stigmatized narratives in the first place. BoJack Horseman is a model
for how other shows might be able to avoid and fix missteps in
telling stories of mental illness.
Narrative Emphasis
BoJack Horseman is able to create such an authentic
representation of depression because the show makes depression
the focus of the series rather than the focus of an individual
episode. Part of the reason why many shows produce such
problematic depictions of depression is because they try to tell a
full story in half an hour. Any single episode of television, no
matter how well written and how thoughtful, is simply not enough
time to develop a character’s depression fully much less solve it as
many shows try to do. Furthermore, this problem is not unique to
the depiction of depression. The temptation within the sitcom
genre to tackle a heady issue within a thirty-minute slot and call it
a day gained prominence with the popularity of the “very special
episode” in the 1980s. In these one-offs, the main character would
come face to face with a serious problem never encountered
before, usually drug or alcohol abuse, an eating disorder, or teenage
sex. Prominent examples include: the Family Matters episode when
the punch gets spiked, and Steve Urkel nearly dies; the episode of
Fresh Prince of Bel Air when Will accidentally causes Carlton to
overdose on speed; and the Full House episode when Stephanie is
tempted to try cigarettes. Because these are sitcoms, however, the
issues are resolved cleanly and easily by the end of the episode, the
characters involved learn a serious lesson, and they will never make
the same mistake again.
These “very special episodes” often attempted to teach a
lesson and moralize about highly emotional or taboo topics. In this
way, they frequently framed issues, such as bulimia or drug
addiction, as morally wrong, avoidable, and fixable. These were
represented as repugnant acts characters wrongfully chose rather
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