How Netflix's comedies are helping to normalise mental health issues

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, BoJack Horseman and Lady Dynamite have all tackled the once-taboo subject

A little over a week ago, the third season of BoJack Horseman arrived on Netflix, with all twelve episodes there for viewer's digestion in one go if they saw fit.

However, many may have found it quite difficult to binge on the show - unlike other Netflix season dumps such as House Of Cards or Daredevil - but it definitely wasn't a question of quality.

Season 3 of BoJack Horseman is currently sitting pretty with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many outlets calling it one of the best comedies on TV right now.

The real issue with BoJack Horseman is just how willing it is to get into the usually ignored aspects of its characters' mental issues, and this is something that Netflix seems to be tackling head-on with a lot of its big comedy seasons lately, including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Lady Dynamite.

Just a few years ago, these kind of issues in comedies were, well, played for laughs. Monica's OCD and Joey's obvious sex addiction in Friends, the large combination of personality disorders in The Big Bang Theory, and whatever was going on with Charlie Sheen in Two And A Half Men - they were all the butt of the joke. Even Frasier, a show about a man who helped people with psychological concerns, very rarely actually dealt with any.

However, on top of the already risky all-at-once platform, Netflix have expanded the chance-taking with the actual shows themselves, and these three top-tier comedies show the outlet at the top of their game, pushing the envelope of topics most TV stations wouldn't dream of approaching with their prime-time 22-minute, canned-laughter shows.

In season one, BoJack (voiced by Arrested Development's Will Arnett) just appeared to be a cynical, meta-take of Hollywood, but within just a few episodes, the edges began to darken. By season three, we were fully versed in BoJack's all-destructive state of depression and alcoholism, but where it previously dealt with a group of people confronting their failures, now it showed the added stresses and strains of dealing with success.

Across the season's 12 episodes, the writers wade into everything from drug abuse, abortion and - in one particularly jaw-dropping, almost entirely dialogue free episode - cultural alienation.

But everything you needed to know was right there in the opening credits, which were composed by The Black Keys' Patrick Carney, showing BoJack in the lap of luxury, and reacting the only way he knows how.

In Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the lead character is a blazingly optimistic survivor of a 15-year long forced imprisonment, and she attempts to catch up on a modern world that has, for the most part, left her behind.  Permanently in the mindset of a happy teenager, she actually inhabits the body of a woman in her late 20s.

The show's second season, which debuted in April of this year, finally brought to light the repression that Kimmy had forced upon herself, represented in a multitude of involuntary physical tics, and culminating in a total blackout and loss of memory.

Kimmy eventually goes to see a psychiatrist (played by the show's co-creator, 30 Rock's Tina Fey), a woman tackling her own internal demons, but someone who is also shockingly astute at pinpointing Kimmy's psychological triggers.

However, Netflix's most obvious attack on the stigma of mental health issues is with Lady Dynamite. The series is loosely based on the life of Maria Bamford, who plays a slightly heightened version of herself in the show, and who suffered from bipolar disorder.

The show was split into three time periods; Maria at the height of her career and the peak of her mania, Maria out of show business and at the trough of her depression, and Maria attempting to restart her career and keep a handle on her disorder. Visually, the show matches those time-periods, with a vibrant, erratic colour palette, bleak greys and blues, and a "normal" filter assigned to each, respectively.

Combined, it shows that Netflix is effectively breaking apart the taboos surrounding mental health issues by putting them in their biggest, star-studded comedies. The difference is that they are not making light of the issues at play, but using the medium of comedy to get across a very serious message.

While Netflix is not the only outlet for this kind of forward-thinking movement - FX's comedy You're The Worst and Showtime's drama Mr Robot tackle clinical depression and multiple personality disorder, respectively, although neither show is currently available to watch on TV in Ireland - it does seem to be the most consistent in its message.

Even the likes of Orange Is The New Black (with the character of "Crazy Eyes", amongst others), Jessica Jones (which dealt with Stockholm Syndrome and relationship abuse) and F Is For Family (borderline anger issues) have approached mental illnesses with tact and respect. Those shows all managed to keep it entertaining without hammering the subtext home so hard to it essentially becomes the uninteresting text.

For generations, these topics were something that were very much not to be discussed; in their private lives, people brushed them under the carpet, while those on TV made jokes about them, but Netflix are putting them under the spotlight without an ounce of shame or judgement being applied. The more shows like these that are made available, the more likely it is that whatever negative connotations the topic of mental health once had will be eroded away.