Having it all is hogwash. Big Having It All, I mean. The unassailable pressure that populates so much of the women’s empowerment industrial complex. The thing that made Katie Couric flip out at Sheryl Sandberg. The ideal that all women should balance family and career to be truly everything. (If that’s what you want and you can handle it, do you, we should all just be able to define it all for ourselves.) One of television’s posterwomen for the fallacy of Big Having It All is Princess Carolyn, a powerhouse agency-owner (who is also a pink talking cat) from the Netflix animated series BoJack Horseman. In the sixish seasons that BoJack has been on the air—the final episodes of Season 6 and the series will drop on Netflix on January 31, 2020—Princess Carolyn has endured a loneliness and a messy career in hopes of pulling the right stunt to fast track her goals, whether it’s pushing an Eva Braun biopic or scheming to start a new agency with a married co-worker who she’s sleeping with. But as the show comes to a close, she, now with a baby porcupine daughter fka Untitled Princess Carolyn Project, has finally started to figure it out and some of that means eschewing Hollywood ascendency in favor of doing things right.
Since its debut in 2014, BoJack has been recognized for its unflinching portrayal of flailing mental health and substance abuse and its searing satire of Hollywood and celebrity culture. The show takes hierarchies to task, critiquing the systems that uplift the wealthy and famous in spite of abuses of power. It is also a show about legacy, not just through its titular character’s continued search for relevance in the wake of ’90s sitcom stardom. BoJack and the rest of the show’s main players—journalist-depressive Diane Nyguen, BoJack’s happy-go-lucky foil Mr. Peanutbutter, and Princess Carolyn—are trying to cement their legacy.
For Princess Carolyn, the ideal legacy is juggling motherhood and Hollywood success. What plagues her at nearly every turn is either a maelstrom of garbage dudes or tanking film and television projects. Sometimes both at the same time. Throughout the show’s five and a half seasons, Princess Carolyn has had a destructive on-again, off-again relationship with BoJack, helped a Tarantino-parody Quentin Tarantulino create a space rom-com, and left her job at Vigor Agency to start Vim with her trysty co-worker Rutabaga Rabitowitz who never leaves his wife. Princess Carolyn, at least triumphs over Rutabaga, taking the agency for herself after their affair falls apart. Her contentious romantic relationship with Ralph Stilton, a hotel heir who is also a mouse whose mouse family is staunchly anti-cat culminates with an abortion-pregnancy-miscarriage before she tries to resurrect BoJack’s career with Philbert, a gritty detective drama on WhatTimeIsIt.com, a website literally for checking the time. If cats really do have nine lives, though, then Princess Carolyn is living her best one.
But one of the things that makes BoJack Horseman such a good show is that we don’t always have to root for its characters—or, really, the show often feels designed to put its viewers in the heart of its characters’ predicaments. We’re rarely asked to cheer on anyone’s shitty behavior to get the job done and we’re never offered a tidy ending. The characters on BoJack Horseman don’t get everything they want, which makes its juxtaposition with ’90s sitcoms so essential. That was a medium, full of interminable tidiness—the Tanners learn their lessons without a scratch; Carl decides Urkel isn’t so bad. On BoJack Horseman rehab is just the first step in rigorous new life of sobriety, antidepressants make you fat (although I can speak from very real personal experience that moving across the country and getting your shit together to be with someone you meet on video assignment together is totally worth it), and cementing your Hollywood legacy can mean being the agent who gives the assistants better(ish) working conditions, as Princess Carolyn does at the end of the first part of Season 6.
There wouldn’t be a better ending for her, either, at least not in the BoJack universe. She has her daughter, who she ultimately names Ruthie, who was birthed by a woman in Princess Carolyn’s hometown Eden, North Carolina. It makes Ruthie a reminder of Princess Carolyn’s roots as a cat from a working-class litter who grew up living in the garage apartment of the family whose house her mother, Cutie Cutie Cupcake, cleaned. That she left to go to L.A. not to pursue some flimsy dream of stardom but because she is in love with the movies and wanted to be a part of that world and that improving the working conditions of “the help” is just as important—really, more—to making movies as resurrecting the career of a former sitcom dad. That having it all sometimes means giving some of it up.
Claire Lobenfeld is a writer and community organizer based in Los Angeles.