Since last October, when standup comedian Hannibal Buress told a crowd at Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theater to look up the allegations of Bill Cosby’s sexual misconduct, it was a matter of time before popular culture decided to take on the topic. An unlikely candidate stepped forward to address the controversy with humor and gravity- Netflix’s BoJack Horseman (season 2 now streaming).
Episode 7 of season 2, “Hank After Dark,” features journalist Diane Nguyen (voiced by Alison Brie) accidentally derailing a book tour by mentioning that personal transgressions rarely hinder commercial success. She goes on to cite several real actors – Christian Slater, Mike Tyson, Woody Allen – before mentioning the show’s approximation of Cosby, variety show host Hank Hippopopalous (voiced impeccably by Philip Baker Hall). Just as with the aftermath of Buress’s charge, people (and animals, as is the show’s custom) seek out the information and are appropriately outraged…before they seek to ignore or discredit the claims. Subsequent approximations of real dialogue feature Diane’s interview with a news pundit (an emotional whale voiced by Keith Olbermann) who vocalizes dismissals of victim testimony in the same way many real newscasters did as the story broke:
TOM JUMBO-GRUMBO: Everyone says he’s a really nice guy.
DIANE NGUYEN: That’s exactly the problem. Because he’s so nice, people don’t wanna think he’s capable of awful things, so they let him off the hook.
TOM: We don’t know what happened. It’s a classic “he said, she said.”
DIANE: “He said, they said.” It’s eight different women. Are they all lying?
BoJack Horseman has earned acclaim since its first season for its combination of realistic darkness and profound humor; while it didn’t seem immediately obvious at first, its premise (following the life of a washed up nineties television star) seemed the perfect setting to address a storyline such as this. Cosby’s peak of fame came in the nineties with The Cosby Show, and the show opens with his BoJack equivalent winning a 1994 Animal Choice Award (a few short years after Cosby ended, and a few years before his revival of Kids Say the Darndest Things). The show is especially adept at showcasing the denial of those who idolized the iconic accused, through the character of Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tomkins), a man (dog?) torn between his career support for Hippopopalous, and personal support of Diane, his wife.
BoJack’s choice to have the revelation made by Diane is an important one; choosing to have the lone lead female with a reputation for being an intellectual creates a rich narrative that differs sharply from the one we saw play out in real-time. Her broaching of the topic, combined with subsequent public dialogue, seems to be a composite of roles that Buress, Judd Apatow (who has spoken vehemently against Cosby since the news broke), and even, albeit to a far lesser extent, Tina Fey (who notably reported on SNL’s Weekend Update on the 2005 deposition when it was taken). But unlike Buress and Apatow, Diane suffers considerable backlash from her comments- making a statement about how we treat the female whistleblower. Comparatively, Apatow’s and Buress’s careers have been relatively unscathed for their involvement with the scandal. In fact, each of them has had their celebrity rise since (Apatow with the recent release of his book Sick in the Head and film Trainwreck, and Buress with the start of his Comedy Central show Why? with Hannibal Buress).
And how does it end? On the show, Diane decides to pursue a new chapter in her career; as she awaits an airplane, she spies an interview with Hippopopalous and Jumbo-Grumbo that all too accurately represents the state of our rape culture:
TOM: Hank, I have to ask, did you do it?
HANK: No, I did not.
TOM: Well, that’s good enough for me.
The episode ends with popular media, and all the people who trust it for validation of their own wishes and desires for their admirers, taking the accused for his word. BoJack’s writers had no way of knowing that a few short months later, we’d be forced to take the opposite stance for the same reason. But the streaming cartoon’s willingness to tackle this controversial topic, and to do so in a way that highlights additional problems with our culture, was especially prescient on a weekend that Cosby’s long-looming descent is most assuredly sealed.