ABOUT OUR GUEST
Hannah Giorgis (she/her) is a staff writer at The Atlantic, and her work has appeared in publications including New York Times magazine, Pitchfork, Bon Appétit, and The Guardian.
SOME SUGGESTED RESOURCES FROM SANDY
If you want to learn more about lobotomy, Dr. Peter Breggin has an informative page.
Luke Dittrich’s Patient H.M., which has lots of background about lobotomy, telling the story of his grandfather, a prominent lobotomist, and his even more famous patient.
Here’s a StoryCorps podcast episode about another lobotomy patient’s experiences.
Here are some other books you may find interesting.
SANDY ALLEN: It’s a really good question: why start a podcast about mental health with a cartoon about an alcoholic horse?
HANNAH GIORGIS: (laughs) No, I mean the thing I love about this show is that people call it ‘the depressed horse show,’ right?
SANDY: ‘The depressed horse show.’ Yeah.
HANNAH: And I think in that — and in the sort of casual way that we talk about BoJack being depressed or being anxious, and sort of all the other characters going through what they go through, there are opportunities to get into things that other people — or that, you know, people in the real world who are not animated — have experienced.
[MAD CHAT THEME MUSIC]
SANDY: This is Mad Chat, a podcast where we question the relationship between madness, mental health, and pop culture. I’m your host, Sandy Allen. I’m a writer and the author of A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia. Today we are talking about my favorite cartoon about an alcoholic horse: BoJack Horseman.
[BOJACK HORSEMAN THEME MUSIC]
SANDY: BoJack Horseman has aired for five seasons on Netflix. A sixth is now in the works, and it’s also airing on Comedy Central. The series follows BoJack Horseman, an anthropomorphized horse who’s voiced by Will Arnett, a.k.a. Gob from Arrested Development. Twenty years ago, BoJack starred on a super famous, family-friendly TV show called Horsin’ Around. But when the series begins he’s washed up, self-absorbed, super sad, and loves booze and pills.
Before we go further, a quick note about spoilers. We’re going to be analyzing and discussing pop culture on this show, including sometimes matters related to plot. So, if you are really concerned about not having BoJack Horseman spoiled, please feel free to finish bingeing the series before listening to this podcast episode.
Here to talk about it with me is my friend Hannah Giorgis. Hannah, welcome to the show. Thank you for being our inaugural guest on Mad Chat.
HANNAH: Hey, thank you for having me.
SANDY: Hannah, will you tell the people who you are and what you do?
HANNAH: Hello, people... (laughs)
SANDY: (laughs) I assume there are people.
HANNAH: Yeah, I’m a staff writer on the culture desk at The Atlantic, and I’ve written for a bunch of places, like BuzzFeed — where we met in the trenches of content and whatnot.
SANDY: Of content mines (HANNAH laughs). And you’ve reviewed BoJack Horseman season five —
HANNAH: I have.
SANDY: — for The Atlantic.
HANNAH: I did, I did. I was really interested, in that review, about how the show handles forgiveness, and why and when it comes into play.
SANDY: On a very basic level, when this show showed up, I noticed it. I’m someone who’s been, you know, writing about mental health — schizophrenia, specifically — for about 10 years I’ve been looking at that space. And I was so blown away that there was a cartoon that was attempting, it seemed like, to have a conversation about not just an unlikeable, you know, kinda asshole Hollywood-type who is, you know, all too familiar —
HANNAH: Right. We’ve seen that before (laughs).
SANDY: We’ve seen it before. There was so much about this cartoon when it first appeared that it seemed like, oh, this is so familiar, even though it is, you know, weird, and it’s a horse.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
BOJACK HORSEMAN: Sorry I was late. The traffic…
CHARLIE ROSE: It's really no problem.
BOJACK: I parked in a handicapped spot, I hope that's okay.
CHARLIE: You parked in a — ?
