On Horses and Mad Scientists

I like Rick and Morty. I love Bojack Horseman.

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On the surface, the two shows couldn't be more different. Bojack Horseman is set in a fictional alternate universe where animals are people (and regular people are also people) and the story circles around characters in the entertainment industry. Rick and Morty is set in our world, only the mad scientist Rick has access to the whole universe via a portal gun, and he and his grandson Morty go on (decidedly unwholesome) adventures and capers.

However, despite their difference in genre, the two shows  are in many ways two sides of the same coin. 

Both Bojack and R&M have characters that struggle to find meaning, that combat the gnawing and painful knowledge that none of this matters, that confront the cruel randomness that is life and the universe. Both shows orbit a nihilistic void and examines depression, loneliness, and emptiness, all through sharp and cutting comedy that slices straight to the heart of all our fears and doubts and uncertainties.

R&M does this with an intentional brutality. People and populations are wiped out, the entirety of Earth is destroyed horrifically then replaced with an alternate dimension version of everyone, sweet candy characters commit atrocities, heroes are nothing but brutal disappointments, and darkness lurks around every corner and (more terrifyingly) seeps from deep within the hearts of the main characters - and yet each week semi-status quo is achieved, and life goes on. Life and the universe is meaningless and scary and terrible and funny; nothing matters and as such, we suffer - but we push on in suffering. We persevere and endure existence. 

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Bojack also has its characters confront the emptiness and meaninglessness of their lives. Terrible things happen to good people, good things happen to terrible people, and super rarely, good things happen to good people - only for them to give into the terrible part of them and wreck everything. Or else good things happen to good people, only to have random terrible things follow because life is a chaotic and meaningless romp through luck and chance.

And yet, in contrast to R&M, the characters of Bojack continue to struggle and seek happiness and redemption, even as the show demonstrates time and again how good people don’t get just desserts and emptiness is consuming. Somehow, the show does so in a way that still gives you reasons to hope, to fight, to dream, to search, despite the cruel vagaries of life. 

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Bojack, Princess Carolyn, Diane, and Mr. Peanutbutter try to be better people in spite of everything. Rick regularly fights against doing "good" as a false construct of subjective morality, regularly rejects any possible "redemption," and breaks the fourth wall to make fun of and comment and deny the desire of the viewer for things to end neatly or with happiness. And yet... he still finds himself making concessions for his family, and (after letting Morty suffer plenty, and causing some of the suffering himself, and despite consistently rejecting the notion or importance of relationships and ties) he still continues to exist and have rare moments of kindness.  

R&M says nothing matters and we must suffer existence. That intelligence and self awareness is pain. Bojack says nothing matters and yet somehow existence holds joys. That self awareness is worth suffering for. They’re the optimistic and pessimistic sides to the same nihilistic coin. 

I'll probably keep watching both shows. Rick and Morty is wicked sharp and funny and brutal. The sci-fi elements are clever and thought provoking, and the questions of morality are blunt and difficult and brilliant. Bojack is also ruthless and hilarious and heartbreaking, but for me, it captures the essence of where I'm currently at:

Nothing matters, but you still gotta try, and trying in and of itself makes it all worth it.