A Complete Analysis Of BoJack Horseman’s Main Characters And The Internal Battles They Face

Digging deep into the issues that plague the characters of this popular Netflix series

Netflix's animated series BoJack Horseman tells the story of a washed-up 90s sitcom star as he stumbles through the entertainment industry and struggles with his inner demons. Along the way, we also witness the trials and tribulations of his closest friends: Diane, an up-and-coming writer who ghostwrites BoJack's memoir; Todd, a high school dropout living in BoJack's living room; Princess Carolyn, BoJack's agent and former lover; and Mr. Peanutbutter, BoJack's optimistic rival.

The series masks its darker subject matters with comedy and whimsical character design, but on a deeper level, the show's focus is on the characters' internal struggles and how they impact the choices they make. One reason the show has gained such a large, loyal following is because of how raw and relatable BoJack and his associates are. We learn valuable lessons through their antics, and they remind us how imperfect we are as humans and how heavily our own thoughts can affect us.

bojack horseman diane nguyen todd chavez princess carolyn mr peanutbutter
Image Source: IndieWire

Although each character has unique internal battles they face, there are a few that seem to resonate with almost all of them.

The most prevalent theme the show touches on is happiness — what it means to be happy, and how to achieve it. Much like in real life, the residents of Hollywoo are all just chasing happiness, with some being more aggressive in attaining it than others. Happiness translates to something different for each of the characters, and it constantly changes for each of them throughout the show.

Additionally, almost all of them seem to be plagued by a traumatic childhood, or a specific childhood event. The show spends a calculated amount of time delving into the characters' lives before they moved to LA, and the relationships they had with their parents. 

The last issue the characters seem to have in common is the journey of finding oneself. They all struggle with understanding who they are and what their purpose is in the world. They all want to make significant contributions to society and be remembered fondly. This is tied very closely with understanding their happiness, as they all believe they will be happy once they discover their true selves.

As if this wasn't enough to worry about already, there are additional battles they face that are unique to each character, which drives their individual story arcs. Below, we'll go through all the internal battles the characters of this series face.

BoJack Horseman

bojack horseman mirror
Image Source: The Verge

As the show's star, BoJack is used as a vessel for the show's most prevalent themes: addiction, depression, self-loathing, and more. The show focuses on his story as he tries to come to terms with the decisions he has made and be a better person. Whether or not he achieves that is debated throughout the entire series, both by others and within himself.

At multiple points in the show, BoJack references this need to be good. He repeatedly tells everyone who will listen that he wants to be a good person, and needs others to validate him. Particularly, he craves approval from Diane, who he believes knows him better than anyone. He even goes as far as crashing a ghostwriters' panel that Diane is on following the release of his book to confront her about the subject. He begs her to tell him he can be a good person because deep down he doesn't believe it himself.

This is due in large part to his traumatic childhood. His father, a scorned writer, resented him for being an unplanned pregnancy that he feels changed the course of his life for the worse. His mother, the heiress to a sugar company, also resented him for "ruining her," and continued to despise him well into his adult life for choosing a profession she had no respect for. 

As a result, both of BoJack's parents belittled him and made him feel as if everything that was wrong with the world was his fault. As an adult, the trauma from this experience continues to haunt him and heavily influences his inability to move forward. He wants to feel good about himself, he says, but he doesn't know how. No one ever gave him the tools to do so.

In his own words, BoJack believes his battle to be that his parents gave him an internalized hatred of horses which developed into self-hatred and a feeling that he needs to be punished. However, since he's a celebrity no one punishes him, so he drinks. I think Mr. Peanutbutter summarized it best in season 3:

"BoJack is a damaged individual struggling against a sea of demons. Many self-created, but still all too real."

His struggle with substance abuse can be traced all the way back to his childhood, as both of his parents were alcoholics and kept spirits lying around the house. The first time he had alcohol, it was because both of his parents had passed out from drinking, seemingly from an open bottle they left out on the living room table. Young BoJack took a swig out of the bottle and curled up next to his mother, craving a closer connection to his parents. 

The next time he drank, he was still a small child, not much bigger than he was the first time he drank. He walked in on his father cheating with his secretary, and his father decided to give him a rum and coke to make him pass out. He later used the drink to blackmail him into silence.

These experiences led BoJack to swear off of alcohol and refuse drinking entirely, but he only made it so many years in Hollywoo before peer pressure took hold and he began drinking regularly. 