BOJACK: I'm sorry, disabled spot. Is that the proper nomenclature?
CHARLIE: Maybe you should move the car.
BOJACK: No, I don't think I should drive right now. I'm — I'm incredibly drunk.
SANDY: I was struck so early on by the fact that this is a show that, you know, for better or for worse, is attempting to begin to show for, you know, its dimensionality, this — this character who, yes, at first glance is a cartoon, you know (HANNAH laughs). He’s really an over-the-top version of, you know — he is a horse, therefore he’s not just an alcoholic but he can drink, like, 80 bottles of liquor in one sitting, you know. There’s — there’s something that’s so outrageous about his — all of his assholery is so over-the-top. And yet the show has such a heart, and is so sneaky in its seasons, attempting to, I think, kind of pull back and show that iceberg beneath the surface of the water, the big backstory that’s led us to having this terrible man.
HANNAH: Right (laughs).
SANDY: Did you start watching BoJack back when?
SANDY: Did you get into it right away?
HANNAH: No, I didn’t. I didn’t want to watch the depressed horse show (laughs).
SANDY: What made you give in to the depressed horse? (laughs)
HANNAH: So, well, it all begins… No, you know, I think last fall in particular — well no, fall of 2017, which was not last year. Wow, time moves.
SANDY: Quick update on the year —
HANNAH: (laughs) It is now 2019.
HANNAH: (laughs) Oh god. No, so, you know, 2017 I think was difficult for me in a lot of ways. And I had friends who’d been trying to get me to watch the show for a long time. And I was like, I don’t know about this, it’s just gonna make me sadder. And I think the first time somebody really tried in earnest to have me watch it was summer 2015. And I kept saying, like: It’s summer, it’s warm outside, I don’t want to get in my feelings, like, this is not the time. And then, you know, fall 2017 hit, and everything was just, like, going to shreds in a lot of different ways anyway. So I was like, let’s just go full force. I’m gonna lean into it and see what —
SANDY: (laughing) Lean into the depressed horse —
HANNAH: Well, I was like leaning into my own depressive episode. It was like, let’s lean into a depressed horse because that’s a little absurd, and it’s gonna take me away from my own life, maybe. You know, and then I sort of — from there it was just full steam. It was just like once I sort of got through — halfway through the first season, I think, I was really, really on board, and was like, okay, this is about more than depression. Yes. And also there’s some really interesting stuff happening with depression.
SANDY: Talk to me about that. What is different about the way that this show figures depression?
HANNAH: Oh, god.
SANDY: Or what — I guess, ‘cause I would observe there is something in here that we do not often see on TV — especially in animated television, but I would say in general.
HANNAH: Right. Right. I think for me I appreciate that it doesn’t, at least to my mind, romanticize depression in a way that I think a lot of TV has, right? So you’re not seeing, like, BoJack is really depressed and drinking a ton and then he wakes up in the morning, magically, and like writes or acts the best scene he ever has, and he’s like this tortured artist, right? It’s just, you know what? It’s bad for him. He’s not doing great. And I think that sort of willingness to depict a character who is experiencing depression, experiencing addiction in particular, and being bad to himself and to other people in a way that the show doesn’t really let him off the hook for — I think it finds a way to toe the line between sort of allowing the audience to feel empathy for him, sure, and maybe find him relatable in some ways, but never, I think, is there a moment where you’re like “You know, that BoJack guy really has it together” or like “I’m gonna — I’m trying to get there. I’m trying to be on his level.” And I think it sort of does that really carefully, even in the first season, and I think especially as it progresses.
