Bojack Horseman

I have a confession: the past 6 hours were spent in bed, crushing the entire second season of the netflix original Bojack Horseman.

I’m not much of a TV junkie, but I do have a handful of shows which manage to coax a “season-crushing marathon” out of me.  Actually, there are only a handful of shows that catch my attention long enough to get me to keep watching these days.

I used to watch TV all the time.  I devoured episode after episode, found new shows, watched everything it had to offer, then moved onto the next.  And this was only a couple years ago; I watched Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Breaking Bad, Big Bang Theory, Merlin, Doctor Who, Sherlock… all shows I got into late and had multiple seasons to watch to catch up.

Hell, Breaking Bad I never watched until the entire show had wrapped up, and I marathonned the entire thing from beginning to end in a single week, skipping school in the process.  That week was simultaneously one of my proudest achievements and biggest regrets.  I love that I did that, that I can say that, but I felt like utter shit by the end of the week.

Then I started to get disillusioned from TV shows.  I finished Breaking Bad.  I stopped watching Bob’s Burgers and Doctor Who, I hate the Big Bang Theory now, Archer got boring, and Merlin had too many filler episodes but I managed to finish it.  It’s not that I hate TV shows, but my patience and taste for them has become more refined.  As in only a current handful can hold my attention these days.

Orange is the New Black, Twin Peaks (I’m late to that party, but I love Lynch and am currently watching those at a rate of about two episodes per week), and Bojack Horseman.  I haven’t really gotten invested in anything else for the last year and a bit more.

Anyways, enough of that unnecessarily protracted backstory Brief Aside, onto the meat of this post.

Bojack Horseman debuted last summer and quickly took the mantle of My Favourite TV Show (Netflix Original, but it’s episodic so it’s a TV Show to me), and there is an abundance of reasons for that.

If I were to give one of those one-line reviews you see flashing on trailers for new movies and shows, it would read “Gut-wrenching hilarity with startling moments of depth and sophisticated dark humour.” or something along those lines.

Bojack Horseman (Hereon referred to as BJ for BoJack and for fun) is a very well-written, solid show which does a lot of things right.  For one, it has no “filler episodes.”  If a show has “filler episodes” it probably means that show has terrible writing and the plot isn’t as concise as it should be.  Every scene shown fulfills a purpose of advancing the plot, or else being entertaining, and those that have no relation to the plot are generally 2-3 second clips of the show playing with it’s world.  Otherwise the entire thing is very driven, the characters rich and real, emotionally charged, and perfectly balances the adult themes of depression and commitment and whatnot with silly jokes.

The world it takes place in is a parody of our own where animals are anthropomorphic and live right alongside humans as, well, basically humans with fur and animal heads.  People acknowledge each other for what they are – BJ is a horse, and people call him a horse – and the animals adopt a lot of characteristics of the animals they’re based off of, but they live as people with people and even date/breed with humans.  The fact that animals are people is just an accepted fact in the show, and allows for a lot of small jokes.  There will be a short clip of a bird woman leaning over her stroller, puking into the mouth of her bird baby here, or a short clip of pidgeon people flapping their arms and flying there.  But the animal-people jokes aren’t just contained in short 3 second clips.  Characteristics of the animal side permeate into the character.  For example, BJ, at one point in season 1, explains that because he is a horse, he has to drink way more than any human male could drink just to get tipsy.  And consistently throughout the show you see him drinking far more than a human could handle.

As the show goes on they play with that world they’ve built more and more, and in the second season an entire episode deals with the difference between “people animals” and “food animals,” but I won’t go into that.

The main theme of BJ is, in my opinion, happiness, and how to attain it.  BJ struggles to be happy.  Other characters – Diane, Princess Karoline – have similar struggles.  Other people who have their dream job are happy.  At th end of the first season, BJ just landed a movie role to play his role model growing up, Secretariat, a race horse, and yet he’s still not happy.  But why not?

The show touches on many reasons, from his upbringing to choices he made in the past, but probably more importantly choices he still makes in the present that just exacerbate his situation and drive him deeper into his hole of wallowing in self-loathing.

