A recurring lesson hammered into series is that just because certain attitudes are socially accepted doesn't mean they aren't toxic or harmful. Obviously, the show takes endless jabs at Horrible Hollywood and Straw Characters, but this can also be the case about everyday life and evolving social attitudes.
In Escape From LA, BoJack tries to sleep with Charlotte's daughter Penny after the latter points out that 17 is the age of consent in New Mexico. While what they were doing was technically legal, the show pulls no punches showing how squicky and unequal such a tryst is, and how it permanently destroys his relationship with Charlotteonce she caught them, because Bojack was still attempting to sleep with her teenaged daughter who was still in high school at the time. That's Too Much, Man! touches on the long-term emotional ramifications by showing how traumatizing it is for Pennyonce she matures and realizes how messed up the situation was, as she is both disgusted and horrified when she crosses paths with Bojack again. Then in Season 5 Diane finds out about the incident, and it becomes one of the major reasons why her friendship with Bojack breaks down. Again, just because it's legal doesn't mean it's okay.
The Old Sugarman Place and especiallyTime's Arrow pull no punches showing off how Beatrice's parents (especially her father, Joseph Sugarman) were loving parents by the standards of the time, but thanks to Values Dissonance their regressive attitudesand Joseph's decision to have his wife lobotomized due to her mental illness and grief over her son's death, as well as his threats to do the same to his young daughter if she showed any strong emotions (especially sadness), were not only harmful at the time, but haven't even aged well thanks to time's arrow.
The show's biggest hook is it's unapologetically accurate and not at all subtle depiction of clinical depression, how things as simple as compassion and happiness seem unobtainable to someone with the illness, and the inevitable failure of trying to get people to understand something that you nonetheless have to take full responsibility for the damage it does, whether or not it was intentional. It ties in with the themes of the damaging pressures of fame and stardom and how show business is made up of so many shallow people who would rather take instant gratification than work to better understand their internal problems.
Feminism is never handled subtly, and most of the time there isn't even a joke when it's brought up, but it's a topic that's ignored often enough that only a sledgehammer to the temple about the subject could make the show's messages about societal standards of women be seen as important as it is. "Hank After Dark" makes several important points about American media's inherent misogyny and how famous abusers tend to get away with their crimes, capped off with the uncomfortably accurate "Titpuncher" site.
The double standard regarding employment opportunities for mature-aged actors is given attention as well. Character Actress Margo Martindale turns to a life of crime because nobody wants to hire actresses over 50. Meanwhile, BoJack gets cast as Secretariat, who is almost half his age, and the production team uses digital effects to make him look younger. To say nothing of actor Vance Waggoner, who keeps getting second chances despite being outright dangerous.
The show showcase a rather ugly side to celebrity culture and how far they must go to remain in the spotlight or reclaim it and the pressure it puts on them. If BoJack and Sarah Lynn are any indication, the results can be psychologically damaging. In the case of Sarah Lynn, it may even kill you eventually.
Sarah Lynn, the child star of Horsin' Around, directly attacks the morals surrounding child stardom, a la Jerkass Has a Point:
"You know, it's amazing that it's legal for kids to be actors. How is that not child labor? I didn't know what I was signing up for. I was three."
Another common aesop repeated throughout the series is that sometimes looking for closure is a sucker's game. Whether someone tried to find closure in something, either by trying to mend bridges with friends that were wronged in the past (Bojack to Herb), gain approval from abusive family members (Younger BoJack to Beatrice, Diane to her awful family), or even find closure in a loved one's death (BoJack at Herb's funeral and at his mom's funeral), it usually made things worse than it already was. As hard as it is to accept, sometimes you're just never going to find closure, and you'll make yourself even more miserable trying to find it than if you learn to live without it. The best thing to do is just move on.
Henry Winkler: There's no shame in dying for nothing. That's how most people die.