SANDY: Yeah, so as the show unfolds we have this — the backstory of BoJack and how he came to be, and how his mother and how his grandmother, you know, came to be, is unfolded for the audience, often in these really — I think beautiful episodes that will have a sort of layered time effect. There’s one in particular where BoJack — he goes on a sort of, I dunno — he drives off into the distance, you know, at some point in the series, and he’s fled Hollywood, and he’s, you know, he’s on a long night of the soul (HANNAH laughs). He’s like — he’s lost, and he drives to a family vacation place in Michigan. And it’s all a mess, and he makes it more of a mess for a while. And we’re living the flashback of a plotline that I think the audience realizes, oh, this is a big part of why BoJack ends up the way he is. So we’ve got — BoJack as a young kid in flashback is often shown amidst his parents, who are just these, like, nightmare people. I mean his dad is like a huge piece of shit.
HANNAH: Oh, absolutely.
SANDY: And his mom —
HANNAH: And a novelist, at that (laughs).
SANDY: His dad a piece of shit, like, failure of a novelist. Yeah. And then his mom is just like an emotionally abusive, you know, just — she’s so mean, you know. And even in —
HANNAH: Like, cruel. And like, down to her core.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
(someone taking a drag, followed by coughing)
BEATRICE HORSEMAN: What the hell are you doing?
YOUNG BOJACK: Sorry, Mommy.
BEATRICE: Don’t you dare put that out. That is a perfectly good cigarette, and you are going to finish it.
YOUNG BOJACK: But I don’t wanna!
BEATRICE: And I don’t want to be the mother of a quitter. Finish it.
(several lighter flicks, followed by more coughing)
BEATRICE: Oh Jesus Christ, you can’t even smoke a cigarette right? Don’t you dare cry. Don’t you ever cry. You wanted this.
YOUNG BOJACK: Are you punishing me for smoking, or for stealing?
BEATRICE: I’m punishing you for being alive.
SANDY: Part of that is we’re being shown the memory via BoJack, right? This is how — this is his experience of his parents. And then as we get into the fourth season we have Beatrice — his mother’s — childhood, and we realize that her mother was lobotomized —
[DIGITAL START-UP SOUND]
SANDY: Hey, I’ll save you a Google. Lobotomy: Lobotomy is a psychiatric treatment — very rare today, but once pretty common in this country — where a surgeon would physically damage or remove part of a patient’s brain, supposedly in order to alleviate or cure psychiatric symptoms.
[DIGITAL SHUTTING DOWN SOUND]
SANDY: — basically by her husband, you know. Her husband consented to this, in the wake of her son’s death overseas during World War II.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
YOUNG BEATRICE: Is Mother okay?
BEATRICE’S FATHER: She is now. She just let her womanly emotions get the better of her, that’s all. Nothing a little operation couldn’t fix.
YOUNG BEATRICE: Operation?
BEATRICE’S FATHER: What’s broken in the heart can never be repaired. But the brain, well...we have all sorts of science for the brain. She’s a brand new woman now. And she’d like to meet you, very much.
SANDY: And so the show has sculpted this incredible intergenerational portrait of how, basically, shittiness (HANNAH laughs) is handed down across the generations.
HANNAH: Right. And in a way that is, you know, clearly gendered, clearly classed. And I think, you know, BoJack carrying the remnants of his sort of ancestral traumas as mental health issues now isn’t something that you see in most other TV shows, right? Like it sort of — you know, I think there’s a lot of isolated addicts in the world, in our pop culture representation. It’s like, this person — who knows how they became the way that they are?
HANNAH: As opposed to an understanding of the way that mental health and mental illness functions sort of within the body and, you know, that’s something that I think, again, the show does, like, so — I think that the show doesn’t divorce from history.
SANDY: I love how this show messes with our ability to like or dislike characters because, you know, Beatrice, who is such a monster, then we see her whole backstory. We see her mother basically, you know, robbed from her, in some way, as a result of this surgery.
SANDY: I’m curious, when that lobotomy plotline happened, how did that seem to you? Was that something that you — did you see that coming, or — ?
HANNAH: No, I don’t think I did. And I found it more difficult to watch and to experience, I think, than a lot of other things on this show, which is saying a lot, ‘cause there is some stuff that comes up on the show, obviously. But I think it was just the clearest — well, to me it felt like it fell in the same sort of continuum of like violence against some of the female characters on the show.