We can assume his drug consumption also developed as a result of his involvement with the industry, as he was surrounded by enablers as soon as he became famous. He mixes pills with alcohol to form a dangerous concoction that numbs his internal and external pain. 

Unable to find satisfaction in his current self, BoJack chooses to live in the past, which is another of the battles we see him struggle with throughout the series. He spends an uncanny amount of time rewatching the old sitcom he starred on, Horsin' Around. His years as the horse from Horsin' Around were his best years — he was one of Hollywoo's biggest stars, and for a while, he had the validation he so desperately craved.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the show was eventually canceled after 9 seasons. He slowly falls out of the spotlight, and it takes him 11 years before he takes on another major project. Unfortunately, that project receives horrible reviews, and his hopes of reviving his career are crushed. 

Season 1 of BoJack Horseman kicks off about 7 years later, with BoJack choosing to rewatch Horsin' Around all day and pretend he is still the person he sees on the screen. Throughout the show, we see him watching this sitcom whenever he has some alone time. It's his happy place — a reminder that his life once had meaning. It is the one good thing he acknowledges about his legacy, which is why it's understandable how heartbreaking it was for him to ultimately be edited out of it.

The constant misfortunes in his life drive him to depression, which we really start to see unfold in seasons 3 and 4. He spends years trying to attribute meaning to his life, but he realizes that life is a cycle of wanting things, and then being dissatisfied when you get them. Diane put it like this:

"That’s the problem with life, right? Either you know what you want and you don’t get what you want, or you get what you want and then you don’t know what you want."

When it starts to sink in that he may never feel fulfilled, his self-loathing takes complete hold of him. He genuinely believes he is a bad person, and begins to act rather recklessly to match the sentiment. He develops this belief that he ruins not only himself but the people around him:

"I’m poison. I’ve got poison inside me and I destroy everything I touch."

Throughout the series, he makes a variety of questionable decisions all stemming from his internalized views of himself and his relationships with other people. He constantly allows others to take the fall for his actions, interferes in others' lives for his own selfish gains, and exercises his power over women in almost every way possible. Why? "The Closer" sums it up for him when she says he "externalizes his feelings [about himself] into actions:"

"When you do bad things, you have something you can point to when people eventually leave you. It's not you, you tell yourself, it's that bad thing you did."

BoJack's internal battles take the main stage in this series, but he is not the only one going through a major amount of troubles.

Diane Nguyen

diane nguyen writing
Image Source: Variety

While BoJack's depression is evident, Diane is the character that we see struggle with this mental illness from start to finish. 

Early on in the series, Diane admits to Mr. Peanutbutter that she isn't happy with her life. She knows she likes to write, but she feels her life doesn't have a purpose. She expresses that she wants to change her life and find her reason to get out of bed every morning. This feeling is the core of her marriage problems, as she is convinced something needs to change for her to be happy. On the contrary, her husband, Mr. Peanutbutter, shies away from change. 

Diane puts her all into her work and slowly makes a name for herself in the industry, but even after her apparent success, she finds herself dissatisfied with everything. In earlier seasons, she tries to ignore the feeling and just keep going. She gives us this memorable quote in the process:

"I’m just trying to get through each day, I can’t keep asking myself am I happy, am I happy? It just makes me more miserable… I don’t know if I believe in it, real lasting happiness."

However as time goes on and she continues to feel worse and worse, the feeling overcomes her. She admits to BoJack in season 4 that she doesn't understand why she can't be happy, and that she feels like a pit that good things fall into. She can't envision a life in which she or her actions would be truly good things. 

What is even more discouraging to her is the fact that she tried to get help, but nothing seems to work for her. She goes to therapy regularly at one point, but she still feels horrible all the time. It isn't until Guy, her love interest in later seasons, convinces her to consistently take medication for her depression that we start to see her heal. 

Much like BoJack, a large part of her depression and self-doubt come from her childhood trauma. She came from unsupportive parents and brothers that made her life miserable. She never felt accepted in her family, leaving her craving validation from society. Unfortunately, as she got older she didn't get much of that either.

On top of the unfair treatment she received at home, she was bullied heavily all throughout high school. The experience was extremely traumatic for her, and shaped the way she viewed herself well into her adult years. Diane often refers to herself as a nerd throughout the series, indicating that she hasn't been able to shake this identity.

She is vocal about her experience of being bullied and often cracks jokes about it mid-conversation, indicating it still bothers her. BoJack often uses this weakness to hurt her, calling her uncool or nerdy whenever he wants to strike a nerve. It is still something that haunts her, and in Hollywoo, she perpetuates this identity by considering everyone else to be the "cool kids" and her to be the "nerd" of the industry. 

