The Quest for Relevance for the One-Time Famous: BoJack Horseman and The Comeback

11 Sep

One Trick Pony

Having watched BoJack Horseman and The Comeback nearly back to back, I was stunned by the similarities. Both star has-been actors who were at the peak of their games in the early ‘90s starring on cheesy but commercially successful sitcoms that made them stars. Both live in the past constantly. They still see themselves as the stars they once were, even as the world has moved beyond and past them. They were so caught up in an unexpectedly easy and quick fame that their self-worth become to inexorably tied up in their popularity; their confidence was no longer their own, it was a meter which went up and down based on the vagaries of the American viewing population. And when they population moved on, they didn’t know what they were and they didn’t know who to be. Both were materially successful. They had money; they lived nice, comfortable, lives, despite their lack of employment. But that wasn’t enough. They needed what fame gave them. They were insecure, needy, jealous of other, younger stars who looked to have what they had 15 years ago. BoJack was openly so; Valerie less so, but it was clear that she still thought she was a star, and surrounded herself with people who thought likewise.

Both were given an opportunity to get back into the limelight after years on the sideline. Both of these opportunities were not new; they were a version of the old, an attempt to revisit has-beens and tell their stories. Both new opportunities seemed oddly invasive; for Val, a documentary following her everywhere, and for BoJack a tell-all memoir. Both opportunities veered deeply into their subject’s lives; leaving no stone unturned, revealing aspects that most people wouldn’t want released into the public

Both put their trust in a colleague who they believed to be their friend, their advocate, looking to tell their side of the story, even while they agreed, at the beginning of the venture that their story was to be told warts and all. BoJack asks for a tell-all memoir that’s good, not a load of crap. Valerie knows her story is being told on every camera – she does her part to make sure the cameras are everywhere. Both feel incredibly upset at the completion of their respective projects – their trust was betrayed. Diane turned on BoJack, writing a memoir that was a huge success for her but made him look like the huge asshole we know he is. He believed she had his best interests in mind. The Comeback debuts and immediately distorts Valerie’s words, takes them incredibly out of context, and shows of her worst moments without showing the villain that antagonist Paulie G had been. Val felt like Jane who she trusted had turned on her completely.

And yet, in the ultimate celebrity culture twist, both projects become bizarre unexpected successes, for exactly the reasons BoJack and Val had felt betrayed and vulnerable and humiliated. Everybody’s talking about the double vomit scene; it’s the talk of the town leading to the Comeback getting an immediate pick up, which is unheard of. BoJack’s book is a smash; everyone is fascinated by his story, and if not quite empathetic, at least interested, and some people relate; he’s real, and true, and if still an asshole, it moves books.

More than anything, both are relevant again. Both have traded their dignity and their self-worth for relevance and both, while still indignant about their treatment, are kind of happy with that trade. There’s a huge conflict; both are insecure and desperate to be as popular as they once were so badly that, though they never would have said that’s what they would have wanted at the beginning, in the end, were willing to trade their confidence and sense of selves to be hits.

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