HANNAH: In a way that, again, is very, very clearly gendered. And that felt so intimate. I think that there is — you know, I think there’s no place that feels more like home for most people than their own mind. And so the idea that, like, somebody — that a man could act upon her in that way, or authorize that, felt really jarring, and also made me, you know, think about a lot of your work, and think a lot about how there are many people for whom that — the idea of being home in one’s own mind is a luxury, for all sorts of social reasons.
SANDY: (exhales) Yeah (BOTH laugh). That’s beautiful.
HANNAH: That really — it really did me in.
SANDY: Yeah, I mean — and so in lobotomy I think we have such a great example of where psychiatry appears to have gone totally off the rails, right? We’re like, oh, this is so clearly bad. And I think it’s interesting in the plotline with Beatrice — her husband, who’s voiced by Matthew Broderick — he is a cartoon. I mean, but he’s very over-the-top specifically in his misogyny, right?
HANNAH: Yes. Yes.
SANDY: There’s this way that they’ve written the misogyny in those flashbacks where it’s like I find it to almost be — it’s like they’ve overdone it so much, I don’t know that they believe that misogyny was real back then. Does that make sense?
HANNAH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
SANDY: ‘Cause it’s like: “You know, honey, your breasts are just weighing you down” (HANNAH laughs). Like it’s always like that, you know?
HANNAH: Right, right, right, right.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
BEATRICE’S FATHER: Now listen here: It’s a mother’s duty to keep her children alive, and you are continually failing. How could you not have known she has scarlet fever? Say something, damnit! What has become of you? I swear if I’d know this is how you’d behave once we severed the connections to your prefrontal cortex, I’d hardly have bothered.
SANDY: Like they need us to know how bad misogyny was, but it’s like, yo, you know, you could’ve just shown it how it was and it would still look really misogynist. So I did wonder about the function of sort of, like, overblowing his evil, if that makes sense.
HANNAH: Right. I mean, do you — did it feel to you as though it were — as though it was trying to make a point about him being an individual who was that bad, or as commentary on how things were?
SANDY: Absolutely the latter, right? Yeah. I mean that’s part of it is we’re like really letting him off the hook. He’s like: “Oh, honey, this is what’s best for you.” And we have to simultaneously go, oh that guy’s very bad because men are bad then.
HANNAH: And that’s just how it was.
SANDY: Yes, and that’s just how it was. And there is a big feeling of that in this show. And so there’s one point that I do want to make about lobotomy and the way we talk about it, which is it is so easy now to vilify, you know, the decisions that were made in a previous era around psychiatric care. And it is so not the case that those dynamics are over.
HANNAH: Right, right, right.
SANDY: You know what I mean? Like psychiatry and patriarchy are still BFFs. Like there is no actual — there is — if anything, today we have a system that is up to a lot of the same exact stuff, right? Like electroshock, for example — ECT — is more common today than ever, and for — since the 40s, women have been shocked two to three times as often as men. So we have a very clear relationship between, in general, social control and psychiatry. And it’s not like there needs to be like an evil, you know — there doesn’t need to be a mastermind for that to be what, you know —
HANNAH: Well, it’s how you get things like hysteria.
HANNAH: Right? That are still — you know, that may not be enforceable or diagnosable in the same ways now, but are still, again, like, enforced and sort of punished in all sorts of socially codified ways.
SANDY: Yes. And the fact that that was a diagnosis should make us pause and wonder about all the other diagnoses, right?
HANNAH: Exactly, exactly.