"BoJack Hates the Troops" displays how something like the armed forces shouldn't be above criticism, arguing that some can be utter assholes who abuse their position and accuse anyone disagreeing with them as being "anti-American" and being forced to "respect" them no matter how bad they can be. With cases of this happening, the release of the controversial American Sniper movie and talking about police brutality, this becomes pretty relevant. Especially BoJack's speech towards the end;
BoJack: You're a hero, the troops are all heroes, every single one. And I don't believe saying that cheapens the word and disrespects those we mean to honor by turning real people into political pawns. Also, I am NOT deeply ambivalent about a seemingly mandated celebration of our military that claims to value peace, telling our children that violence is never the answer, while refusing to hold our own government to the same standard. Furthermore I do not find it unbelievably appropriate that this conversation is taking place on reality television, a genre which thrives on chopping the complexities of our era into easily digestible chunks of empty catchphrases.
"Live Fast, Diane Nguyen": BoJack bluntly tells Diane that "family is a sinkhole", she owes her abusive family nothing, and that she had every single right to run away from them. For those who grew up in dysfunctional families or have tense relationships with family members, it's refreshing.
The episode "Downer Ending" drops the much-needed anvil that the Jerk with a Heart of Gold trope does not translate to real life and that if you want to be told that you're a good person, then you need to earn it.
"Later" makes it clear from the get-go that being a beloved superstar doesn't mean you've got all the answers. BoJack's idol Secretariat used running as a way to cope with his issues without actually fixing them. When he was banned from racing and could never run again, Secretariat's problems caught up with him and he had no answers for himself, so he was Driven to Suicide.
"Hank After Dark" drops a depressing but true one regarding how easy it is for celebrities to get away with sexual violence. Diane's attempts to expose Hank Hippopopalous's sexual misconduct results in people turning on her for daring to besmirch the name of a beloved icon. Not even many of her friends are willing to help her because they're either working for the news network Hank is part of or because they look up to Hank for his beloved public image. As Hank himself points out, this is because the public doesn't want to confront the Awful Truth that Uncle Hanky is capable of doing horrible things like that. Diane eventually gives up and has to leave the country for awhile after several death threats are sent to her. It also shows that Hollywoo is covering things up because even if Hank is "allegedly" harassing his secretaries, too many people benefit from having Hank around, and the accusations eventually fall by the wayside when the public moves on to something else. People in Hollywood have spent years learning how to cover their butts when something goes wrong, and Diane's still just one woman going up against an entire industry. Considering that this was around the time when the case against Bill Cosby was going on, it was perfect timing. The episode became more relevant when two years after the episode first aired, the Weinstein effect publicly exposed several abusers who have used their celebrity status and/or positions of power to escape punishment for their crimes for years, and in some cases, even decades.
BoJack himself is also a good example of depression played very straight and uncompromisingly. This is best highlighted in "Stupid Piece of Shit", where we see BoJack's inner monologue describing to him about how much of a piece of shit he is. This is a spot-on job describing the thought process of someone with depression as a nagging voice in the back of your head making you question everything you do, and the payoff is enormous. Also, despite what he tells Hollyhock (who is also implied to suffer from depression) at the end of the episode, lots of people still need to work through it as adults.
Todd's Story Arc in Season 4 focuses on him coming to terms with being Asexual. He initially thinks he can't have a romantic relationship because of it, especially since he had to stop dating his childhood friend Emily since she wanted to be more physical during their time together and he couldn't bring himself to do it. After joining an asexual support group, he meets a Happily Married asexual couple who tell him that there's a huge difference between being asexual (not sexually attracted to anything) and aromantic (not romantically attracted to anything), and that while some asexuals are both, many asexuals are capable of having loving, romantic relationships. After learning this, Todd starts getting comfortable with his orientation and by the end of the season he starts dating Yolanda, who is also asexual. Mainstream TV shows don't really acknowledge both of these orientations, much less distinct the difference between the two of them, so the fact that this one does is a pretty big step up when it comes to asexuals being represented in media.
