I could (and will) sing the praises of BoJack Horseman with every passing week, but after the chapter on The Cosby Show, a specific episode of the Netflix original felt particularly timely. Season two episode 7, “Hank After Dark,” dropped following Bill Cosby’s fall from grace, and it provided some excellent commentary on “all the rich dudes in Hollywood who can get away with whatever they want,” as The A.V. Club’s Caroline Framke summarizes.
Hank Hippopalous is the stand-in for Cosby: a lovable late-night talk show host who has been in the business for decades and is known to most of the nation as “Uncle Hank.” When Diane inadvertently brings old allegations against Hank to surface once more in the middle of a book tour, all hell breaks loose. Diane is catapulted into the national spotlight and held up for scrutiny by those who refuse to believe such accusations against the beloved national treasure could be true. Despite the fact that, as Diane mentions, eight of Hank’s past assistants have all made the same allegations, she endures harsh criticism from news pundits, blogs, and random passersby.
Still from BoJack Horseman, “Hank After Dark” (Season 2, Episode 7, 2015).
MSNBSea news anchor Tom Jumbo-Grumbo claims of Hank’s former allegation-casting assistants, “Who are these women? Have they ever shoplifted perhaps? Do they wear short shorts? Do they drink alcohol?”The website “Tit Puncher” accuses Diane of “dragging our beloved Uncle Hanky’s name through the mud to get airtime for herself and her bull-hating agenda.” And a literal cockroach tells her “You women are all the same. You make these broad accusations to get attention for yourself, and when you don’t have proof to back it up, you just slink away.”
The episode offers a sobering look at not only the ability of powerful men in Hollywood to get away with such horrors (and the public’s willingness to ignore them), but also the gaslighting of the women who speak out against them. No matter how many women come forward with such allegations, they are never believed. Instead, their character is attacked, their wellbeing is threatened, and their lives are ruined. Yet when Hank goes on air and states simply “I didn’t do it,” the news anchor replies “Well that’s good enough for me.”
The central message of the episode is perhaps best summed up by Manatee Fair editor-in-chief Amanda Hannity, who tells Diane, “When we know what we know about a monster like that and we still put him on TV every week, we’re teaching a generation of young boys and girls that a man’s reputation is more important than the lives of the women he’s ruined.” And the national backlash Diane receives confirms exactly that. It’s even confirmed in her personal life as well, as her husband begs her to drop the whole thing lest it negatively affect his own television show, which is set to premiere in the coming weeks.
Despite all the absurdities of the show, BoJack Horseman is quite grounded. It is not interested in providing neat happy endings and takes a more realist approach to its storylines. So in the end, after a pile of death threats and the personal strain on her marriage, Diane drops it. Hank continues with his career unquestioned, and the women whose lives he’s ruined do not get their justice. It’s the sad and sickening reality of most of these types of incidents, but also where the story diverges most with Bill Cosby’s. The fact that he fell from the public’s goodwill, that his show was pulled from networks’ lineups, and that charges were pressed against him are all fairly and unfortunately unique. A similar outcome recently came from the resurfaced sexual assault case against Nate Parker, whose film The Birth of a Nation was poised to be a major Oscar-contender and box office hit after its successful debut at Sundance. Yet after news of his charges and his victim’s suicide reemerged, his film flopped and lost a lot of steam with Academy voters.
Race is certainly a factor that plays into these incidents and makes these two cases unique. Black men like Bill Cosby and Nate Parker endure consequences, but white men like Woody Allen or David Letterman get away much more easily. That’s a discussion for another post, and another episode, as “Hank After Dark” is more concerned with the gaslighting and victim-blaming that women who speak up face. In not shying away from such disgraceful realities, BoJack Horseman establishes itself as one of the most socially and politically relevant series currently airing.