SANDY: And the treatments. You know, something like lobotomy, what was it attempting to do? So when lobotomy is introduced, what it’s going for is, well, we’ve got these — in America, especially, in the early half of the twentieth century — we’ve got these huge state mental hospitals that are over-full, that are crowded — essentially, people are warehoused. And so a lot of the somatic — so, physical psychiatric interventions that were developed during the first half of the twentieth century — basically, you know, during eugenicist movements — were working to silence, make quiet, you know, make pliant people, you know, who were often poor, who were in these institutions. And so you have stuff like insulin coma, you have stuff like electroshock, you have stuff like lobotomy before it that were very popular with clinicians. But why they were popular wasn’t necessarily because they were the miraculous cure that they may have also been reported to be by like the popular press, right? And I think there’s always this issue, that the mainstream press has long been echoing what industry wants, you know?
HANNAH: It’s a similar sort of structure — pattern — with what you see with policing, right? And like, you know, court reporters, and crime reporters acting as stenographers for police.
SANDY: What about its arguments about addiction? Do you have thoughts about the way that they’ve figured BoJack and his sort of — ’cause the arc of the series so far, in a way, is the story of him going to rehab, right?
HANNAH: Right, right. And him sort of starting and getting close to the idea of being willing to do it, and then sort of, you know — like, obviously spoiler alert — ending the final season with being dropped off there by Diane, who... bless Diane.
SANDY: Bless Diane.
HANNAH: Poor, long-suffering Diane. Diane, who originally came in as his ghost writer, who he had so much hesitation to letting into his life, again, then becomes the person, the woman — and it’s notable that she is, of course, a female figure in his life who doesn’t abandon him, despite all his chaos.
SANDY: You know, BoJack is a kind of cartoonish addict or alcoholic at the top of the series. And I’m someone with a, you know, my life is — I come from a family with a long line of alcoholism. I come from, you know, a lot of drunks. And I think that the sort of — the attempt to show how, sort of, shittiness begets shittiness begets shittiness down the generations — I was so gratified to see a story like that. Because I’ve often contemplated, you know, my own position, my own struggles around addiction, for example, in the context of my father, in the context of his father, right? And how, you know, I have long understood, sort of, a way in which, you know, something like wanting to turn into alcohol, wanting that to be the place where you hide — like, I understand that. And when I watch BoJack Horseman, there is part of me that never has seen that figured on TV in a way that felt okay. Maybe it’s that it’s a cartoon, you know. If it were a drama drama, it would be so depressing. It would be like — it would be Breaking Bad, right? I mean we —
HANNAH: Oh, god.
SANDY: — we already have — we actually just kind of already have — it is Breaking Bad, basically (laughs).
SANDY: They’re like, how about the guy from Breaking Bad?
HANNAH: I mean there’s a reason I avoided that — But there’s a reason that I can’t — that Breaking Bad was too much for me, and I was like, I can’t do this, this is not doing it for me.
SANDY: Well, and that was like — it was a sort of fetishization of something so ugly, and it was encouraging us to sort of gawk at the spectacle of meth, you know? And it was so laden with this kind of, like, this class disgustingness. And BoJack is attempting, I think, to show an addict or an alcoholic for all of his attempts at doing something better, and all of his failures, without having that be the entirety of who he is, which is so hard to pull off.
HANNAH: And also challenging him as he goes along, right? I think one of my favorite sequences of the show is this sort of scene where, you know, he’s talking to Diane and he says, you know:
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
BOJACK HORSEMAN: Well… do you? Think I’m a good person? Deep down?
HANNAH: “But deep down — deep down you think I’m a good person, right?” That’s sort of where he’s asking her and hedging and doing this, like, “I know I do all these awful things and I am this way, but you know at my core, right?” And there’s that sort of tentativeness and that hopefulness. And the way she comes back and, you know, sort of says:
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
DIANE NGUYEN: That’s the thing: I don’t think I believe in “deep down.” I kind of think all you are is just the things that you do.
BOJACK: Well that’s depressing.
HANNAH: You are the sort of the sum of the things that you do and the way that you move through the world. And I think it really pushes back, I think, on the sort of tortured artist glamorization that I think it could have become.
