Shortly before the pandemic, I binge-watched all of BoJack Horseman from the dark cave of my late-night living room. I became obsessed with it. I talked about it to everyone I knew, trying to convince them to watch it too. It will change your life, I insisted, without much thinking about why that would be a good thing.

Since that first hypnotic, delirious viewing, I've tried to block out a time to watch it again from start to finish, but I haven't yet managed it. Back then, I had too many other things to do or read or talk about or see. Back then, the puttering engine of everyday life was ticking along in its predictable way, rolling out its days and weeks like a boring novel composed mainly of to-do lists and old receipts. But now I'm in pandemic time, and the rituals of daily life are both intensified and evacuated of meaning. Dailiness is tender and precarious, but it is also boring and undramatic and relentlessly monotonous. Every day feels exactly the same, distinguished only by the occasional small reminder of a previous life that tantalizes me with how much richer in feeling it must have been if only I could remember it. Daily life during the pandemic resists every Zoom and Skype date I make to relieve its boredom. It is indifferent to my desire to have operatic highs or lows. It is the endless antechamber to a life where things anything at all, really might happen in the course of a day.

You'd think I'd have plenty of time to rewatch BoJack. It would be fitting: pandemic time is BoJack's time. The world outside my house is on fire with uprisings and rebellions, with the punctuated assaults of a political horror show that is destroying the planet, threatening democracy, and accelerating death and trauma for already traumatized people. The world inside is on endless repeat. These are BoJack's temporalities. The outside world hurrying to its unpredictable destiny, the world inside a tired search to alleviate boredom. BoJack's world is structured around stasis and chaos, tedious repetition and mediated pandemonium, the relentless search for a past that doesn't exist, the awkward efforts to tie off the ongoing damage he caused as he tries to give his life a story-like shape.

In my academic life, I study nineteenth-century realist novels. One of the hard lessons my students have to learn is that despite the fact that the beginnings and the endings are seeded with meaning and possibility, the middle can feel like a slog. You really have to love the realist novel to want to spend your time in the middle. The middle is where the realist novel's luxuriant dalliances with the particular and the ordinary meet the unforgiving arc of its larger narrative architecture. The middle is where the pattern made between the warp of dailiness and the weft of a whole life achieves its devastating inexorability, its cruel particularity. The middle is where choice hardens into destiny, where restless motion condenses into routine. It is painful. It is disillusioning. It chafes to see the doors of other futures closing, to understand retrospectively that the cast of the die is set when a character turns one corner and not another. It is odd to see minor characters fade away into their own quiet, unexplored narratives, the mention of their names becoming fewer and fewer. They have their own stories and we cannot follow. Above all, the middle gets quite boring. You might perhaps love such boredom. I certainly do. It has its rewards, especially if you invest in the minor characters or the town or the household of the novel; they provide the humming background noise of the quotidian, they are the finely textured background the protagonist bumbles his way through. The middle offers its small delights. But it is also often bland, and unexpectedly so, especially for people who have been schooled in narrative by the sitcom.

BoJack Horseman is perhaps a realist novel whose main character yearns to be reborn into the less complicated narrative form of the sitcom. Sitcoms, BoJack wants to believe, offer easy lessons, resolving some manufactured crisis or another with the perfect ending. Bad things don't really happen in standard sitcoms; major characters don't appear with drawn faces and hollow eyes to shout to a guest star that they haven't slept in years because of the hilarious spider episode in season one. That's because there's really no past, and really no future in the sitcom. There's barely any middle at all by the standards of the realist novel, though in some sense the sitcom is all middle. No one in a sitcom is going to feel their future narrow as the unexpected consequence of personal development. They're going to live in a perpetual present, perfecting it week by week, pratfall by pratfall, easy emotional breakthrough by easy emotional breakthrough.

BoJack knows how artificial that world is, yet the difference between being in a sitcom and on a sitcom seem to undo him. BoJack was famously the star of Horsin' Around, a sitcom universally understood by his friends as at best light, and at worst, stupid. Yet he misses being on that show, confusing his life for with a role that has a known arc, predictable effects, and indestructible relationships. BoJack compulsively returns to his show. He watches Horsin' Around while he's drunk. He keeps magazine covers featuring it up on his wall. Flashbacks of its scenes punctuate the narrative of his present life. The sitcom formula is the dream of what a life might be for him; Horsin' Around is the moment the novel of his life seemed to open into a middle section full of possibilities. It's full of people who will be around forever. It's composed of a loop of repeating plots that somehow are never exactly the same, a world of choices that have no bad consequences. The sitcom for BoJack provides a context for the perfect coincidence of who he really is and how he wants to be seen; enveloped by the memory of the laughter of a studio audience, BoJack need not really grapple with how his friend and co-star Sarah Lynn was destroyed by the sitcom form's imperious demand for repetition and order. He can ignore his part in sacrificing his boss Herb Kazzaz to Horsin' Around's need to be a respectable family show.

BoJack's facile sitcom fantasy helps to explain why the opening credits are so haunting. He glides through the hours of the day and the rooms of his house without propelling himself. The world happens around him. The show uses this opening to register the long arc of the series changing its cast of background characters for every season, foreshadowing BoJack's attempted suicide but it also gestures to the narrative repetition of a life that is stalled, as if the sitcom and the realist narrative are devouring each other as the opening credits roll. BoJack is a sitcom hero trapped in a realist plot, a realist character yearning for a sitcom form.