It's subtle, but Bojack deciding to comfort his awful, dementia-ridden mother by making her believe that they're at the Old Sugarman Cabin in Michigan before leaving her in the nursing home to live out the rest of her life alone shows that while it's satisfying to see Abusive Parents get their comeuppance, it's much more healthier to break The Chain of Harm so nobody else can get hurt. At the same time, the fact that Bojack never forgives her and freely admits that she was a crappy mom during "Free Churro" demonstrates that even if you decide to be friendly with someone who wronged you, it does not mean you have to forgive them or try to justify their actions.
Even more subtle, Diane finally wanting to end her relationship with Mr. Peanutbutter despite the lavish gifts he gives her sends the important message that a relationship cannot be sustained on niceties alone. No matter how kind or loving someone can be to you, it won't change whether or not you're in love with them or whether or not the relationship can actually work out.
It also shows that it doesn't matter how well-meaning your actions are; if you do things that make your significant other uncomfortable or that bypass their boundaries, that is not loving behavior. They also have every right to call you out, even leave you, if you repeatedly don't listen to what they actually want.
"Thoughts and Prayers" is a clear attack on people who send out meaningless messages of condolence after a tragedy by exposing how empty and unhelpful the sentiments are. The phrase "thoughts and prayers" gets thrown about quite often in the titular episode, all by people who are just looking to cover their own ass or are only worrying about how it's going to affect them.
Bojack has always had a drinking problem, but the Season 5 trailer sincerely confronts whether or not Bojack is an alcoholic and if he needs help. He's shown trying to regulate his drinking while filming his new TV show by rationing out his vodka, using a line drawn on the side of the bottle for how much he's allowed to drink that particular day. Any recovering alcoholic will tell you that just because you regulate your drinking (or try to anyway) doesn't mean you don't have a problem and or don't need help.
This is especially evident later in season 5 when Bojack has moved on to labelling entire BOTTLES of vodka by the day. Unfortunately for all the well-intentioned meaning behind his attempted moderating of his alcohol consumption, Bojack is still far from able to kick the addiction on his own.
Heritage is superficial and non-indicative of your individual identity. "The Dog Days Are Over" shows Diane deciding to visit Vietnam, the country of her ancestry, yet doesn't feel like she's come home, because she's a born-and-bred American.
"Mr Peanutbutter's Boos" Diane tells Mr Peanutbutter in no uncertain terms that the reason he's been divorced so often is that all of his girlfriends were at an age where they matured over the course of the relationship while he kept trying to prolong the relationship's early days. Diane's view of Mr Peanutbutter is proven correct as the season ends with him proposing to a 25-year-old because she made literal puppy-dog eyes at him
Season 5 has Todd break up with Yolanda after recognizing that they're entirely too different to make a relationship work. The message is clear - even if you're in a group where the odds of a relationship are already slim, trying to force a non-starter relationship to work is far worse than simply being single.
The later half of Season 5 ends up taking a shot at the opioid epidemic — BoJack gets prescribed opioid painkillers after an accident on set, only to wind up addicted. The rest of the cast is too wrapped up in their own problems to notice what's going on until it's too late and things have spiraled out of control.
This subplot also points out the pitfalls of trying to break an addiction on your own. Unless you find a support network or take steps to address the root causes you are very likely to either end up relapsing or latching on to something much worse.
Season 5 ends on what can be considered to be the ultimate example of this trope in action: Bojack forces himself into rehab with Diane's help in order to actually get the help he needs to overcome his drug addictions.
Season 5 also hammers in the problems with the media normalizing toxic behavior, especially in "Bojack the Feminist" (giving roles to abusive actors will teach society that abusive men can still be successful and hailed as idols) and "Head in the Clouds" (making a character a terrible but relatable person works for realism, but poses a bad risk of enabling terrible behavior).
Going to rehab, taking antidepressants, attending therapy, and similar acts that can help you are good things, not signs that you've hit rock bottom. Bojack's admittance into rehab at the end of Season 5 is treated as an unambiguous step in the right direction, and Season 6 makes it clear that even though rehab is hard, and relapsing is tempting, it does help. Diane is hesitant to begin taking antidepressants because of her past bad experiences with it, and feeling that she shouldn't have to take them because she shouldn't be depressed to begin with. This time, it's Bojack who makes it clear to her that if they can help, she should use them.