SANDY: Or like the bad boy who we love anyway.
HANNAH: Right. Exactly. It’s like, he’s not —
SANDY: He’s not.
HANNAH: He needs help.
SANDY: He’s a bad person. Yeah, and by the end of this fifth season, I feel like what they’ve done in having him nearly strangle his co — you know, his co-host, or his co-star, to — you know, on set — in a sort of like opioid-fueled, you know, he doesn’t quite know where he is and he’s strangling her and doesn’t seem to know that he’s acting or whatever, the way that they paint it. It is pretty passive, you know? It’s not like he got enraged and tried to hurt her, which I think would be easier for us to then go, well, screw this guy. But instead he’s sort of — it’s sort of passive, that he’s really hurting — he’s physically harming a woman in his life, you know, kind of the latest woman who he dumps all his troubles onto. Literally. But it’s fascinating, ‘cause I feel like the show is — it is challenged — it has challenged our ability to like him even more than I thought it could, in a way.
HANNAH: Well I think it lives in the gray space between saying, you know, should you like this character, and can you root for a character you don’t necessarily like? And I think there’s a way that by the end of the fifth season you might still root for BoJack even if you dislike the character that he is, or the character he’s become, or how he’s acted out. And that feels like an important distinction.
SANDY: Yeah. And if you’re in a struggle yourself, with something, that actually might be it, you know? You might not really like the character you’re rooting for. I want to circle back to Diane.
HANNAH: Oh, Diane. You know, there’s several interesting things about Diane, who’s got this sort of caustic wit and she’s, you know, really not sold on BoJack, the idea of him as a person, but kind of grows to have some sort of complicated affection for him. So, you know, she’s written in the show as a Vietnamese-American woman, and voiced by Alison Brie, which is something that the show’s creator, I think, in recent — you know, in recent coverage, especially around season five, was very open about his, you know — the way that this thinking of whether it’s okay to cast a white voice actress for a role meant to be Vietnamese-American, you know, his thinking on that has evolved and whatnot. But I think, you know, Diane is going through a lot, too. And we sort of see her crack a little bit throughout the series, and then season four there’s an episode where, you know, her jolly, sort of happy-go-lucky husband, Mr. Peanutbutter —
SANDY: Mr. Peanutbutter (HANNAH laughs). “Erica!”
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
BOJACK HORSEMAN: This light bulb won’t let me into your house without paying.
MR. PEANUTBUTTER: Ah, sorry about that. Gotta raise those funds!
BOJACK HORSEMAN: Look, can’t I just—
MR. PEANUTBUTTER: Thanks for your support, buddy. Means so much — Erica! Look at you with the right number of ears!
HANNAH: — a character I am extremely frustrated by all the time, he throws a fundraising party for his political campaign, and they end up underground just because of all sorts of technical failures and whatnot. But Diane has a breakdown.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
DIANE NGUYEN: Oh my god. I’m the problem (starts to sob).
BOJACK HORSEMAN: Whoa. What the —
DIANE: (through tears) Why can’t I be happy? Am I busted?
BOJACK: No —
DIANE: I am! I’m a pit. I’m a pit that good things fall into.
BOJACK: Diane, you’re not a pit.
HANNAH: And she’s sort of crying, and she’s like, “Does my life mean anything?,” and just sort of gets into your, you know — what to me is a fairly familiar existential spiral. And I was watching that and I was like: Diane is really, really going through it, and has been for so long. But, you know, as a woman — as a woman with a lot of pressure on her — doesn’t get to sort of, you know, take her hands off the wheel and just lean in to the sort of glamour and the like “This is just how I am” that BoJack does, right?
SANDY: Or Mr. Peanutbutter.
HANNAH: Oh right, right. I mean, Mr. Peanutbutter ostensibly has things together in a way that BoJack doesn’t (SANDY laughs). Ostensibly.
SANDY: And he pulls, like, whatever he wants off (laughs).