Movie star Alexi Brosefino reassures Diane about her place in the world when she refers to him and his friends in this way:

"This isn’t high school. There's no nerds and no cool kids. We’re all adults. We're hanging out together and having a good time.

You belong wherever you want to belong, Diane."

In order to deal with all of this trauma, Diane is hell-bent on writing a memoir. She hopes that little girls who might be going through the same thing might read her book and feel better, and that would give her life meaning. On the flip side, not writing the memoir would devastate her even further. She says,

"If I don't [write the memoir], that means that all the damage I got isn’t good damage. It’s just damage. I got nothing out of it and all those years I was miserable was for nothing."

In later seasons, she suffers from severe writer's block. Her depression and self-doubts stifle her creativity, and she spends weeks writing gibberish instead. Although it isn't clear exactly how her process of healing went, she ultimately ends up taking her friends' advice and writing a different book that, according to Princess Carolyn, would also help young girls feel less alone. She feels satisfied in this, and things begin to look up for her.

Todd Chavez

todd chavez
Image Source: Vulture

Todd is a bit of an outlier in the Hollywoo industry circle. After being kicked out of the house at 18 by his mother, he ends up living on BoJack's couch after being in the right place at the right time after a party. Although things have a way of always working out for Todd throughout the series, he struggles with his identity and self-worth just like everyone else.

As we follow Todd's progression, we see that he is determined to get money and status by any means possible. He comes up with numerous wacky projects and business ventures trying to find something that would take off. As he matures, he doesn't want to be known as a slacker. He wants to be someone of importance in the world, and although he doesn't have an education, he relies on his entrepreneurial tendencies and good luck. 

In later seasons, we realize that Todd's relentlessness to succeed stems from his relationship with his parents. After he dropped out of high school, his mother and stepfather lost faith in him. At the time, he sat in the house playing video games all day, which ultimately led to his mother's decision to give him the boot. Todd mentions that his mother thinks he's a joke and his stepfather think's he's a screw-up, and he desperately wants to prove them wrong. 

In addition to trying to make a name for himself, Todd also struggles with his sexuality throughout the series. Early on, we see him react awkwardly to physical situations, and more definitively, we see him shy away from any kind of sexual activity. His first romantic interest accuses him of being gay, which he denies. However, it's evident that the subject is complicated for him:

"I'm not gay. At least, 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."

In season 4, this same love interest mentions asexuality, and it intrigues him. After a little bit of soul searching, he eventually settles on this and reveals to BoJack that he is an asexual man. Unfortunately for Todd, this does not lead to the end of his romantic troubles.

Todd happens to be an asexual who is romantic, in a society where demographically, a larger percentage of asexuals are also aromantic. This makes it difficult for Todd to find love, and he goes through a couple of failed relationships before finally finding someone who matches his energy. 

This helps to solidify his sense of self, but he does not truly feel satisfaction until he secures a job, an apartment, and finally, his mother's apology and approval. With plenty of hard work, he is eventually able to figure his life out and get himself on the right track.

Princess Carolyn

princess carolyn working
Image Source: Medium

Princess Carolyn is known for being a resourceful and dependable friend to those around her. She lends a helping hand to everyone she knows and provides opportunities for all of her friends to be successful with her. However, she struggles to attain success by her own standards and has to work twice as hard to make a name for herself in her industry.

The show follows Princess Carolyn as she slowly advances in her career. She starts off being an agent's assistant for 14 years. During those 14 years, she worked her butt off only to be laughed at whenever she mentioned her dream of being an agent to her boss. Sexism is rampant in her profession, and being a female, she had to do much more than anyone else to prove herself.

Eventually, she was spontaneously promoted to an agent, and she felt like she was finally going to "make it after all." However, after a handful of years as an agent and a string of failures around the middle of the show, she takes a hiatus to re-evaluate what she wants out of her career and to focus on starting a family.

Starting a family also proved to be difficult for Princess Carolyn, as her character also suffers from infertility and miscarriages throughout her life. Her first miscarriage occurred after an accidental pregnancy in her teenage years, which at the time, she welcomed. However, as she got older and decided to try for children, the continued miscarriages became a major physical and emotional burden on her.