The first episode of season 2 is particularly troubling.  BJs mother tells him near the end, “You were born broken; it is your birthright,” and being broken becomes a theme that resurfaces throughout.  He was born broken, so how can he become whole?  And that’s the important struggle in the season, to become whole, to find that happiness despite what’s already in his past, despite what’s still in his present.  It’s a very relatable struggle, I think, and if not than written well enough that the average watcher can pity BJ and root for him.  And even if the more serious under-and-overtones of the show don’t attract certain watchers, the comedy of BJ still could.  There’s a wide breadth of characters, all very defined in their personalities and actions, all fleshed out with their own struggles and they all bring a topic, be it serious or silly, something to talk about, to bring to the table.

I’m going to stop now because after six hours of watching a TV and another hour of staring at my laptop screen my eyes are getting pretty strained.  It’s a great day to flee from my shackles of technology to the outdoors, maybe read a little, maybe ruminate further on BJ.  Who knows, but I gotta get out of here.

Thanks again for reading, expect a book review from me in about two weeks tops 🙂

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A Marker to Measure Drift

Or rather, as the author Alexander Maksik titled it, “a marker to measure drift.”  Notice the lack of capitalization.

You just know this book is gonna be literary as fuck.

First off I just wanna say that I’m really not used to blogging or keeping consistent with posts.  I was hoping to be able to have a first review up within a week of the intro, but things didn’t work out, and I doubt they will work out that well for a while.  It may take a bit for blogging to (hopefully) become a weekly routine.  Anyways.

I had a lot of thoughts while reading “a marker to measure drift” (here on referred to as ‘marker’).  Not all quite pertaining to the novel or really anything about the novel, but then probably just as many spun directly from ‘maker’s narrative.

‘marker’ is the second novel by fairly new author Maksik, whose debut novel ‘You Deserve Nothing’ is one of my more favourite recent reads (within the last two years).  Overall, both novels of his share some similarities in beautifully crafted and masterfully rendered prose, but there are some stark differences, mainly in the type of story (‘Nothing’ as a concept is a topic that pervades our society’s conversations often, whereas ‘marker’ tackles more ambitious material) and execution.

To be blunt, ‘marker’ suffered in the execution department.

Not to spoil too much, ‘marker’ tells the tale of a Liberian refugee, homeless and utterly alone and starving.  She’s ‘living’ in a cave just off the shore of a very touristy Greek Island.  In the beginning she has absolutely nothing to her name and we know nothing of her past, but through her actions and interactions we begin to learn of the kind of person she is.

First and foremost, that homelessness and the terrible loss in her past constantly hinted at throughout have not stripped her of her dignity.  She is very careful about how she appears in the eyes of the others.  She is afraid of losing and makes the choice to lie about her life rather than face the pity and mercy of tourists and residents of the island, or face the condescension of her parents* and a particular Black Dude who she has a few encounters with.

*Although she’s alone, right off the bat the protag is having visions of her mother and her father and her sister, talking to her, giving her advice, and whatnot.

As the story progresses, we begin to learn more about her past, through specific details and interactions with her hallucinated family.  In fact, as the novel wears on, the fabric between reality and the past seen in the protag’s head unravels and she starts to relive more and more of her past in between lines of dialogue with another character, or even just in between moments of loneliness.

Overall I quite enjoyed this book.  The beginning was strong, it pulled me right into the character and the narrative.  However I think around ten percent in Maksik dropped the ball a little and whatever effect he was going for was lost on me.  A lot of the language felt almost too contrived, like maybe he wrote something beautiful, proofread his work, decided “this shit isn’t artsy-as-fuck enough,” and then rewrote a lot of passages with the intention being for ‘literary poetic writing’ (or something) instead of actually grounding the reader into the character’s world, or at least the characters head.

In other words, I found his language began to alienate the actual narrative at hand and I found myself drifting off into thoughts about other things in life completely unrelated to the book while my eyes continued to shift down page after page.  Then I’d stop, realize I took in literally nothing, and reread the past ten pages and find it all seemed like new material to me.

Still I pushed through.  I enjoyed his first novel so much that I just can’t imagine a world where I haven’t read all of the novels he puts out, so on that basis, I pushed through.

And I’m very glad I pushed through.  The book is divided into four parts, one and three being the girthiest, most substantial parts, whereas part 2 is kind of a transitory section leading into the second main arc of the story and part four is the revelation, the climax, the part where all hints of the first three parts culminates into the answers we have been waiting for.

While part one became the trudge I described above, part two began to really hook me back in and by part three I was engrossed.  Couldn’t stop reading.

I was at work and I neglected a day of work duties to finish this book.