HANNAH: Exactly. In a way that, again, I find very frustrating.
SANDY: Including Diane.
HANNAH: Right, right, right. Despite the fact that she is leagues beyond his sort of —
SANDY: She’s so much better than him.
HANNAH: Absolutely. I mean, she’s so much better than BoJack, right?
SANDY: Yes. Yes.
HANNAH: And she’s so much more, you know, willing to interrogate when and where she needs help, and the sort of failures that she is responsible for. And so I think it’s really amazing to have that and contrast it with, again, BoJack’s total lack of willingness to take accountability for his own actions until really the fifth season. In the fifth season we see, you know, the thing I ended up writing about is that she very clearly struggles with whether to forgive him for any number of transgressions that he’s committed against particularly women in his life, that she in some ways has been held responsible for, or fears being held responsible for, right? And I think that’s something that, again, the show is looking at how people who may have similar, like, diagnoses, or similar things that they’re dealing with, are able to move through the world differently based on what social position they occupy, right?
HANNAH: Like she’s one, not a star, two, not a man, and three, not whatever BoJack’s sort of nebulous racial identity is, which is likely white.
SANDY: She references a therapist in season one.
SANDY: We have a sense with Diane that she is already putting in the work.
HANNAH: Right. And she goes, in season five.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
DIANE NGUYEN: (sighs) Whatever it is, it’s gotta be bad. Because otherwise, why wouldn’t he tell me?
THERAPIST: Diane, you are not responsible for the dysfunction of others. I actually explore this in my book: “Are You Responsible for the Dysfunction of Others?” Spoiler alert: you’re not!
HANNAH: Because there’s so many animals on this show, it can get funky with race stuff. And, you know, you don’t always know what race some of the animals are, or what race they correspond to in the real world. But I did — I found it so sort of funny and heartening in this sort of pop culture trendy way that the therapist in season five is played by Issa Rae. It sort of falls into the like black woman as therapist tradition that’s happening right now in pop culture. And I think it works. It felt, I think, for a season that was quite heavy in a lot of ways — I mean, they’re all heavy seasons — but it did feel like a sort of necessary, you know, like, cheeky-slash-fourth-wall-breaking — in a way that I think was, again, it was fun to see — to see and to hear, in particular, Wanda Sykes and Issa Rae in that sort of banter.
SANDY: Yes. And I do like that the show once in a while sort of hands us like a lighthearted episode, sort of like, here ya go —
HANNAH: I mean even the GIF of, like, is other people’s dysfunction your responsibility? And, you know, do I have that saved on my computer? Yeah. Because why wouldn’t I (laughs)?
SANDY: She is a — an emotionally sort of mature person to his utterly emotionally immature, right?
HANNAH: Oh god, yeah.
SANDY: And yet I think in — they have a friendship that appears to be rooted in part — and it is this sort of familiar dynamic of like insufferable older man and like the competent woman who is stuck to him, like 30 Rock, or — you know, where it’s like he appears to offer her something, perhaps it’s just gravitas or something, like, or it’s just, you know, credibility or something, because she’s spending time with him. But she’s around him at first just ‘cause it’s a job. Like she’s stuck with this like terrible boss, basically. But she stays around way longer than that. And there is some sort of bond that forms between the two of them in the sense that — I dunno, I had anyway — was the shared bond was this sense of, you know, coming from families that were tumultuous and sort of identifying with some sort of shit. And yet Diane pushes back so hard against him at the idea that they are the same.
HANNAH: Right. And that’s I think why she functions so well as, at least to me, the show’s sort of moral center. Like, she does feel like she can at once hold a sort of like compassion and empathy for him and their kind of similar — like again, whether it’s similar backgrounds or similar things that they’re grappling with — and yet refuses to let herself — or not let, I guess let isn’t even the right word — but, you know, one, does not have the sort of social freedom to act out in the ways he does, and two, doesn’t seem to be interested in doing it in the same way.