To her, having children of her own is necessary to sustain her self-worth as a woman, and not being able to conceive makes her feel as if she had failed. After her fifth failed pregnancy with her boyfriend in season 4, she dismisses his suggestion of looking at other options such as adoption for this very reason, saying, 

"We don’t need other options. My mother had 12 kids; my body was made for this."

Unfortunately, she ends up running low on eggs and eventually gives up on the idea of conceiving herself. After breaking up with her boyfriend and once again re-evaluating her life, she decides to adopt as a single parent. 

The adoption process is extremely strenuous for her but after months of trying she finally picks up a baby of her own from the hospital. Princess Carolyn thinks she will feel fulfilled now that she is a mother, but as we have learned from watching the show, things are never that easy.

Once she gets settled in with her baby, she struggles with balancing motherhood, her career, and her personal life. The child requires most of her attention, but her job requires just about the same amount, and she struggles to find time for both without help. Again, she finds herself questioning her worth as a woman because she sees other women in her field doing it all, and she wonders why she can't seem to handle it. 

These feelings snowball into insecurities about her fitness to be a mother, and whether or not she is cut out for it like she thought she was. Her desperation is put on full display when she vents to her arch-nemesis about her doubts:

"So, there's work, right? I mean, work makes sense to me. And I'm good at it. I don't feel that way about my baby. I don't think I'm feeling what I'm supposed to feel. What I thought I would feel.

I mean, I love her, of course I do. Of course I love my daughter. But I don't know if I love her. I know I'm a terrible person for even thinking it, but... what if it never happens?"

Ultimately, she struggles with finding happiness just like her associates. She thought having a baby would make her happy, but now that she has that and isn't feeling happy, she is uncertain about what happiness would look like for her, She develops a fear that she may never be happy, even after getting everything she has been working towards.

However, in typical Princess Carolyn fashion, she continues to roll with the punches and keep it pushing. After some reassurance and help from the people around her, she is able to strike a balance that works for her and excel in all of her ventures. The show ends with her getting married, and at the wedding, she confides in BoJack about her fears for the future. She admits she's afraid that after all of these good things happening in her life, she still won' be happy and will end up losing herself in all the changes.

He reassures her, and she realizes that everything will be okay in the end. 

Mr. Peanutbutter

mr peanutbutter
Image Source: Buzzfeed

Even the show's most optimistic character faces his own inner demons from time to time. 

While Mr. Peanutbutter seems to have had a regular childhood, his adult life has been plagued by a series of failed marriages. Due to this, he developed abandonment issues, and he admitted to Todd that he is afraid to commit again for fear of being left once more. 

This fear also leads to him being over-extravagant in his romantic gestures. Much like BoJack, he has an internalized belief that big gestures will get people to love you. This actually has the opposite effect on his wife, Diane, as she has expressed to him multiple times that she is overwhelmed by big gestures. However, Mr. Peanutbutter relies on his own view of the world to guide his decisions and does not tend to take others' feelings into consideration.

This mistake leads to the very thing he fears most: another divorce. Luckily for him, he meets a new lady shortly after, and his hope for love is once again restored. His new girlfriend is in her mid to late 20s and enjoys grandiose gestures. Things seem to be looking up, but due to the self-destructive nature of the characters, things don't stay that way for long.

With a little reality check from Diane at BoJack's Halloween party, Mr. Peanutbutter realizes that he may be the problem in all of his relationships. Diane helps him come to the conclusion that because he dates younger women, they tend to change while he stays the same. This conversation ultimately leads to a couple of sexy rendezvous between the ex-lovers, which puts his relationship with his new girlfriend in jeopardy.

After these slip-ups, Mr. Peanutbutter struggles with crippling guilt and eventually tells his girlfriend the truth. Although they try to work it out, she ends up leaving him for a business opportunity, and he is left alone to reflect on his dating patterns and quality as a partner.

Although these revelations weigh heavily on Mr. Peanutbutter's mind and the publicized scandal briefly affects his reputation, he eventually cheers up and returns to his normal jolly antics.

The characters of this animated series are used to showcase some of the most sensitive struggles of the human experience. The show is loved so deeply because it gives exposure to these sensitive topics while also providing top-notch entertainment. As a result, the characters feel much more relatable and they make a deeper, longer-lasting impression on the audience.

Watching the characters struggle with their internal battles, some of which mirror my own, created a loyal fan out of me and made me feel less alone. I'm sure other fans feel the same, and appreciate the show for making them feel seen.

Writer, blogger, and content creator from Sunny San Diego. When she isn’t writing, you can find her exploring, eating, and watching Netflix.

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