Will Arnett And The Search For Authenticy
Confession: I binge-watch a whole lot of Netflix, HBO and Amazon Prime. I know there are better things to do with that time, but I really want to turn my mind off on a Saturday. Over the summer I started watching BoJack Horseman and Flaked, both are Netflix shows that Will Arnett stars in, produces and the later he writes and co-directs. But something was different about these two 30 minute shows. This wasn’t Arnett’s normal comedic fare from 30 Rock or Arrested Development. These were not mindless, in fact I haven’t been able to turn my mind off of them since watching them. If anything these shows made me examine my own identity, addictions and worldview. Not only that but I wanted to know what’s going on in Will Arnett’s life that made this shift happen in his acting career? I also wondered about how we consume entertainment. Do we really want to face serious thoughts when we are watching a 30 minute sitcom or do we want something beyond our humanity, bigger than our problems and normalcy? Basically, how do I watch TV on a Mindless Saturday?
Go back to Gob Bluth (Arrested Development) and Devon Banks (30 Rock) and 2012. Arnett said “I spent a lot of time quasi-fascinated with characters who were super-dumb and super-cocky. I always liked that combination and I find that lack of self-awareness amazing.” 30 Rock was filming it’s last season, Arnett’s show Up All Night was cancelled after just 2 Seasons and he separated from Amy Poehler, his wife of nine years. It was a rough year and so it seems Arnett’s acting changed…. Kinda. He added blockbusters to his resume. In 2014 he had a very big summer with The Lego Movie and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Vernon in TMNT is snarky and just a slight beat off from Arnett’s usual brand of egomaniac losers and we are all familiar with Lego Batman. 2014 was also the year when his divorce with Poehler was finalized and BoJack Horseman premiered on Netflix. Arnett’s mood and interests had changed. He said “I’m not interested in those characters, the Type-A bully and the cry baby with a heart of pure mush aren’t appealing anymore.” It seemed that Arnett, like Shakespeare was declaring “To thine ownself be true.”Let’s talk about BoJack Horseman. For those who have not seen the show, BoJack is an anthropomorphic horse that was a TV sitcom star in the 90’s. In current Hollywoo (d left off on purpose) he’s a washed up alcoholic trying to write an auto-biography, play Secretariat and win back the respect of friends he betrayed in the 90’s. He’s depressed and narcissistic but he’s hoping for redemption. Heavy? For sure, but it’s funny too. BoJack writer and creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg perfectly weaves the satire in with the profound. Arnett puts the balance between light and heavy in BoJack Horseman this way, “You don’t wake up one morning and say ‘Today is going to be a comedy day.’ And then the next day, “Today is going to be a drama day.’ Things happen in your life that are fun and light, and things happen that are heavier. You just have to move your way through life, and I think BoJack is a good reflection of that.” Bob-Waksberg used the comedy to obscure the drama and it seemed to strike a chord with Arnett. But this is truthful to my everyday life. I too use comedy to obscure the drama of my life. What Arnett and BoJack Horseman are expressing is relevant to the way I view the the world.
“The show has become his confession and Arnett is seeking penance.”
BoJack’s third season, dives into some of it deepest material to date. Abortion, how the entertainment industry preys on young women, and being troubled emotionally and spiritually are just a few of the topics the show confronts. So picture me, binge-watching through this show on a day off. (PS… I’m starting to think binge-watching might be okay depending on how you view it. “If you think of a season of television as a novel rather than a collection of episodes” then binge-watching is no different than reading a book for a good bit of a day. And yes, I do realize that I might be saying this to make myself feel better about screaming through Mr. Robot last weekend!) I was struck by the honesty and the mirror it is not only to the entertainment business but to America. BoJack is a train wreck but that’s what makes him so relatable. I’m a train wreck, I’m broken, I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And I’m not the only one in this boat. Look at Romans 7:18&19 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Paul is struggling with the same issues as BoJack. This is humanity and a reality that we all must face. We all need redemption! In this way, BoJack Horseman confronts our basic needs better than most dramas, reality shows and mini-series.Back to Arnett, in 2012, during that tough year he started thinking through the stories and concepts that would become Flaked. Arnett’s own struggle with alcoholism is a key factor to the show, along with the way it can damage relationships. In Flaked Arnett plays Chip, a recovering alcoholic that helps out at the Venice Beach chapter of AA and is widely respected in that town but secretly he’s hitting the bottle. Arnett admits that while shooting Flaked he himself started to drink again. “I was just filled with shame, I know where this path goes, and it’s a dead end” he confessed. This has to be the most intimate piece of art he’s ever created. Here is a show where the writer, producer, star and co-director is actually struggling in front of our eyes. In my opinion the show has become his confession and Arnett is seeking penance. Arnett said “this is actually happening in real time, as quickly as we can shoot, it’s happening!” When asked what the show’s about, Arnett said, “It’s about creating your own identity and authenticity. What’s the face that we put out to the world and what’s the face that we look at in the mirror and how great is the divide between those two?” Arnett kept using that word, AUTHENTICITY, in every interview he did about Flaked. This intrigued me.
How do you render authenticity? Based on a TED Talk I watched, something is authentic when it is what it says it is and when it’s true to itself. Of all generations, the millennials truly value authenticity. Why? Why do we want something that is true to itself? I think we long for connection and we want to know that we are not the only ones out there that are struggling or fighting or not “in the know”. Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly says “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weakness.” (PS… Read that book, it’s really encouraging.) What I connect with in BoJack Horseman and Flaked is the vulnerability and courage of Will Arnett and Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Both BoJack and Chip are anti-heroes, they don’t fight their demons with sword or muscle, they fight with honesty about their sickness and the longing to be healed. Through vulnerability they defeat shame!
BoJack Horseman and Flaked are not tidied narratives, they don’t make you feel better at the end of 30 minutes or at the end of the season, but they wage serious war and they do leave you hopeful for redemption. It’s kind of like a counseling session, digging through the muck so you can understand. These shows make me want to be courageous, they make me want to be authentic and they make me want to try! All of this makes me think of Ephesians 4:22-24, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Arnett wants the “New Self”. Not only did he hold up a mirror to Hollywood and America, he looked at his own identity and he showed it to us. His vulnerability has lead to community, gratefulness and hopefully the strength to continue in that course. Thanks buddy, you’ve got my prayers and I can’t wait for more lessons from BoJack and Chip.A Couple Parting Notes…
- BoJack Horseman and Flaked are not for everyone. If they had a rating it would probably be R for language, adult themes and sexual content. So please know that I am not recommending them for a general audience. If you do want to watch one I recommend Episode 4 “Fish Out Of Water” in Season 3 of BoJack Horseman. The emotions that are conveyed through an almost entirely silent episode are universal and visually it’s a splendiferous masterpiece! It’s a favorite of mine!
- Here is a quote from Arnett about Narcissist that I really liked and wanted to pass on… “It’s funny you say narcissist. It seems like more than ever you hear that word used to describe other people. We live in an age where a huge percentage of the population can be accused of being narcissists. We are kind of encouraged to be: ‘Take care of yourself, look out for you… Narcissism is more of the rule than the exception.”
- Why is “Binge-Watching” the only term for watching through multiple episodes of TV in a sitting? Please help me come up with something more pleasant.
- Thanks for reading and allowing me to think through all of this. It’s really helpful for me to think through what I watch on a Saturday afternoon. 🙂