I know what you’re thinking: how can an animated show talk about something as complex and adult-themed as an unplanned pregnancy? Yet, in the cases of “BoJack Horseman” and “Rick and Morty,” cynical portraits of families seem to do the trick.
“BoJack Horseman” follows a 50-year-old washed up actor (who happens to be a horse) and his journey through his own self loathing. Beatrice, BoJack’s mother, is a neglectful and verbally abusive woman and the heiress to the Sugarman sugar cube company. Given only this information, it would be easy to hate this horse.
But in season four of “BoJack,” we get to see how Beatrice became the way she is.
She was born in the 1930s to Joseph and Honey Sugarman. Her older brother, Crackerjack, was shot and killed fighting in World War II. This drove Honey mad with grief, which Joseph remedied by having her lobotomized.
Shortly afterwards, Beatrice ends up catching scarlet fever, and her father orders the help to burn all her infected belongings — including her prized possession, a baby doll. When she begins to cry, her father tells her she shouldn’t let her “womanly emotions” get the better of her, or she’ll end up like her mother.
Despite her deeply traumatic childhood, Beatrice goes to college and earns a bachelor’s degree. But she cannot escape her family’s influence, and her father throws her a debutante ball in order to induct her into society and cement her bond with Corbin Creamerman, an heir to a wealthy agricultural family.
That’s where she first meets Butterscotch Horseman, a rebellious young horse and aspiring author. She sees him as a breath of fresh air compared to the world she currently inhabits, and she ditches her own party to have sex with him.
Beatrice becomes pregnant, and when she tells Butterscotch the news, he urges her to get an abortion. Thinking of her burnt baby doll, she insists on keeping it, and they agree to move to San Francisco and get married. During their honeymoon phase, they seem happy. But as of 1970, Butterscotch is still working at a fish cannery after refusing multiple offers of a cushy desk job from Beatrice's father and still hasn't finished his novel.
Butterscotch resents Beatrice’s familial wealth, his lack of ability to provide, and the fact that she wanted to keep the baby. Beatrice resents Butterscotch for not accepting her father’s job offer, making little money, and his treatment of her.
All of this creates a marriage that’s highly dysfunctional at best and verbally abusive at worst.
The two despise each other more and more, which affects how they treat their son BoJack during his formative years. They become alcoholics and heavy smokers. When BoJack turns six, Butterscotch finally agrees to work for Beatrice's father. They become wealthier but not happier, as Beatrice and Butterscotch merely came together because of the disdain they shared for the world around them.
“Rick and Morty” follows a grandfather and his grandchild as they have adventures in different universes. Rick is a genius, but he’s also a sociopath, and it shows in his daughter Beth.
At some point in her childhood, her parents' marriage deteriorated amid unknown circumstances, and Rick left her mother. Beth blamed herself, and she saw her father as an intelligent scientist compared to her seemingly “unremarkable” single mother, which led her to idolize her father and blame her mother for him leaving.
As a young girl, she was intelligent and aspired to be a heart surgeon, but during high school, she went to prom with classmate Jerry Smith — possibly out of pity — and there they conceived their first child, Summer. Beth contemplated an abortion but decided against it. She managed to get into college and become a veterinary surgeon specializing in horses, eventually finding work at St. Equis Hospital.
Her relationship with her parents affects her marriage, as Beth and Jerry have remained together partially due to her belief that he is the only man in her life who has not abandoned her. However, Jerry’s vulnerability undermines this belief by reminding her more of her mother and emphasizing his lack of intelligence or exceptional traits.
She and Jerry share common goals around doing what’s best for their family, but often it can be lost in translation. She is critical of his ideas and suggests she may feel held back or underappreciated by him.
Her relationship with her parents also affects how she treats her children, as is evidenced in Season 3 when Morty lashes out at Beth for her distance towards him and Summer. He blames her relationship with Rick and tells her that she doesn’t need to prove herself worthy of her father’s love by acting narcissistic and irresponsible just like him. While she’s worried about gaining her father’s approval, she’s hurting her children.
In both of these shows, dysfunctional and absent-minded parenting wreak havoc on two daughters who enter into motherhood roles before they are ready.
Beatrice got married and had BoJack because she wanted to escape the world around her. Her trauma left her unable to love BoJack in the way he so desperately needs, creating another generation of misery and brokenness. Beth has deep-rooted insecurities she refuses to address, and her love for her husband is as fickle as the wind; she often imagines how her life would’ve been different. Already, sociopathic tendencies have started to appear in her children, Summer and Morty.
Neither show offers a particularly feminist perspective or an antidote to the cycle of misery caused by unwilling parental responsibility. But the fact that they explore the implications and consequences of unplanned pregnancy is refreshing. These shows present compelling portraits of the generational American family today. That's worth discussing. Perhaps talking about it is the first step to change.
JoAnna Brooker is a senior in journalism and can be reached email@example.com.
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