This reading gives BoJack the credit he gives himself. It assumes that things just happen to him, that if he could be seen as he really is, as he laments at his mother's funeral, he would be okay. It imagines that his success depends on his finding a genre in which to finally be heroically and ordinarily himself. But the series rejects this reading. BoJack's appearance in the series Philbert, a gritty noir, initially seems to promise what he's always wanted the coincidence of a narrative and his actual life. But his strangling of his costar and lover blows this apart his need to inhabit his fictional life, to reject his real life, lead him to become violently addicted to opiates and he finds, as he has with his colleagues on Horsin'Around, that he alone will be held responsible for his actions. He embarks on an apology tour after Philbert, but it fails. He cannot understand how his life can have rippling effects that never go away. It's why Herb Kazzaz rejects his apology. Why Todd charges him with being a bad friend. Why he cannot let go of his own childhood. BoJack is not a hero wronged by inhabiting in the wrong plot.

The final scene of the series feels utterly final and without closure, our culture's most coveted and corrupt ending. BoJack and his closest, if estranged, friend, Diane Nguyen, sit together on a roof and, for an extended moment, say nothing at all. Bad things, closure promises, will come to an end. They can be resolved. We can move away from them. Bad things might have shaped us. They might have hurt us. They might have caused us to hurt others and ourselves. But closure means that bad things can't haunt us. When, in the final scene, Diane reveals her gratitude and her anger, she seems to be offering closure for herself, BoJack, the viewers to be writing the last chapter of their relationship. BoJack has nervously remarked that it would "be funny if this was the last time we talked." Diane leans away with a small smile. Her lack of denial is a confirmation. This is the end for them, whether they talk again or not. It gives closure to Diane, but not to BoJack.

BoJack Horseman's last episode gives everyone an ending and a beginning except BoJack. He will be in the long middle, all by himself, without secondary characters to see him as he fears and wishes to be seen, and, especially, without a loving if strict omniscient narrator to make a pattern out of the chaos of his actions, to sew him into a narrative in which beginnings make sense, in which the ways his past haunts him make sense, in which an ending will resolve the thousands of loose ends BoJack has accumulated, scattered, forgotten.

The show about the afterlife of a sitcom star is not so much a blistering critique of the sitcom as a mournful acknowledgment of its silly narrative closure. In the end, BoJack understands that his desire to get sober, to apologize to the people he has hurt, doesn't fix what he's done. It resolves nothing for him. He remains in the middle, where all the good stuff and the boring stuff and the searingly awful stuff happens. He's always in it. By the final episode, BoJack comes to the painful realization that he's going to be stuck in the middle part while his friends move forward without him. Princess Carolyn, his ex-lover and ex-agent, has gotten married, but only invited him to the industry ceremony and not the more intimate, more real ceremony. Mr. Peanutbutter, BoJack's friend and chipper obverse, departs for a future to which BoJack is not invited. Todd, BoJack's ex-roommate, has grown up and moved out. His sister has decided not to patch things up with him. Perhaps most painfully, Diane Nguyen, the moral center on whom he relied even as he disdained her, has withdrawn. She is married, she has moved, and BoJack realizes that he knows nothing about her now. Her life has been tested against a narrative she thought would fit it serious writer, explorer of Vietnam and failed. But she has moved on to a new form as BoJack cannot. All the endings happen without him. In realism, characters change, reach conclusions, settle. Not so for the melancholic sitcom star.

I watched BoJack's wrenching finale while following the conclusion of its opposite, The Good Place. It, too, is obsessed with temporality and seriality and the limits of the sitcom. And yet, over and over, the universe bends to let the four humans in The Good Place help one another. Heaven in The Good Place is strangely even irritatingly domestic, as if once we've repaired the damage our families and friends have done to us, we could want nothing more than to spend eternity with them. Heaven, here, is a do-over, a sweetly boring rerun of a life with the trauma edited out. The Good Place argues that the limits of mortality are what produce meaning. One by one, the characters choose to die for good. We're used to people running out of time in stories. But we aren't used to people who outrun it or who keep pace with it. Less exhausted by the daily chore of living, or by the surfeit of experience, the characters describe a sense of completion as the signal that they are ready to go. They have finished the narrative of themselves.

The Good Place promises perfectibility a difficult past that can be understood, discussed, philosophized, healed through infinite repetition. It promises a version of ourselves better than the world that made us. BoJack promises the opposite: repetition does not entail improvement. Understanding what has wounded us will not excuse us from how we have wounded others. Our healing is not guaranteed by other people's healing. Self-awareness about the harm we've caused does not mean those we've harmed with join us in community; there is every reason to believe that Diane's final conversation with BoJack reveals how his casual disregard for her feelings and insistence on making someone else responsible for his pain is the reason that, despite her gratitude, she'll never see him again. The Good Place imagines that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice; BoJack Horseman imagines that there's no arc and no moral universe, really.

Quiet is not a value in most TV, which is janglingly full of music, laughter, and witty repartee. But BoJack ends with quiet, with BoJack looking at the night stars with Diane, as he once looked at their simulacrum in a planetarium with Sarah Lynn. BoJack's final lesson is that there will be no lesson, no story he can tell later to a friend, no joke he can make to close the moment. And its cruelty is too much, man.

Stephanie Foote (@MandatoryOptio1) is Jackson and Nichols Professor of English at West Virginia University.  She is co-editor of Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities and she is currently working on a book about garbage and waste.