generally taking her for granted for 20 years
- Not calling Diane to reassure her after he was rescued in “The View from Halfway Down”
1: Enabling Sarah Lynn
Sarah Lynn is one of the most tragic characters on TV. Forced to be a child actress by her mother from the age of three, she made her debut on Horsin’ Around and rose steadily to fame from there. She eventually became a troubled international popstar by the age of 18, and faded into relative obscurity by the age of 30. Sarah Lynn’s relationship to BoJack Horseman was toxic and codependent from a young age; she saw him as her only true father figure, complicated by the fact that BoJack’s parents instilled in him a terrifying motto that he would then pass down to the young actress: “You don’t stop dancing, and you don’t stop smiling, and you give those people what they want.” There are too many times at which BoJack failed Sarah Lynn to name. When she reenters his life in the Season 1 episode “Prickly-Muffin,” BoJack and Sarah Lynn get high at his mansion and have sex. Over the next two seasons, they would stay in and out of contact, and Sarah Lynn would eventually get sober for nine months (though only because she heard drugs are “way better” after you stop doing them for a while). On the day of her nine-month sobriety anniversary, BoJack stumbles back into her life in S3E11, “That’s Too Much, Man!”
BoJack and Sarah Lynn go on a wild drug-fueled bender, eventually leading to Sarah Lynn finding heroin in the glove compartment of BoJack’s car. They snort the heroin, black out, and eventually wind up at the planetarium at Griffith Park Observatory, where Sarah Lynn dies from a heroin overdose with her head on BoJack’s shoulder.
The episode is dotted with references to Sarah Lynn wanting to have gone to college and become an architect instead of an actress. We get a glimpse of the person she could’ve been without BoJack and drugs when she wins an Oscar on the last night of their bender. And yet, BoJack failed her every step of the way. We find out in Season 6’s “Xerox of a Xerox” that BoJack waited 17 minutes before he called an ambulance the night Sarah Lynn died. He failed her even after death.
The brilliance of BoJack Horseman is how it allows us to see our humanity through the eyes of others—and yes, through the eyes of horses. Few people have struggled through life as recklessly as BoJack, but his journey reminds us that it’s never too late to take responsibility for our own actions. At any point in his life, if BoJack had sought help, he may have been able to save Sarah Lynn. It was his avoidance of pain, his avoidance of responsibility and reality, that eventually killed her. (Addiction as well, which is an illness, not a choice, but is not the defining factor of BoJack’s life.) The show even gives us tools to react to the “BoJacks” in our lives: Princess Carolyn seeks out personal and professional boundaries; Todd becomes a casual friend; Diane says goodbye to that part of her life. In the ranking of BoJack’s worst moments, we can be reminded that they were avoidable. It would have only taken introspection and compassion.
What else is there to say? That’s too much, man.