SANDY: You know and I think it — particularly if you’re someone who comes from a family where maybe family wasn’t like, you know, puppies and roses, it’s important that we have representation of the fact that, yeah, you know, you might have a head full of self-loathing.
[CLIP FROM BOJACK HORSEMAN]
BOJACK HORSEMAN: Stupid piece of shit. [MUSIC] You’re a real stupid piece of shit. But I know I’m a piece of shit. That at least makes me better than all the pieces of shit who don’t know they’re pieces of shit. Or is it worse?
SANDY: That way that they’re showing, you know, what it’s like for him internally and I think attempting to at least shed light on, okay, this man is, you know, a miserable person and it does affect the others around him in these really negative ways, and he gets away with way too much because of his social position. And yet, you know, we also really see why it is he is that way.
HANNAH: Right. And this monologue feels surreal as we’re watching it, because it can feel like that to people, right? Like it can feel sort of enveloping and all-encompassing and like nothing else exists, and nothing else can break through it, at times.
SANDY: Yeah, no I — and it’s perverse, perhaps, but on some level I was grateful for the depressed horse show.
HANNAH: I remain grateful for the depressed horse show.
SANDY: Our last segment on Mad Chat is called “What’s Helping Today?”
HANNAH: Ooh (BOTH laugh).
SANDY: The idea is you can say what’s helping today. It doesn’t need to be, like, here is the answer to what keeps me going all the time. But like, I dunno...what’s helping today?
HANNAH: Today I’m thinking about the butternut squash and chipotle chili I’m gonna make over the weekend.
SANDY: Beautiful. Future chili.
HANNAH: (Laughs) Right. Broadly speaking, cooking — and especially cooking for other people — has been helping a lot. What about for you?
SANDY: Oh my gosh. Can we just pause and talk about how you’re such a good cook?
HANNAH: (Laughs) Okay, breadmaker.
SANDY: When I see your lasagnas on the Instagram, I fucking lick my phone, man (HANNAH laughs). I’m just — anyway. What’s helping today? I’m gonna say this winter the thing that has really helped me get through is Star Trek: Next Generation (HANNAH laughs). I had not really ever touched it, and then like around November it began in my life (HANNAH laughs) and I just haven’t stopped. And it really does help, I think that when everything is overwhelming, and I’ve been working on a piece that’s very sad, you know, and then I can just turn on —
[STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION OPENING CREDITS MUSIC]
CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD (and SANDY): Space.
HANNAH: (Laughs) It’s exciting out there.
SANDY: And just really go to space and live in a world that is so campy.
HANNAH: Yeah. I love — I love camp.
SANDY: Thank you so much, Hannah Giorgis, for joining me today on Mad Chat. Where can the people find your writing?
HANNAH: Oh yeah. On theatlantic.com (laughs).
SANDY: theatlantic.com? I’ve heard of her (laughs).
HANNAH: I don’t know. Also I tweet sometimes. But Twitter is a terrible place, so don’t go there for me, or for anyone else.
[MAD CHAT CREDITS MUSIC]
SANDY: Mad Chat is produced by Lee Mengistu. Our Social Media and Community Manager is Irena Huang. Theme music by Lee Mengistu and Ruthie Williams. Logo design by Chris Ritter. Website design by Natasia Hanratty. Thanks today to Argot Studios. Engineering assistance from my unpaid intern, Rob Dubbin. Thanks to my podcast fairy godmothers Andrea Silenzi, Julia Furlan, and Eleanor Kagan. Episode transcriptions by Alex Cornacchia; find those transcripts at our website: madchatshow.com. If you want to continue the conversation online, you can follow @madchatshow on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I am Sandy Allen. My book, A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia, is out now in paperback. For more, you can visit my website: hellosandyallen.com. This is Mad Chat. Thank you for listening. We’ll chat again in three weeks.