The second half was overall a better experience because a lot of the bullshit language from before had subsided.  Everything seemed more grounded in the narrative.  Things were happening and tension was rising, both in the external narrative and the internal memories.  Part three was the strong point of the novel and what made reading it worth it.  By this time, the protag had been interacting with her hallucinated parents so much that the mother and father had coyly slithered into my empathies as real, living characters, but now they were getting more fleshed out themselves, their faults and their problems began to pervade the memories and short scenes were shown that left me with a deep dread about the revelation of the protag’s past I knew we were coming to.  The execution that Maksik seemed to be missing for the first hundred-ish pages was back in full attention.  Some scenes of only a page length were so powerful on their own they riled certain emotions in me I wasn’t sure could be riled in such a short time.

But then the ending came, the revelation came, and all that execution that was beautifully, 100% present in ‘You Deserve Nothing’ and had just made a triumphant comeback kinda dissipated, really quickly.  The tone of the book pulled a one-eighty.  I was actually pretty baffled by what occurred.  Considering how much effort he must have put in to create “as fucking literary as possible” for the first half of the book, I was pretty shocked that the ending of the book slipped in the complete opposite direction.

That direction being “melodramatic mystery novel” wherein the evil character explains all of the carefully constructed plots and mysteries and backstabbings to the main detective character before trying to kill him.

Seriously it felt like the ending to a Harry Potter book or some shit.  And I’d know, since I literally just finished reading the Harry Potter series (for the first time, mind you) a week before starting ‘marker’.

In this case the protag finally decides to share her story to a resident of this island.  I think the effect Maksik was going for was that, after all her experiences and her mind slowly cracking, the protag settles down and develops a somewhat trusting relationship with a waiter at a restaurant and finally feels ready to get her story off her chest.

That attempt was hamfisted, however, and it came off more as Maksik suddenly throwing all nuance aside to stuff The Truth down our throats, all the while the narrator commenting on the protag feeling power over this naive girl she’s telling the story to because she has a past that, just hearing about, is terrible and harmful.  And that just seemed completely out of sync with the protag’s character so far.

The story had been full of subtle revelations and powerful scenes beforehand.  To have everything suddenly explained in excruciating detail served only to undermine the magic worked beforehand and circumvent any empathy for the character or her story I had developed so far.  Based on the material, I should have felt more devastated.  

But no.

I didn’t.  I was completely thrown out of the narrative and decided to trudge through only because of my iron-hard resolution to read all of Maksik’s novels.

Honestly I’m pretty pissed Maksik, his editors, and his publishers allowed the book to get out with that crippling wound of an ending.  Having everything explained is the cliche’d way to end a novel dripping with mystery and suspense.  But the mystery and suspense heretofore was always subtle, nuanced, and secondary to what I thought was the higher purpose of the novel – leave the reader stranded in the protagonist’s scattered mind.  Instead Maksik exploits the real life uprising against President Taylor of Liberia and the tragedy surrounding it** to try to force empathy and desolation down his reader’s throats.

** The protagonist was raised in Liberia during the time period of President Taylor’s reign.

For some reason the conclusion became more about that political event than the character’s current place and mental deterioration as the whole first ninety percent of the book seemed to be about.

It was a quick and easy attempt to create an ending, I think, to appease the need for resolution, the desire for the explanation all the previous hints alluded to.

But it was not what this book should have included or should have been about.  I was hoping that maybe he’d subvert that expectation, maybe he’d leave the reader as isolated from reality as the protagonist was from her previous life.  Maybe he’d offer more scenes of memory that, somebody who took the time to think about it, could stitch together into the true story of her past.  Instead he took the lazy way out.

With all of that considered, this book is still a fantastic read.  And I would recommend it.  The third part by itself makes the whole read worth it, and if anything, stopping at the close of the third part is more along the lines of the ending I was expecting.  Mostly unresolved but still pointing the reader to the possibility that the protagonist would be alright in the future.

In closing, I’ll rate ‘marker to measure drift’ three good parts out of four.  I know I gave the first part beef, but it was still good.  It just wasn’t exceptional.  I’d suggest you just tear the fourth part out and throw it in a fire before you begin reading so that the novel ends in a decent place.  Or, if you really want to know the protagonist’s past, tear out the fourth part and store it somewhere else.  That way you can finish the novel as a decent novel, then afterwards read the fourth part as a separate piece, a companion story of sorts, to learn about her past.

It’s doesn’t belong in the book though.  Read it separately.