BoJack Horseman Showrunner Interview

Fans of Bojack Horseman don’t have to be sold on Emmy consideration anymore. For four seasons, they’ve watched the Netflix animated series deliver a scathing commentary on Hollywood and the world at large through the lens of anthropomorphic animal celebrities and interspecies romance.

We’d previously covered Bojack Horseman’s fourth season, the one that is currently eligible for 2018 Emmy nominations, when it premiered in September. At the time of the launch, we didn’t want to spoil too much of the details of Bojack’s mother’s dementia flashback episode “Time’s Arrow” or the scathing reaction to mass shootings with Courtney Portnoy’s kickass action heroine movie delayed every time there was another shooting. But now, all spoilers are on the table.

Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg spoke to /Film before the Netflix #FYSEE panel for Bojack Horseman, which hopefully got the show on the minds of Emmy voters. Season 5 will arrive on September 14 and we got to go deep into exactly how the show is paving a new way for television animation.

Are you submitting a specific episode for Emmy consideration?

Oh God, I don’t know. I’m sure, yes. We’re actually submitting in a lot of different categories because there’s Best Animated Program. There’s also Best Voiceover Acting, Best Writing, Best Storyboards, Character Design. So I think we try to spread the season and submit different people in different categories.

Could “Time’s Arrow” be the submission for Best Animated Program?

Maybe, I’m not sure. I know tonight we’re showing “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” but that’s also because the panel has Paul [F. Tompkins] and Alison [Brie] on it. So we didn’t want to show an episode that they’re not in which would be 11. I’m very proud of the whole season so I don’t remember what we’re submitting. This interview is going great so far.

Well, live-action has blurred the line between half-hour comedy and drama. Was that your goal with Bojack too?

Was my goal to actively blur the line? Let’s say yes, it was my goal. I do think that the world of animation, particularly adult animation, has so much room to explore as far as genre and tone and character. I think that’s less true now than it was five years ago. Certainly there have been other shows that have taken advantage of that and have pushed things in different directions. You’re going to see over the next five years that continue to expand. It feels like a very exciting time to be in animation. If you look at children’s animation, there are so many different kinds of shows that there can be. Even Eastern animation, but when it comes to Western animation, I feel like the last 20 years or so has been very much defined by The Simpsons and South Park, which are both shows that I love and am obviously indebted to. But I think they cast a long shadow. A lot of shows have fit in that rubric so one thing I was really trying to do with the show was can we keep a foot in that world but also put a fit in the new world and explore different kinds of things, tell different kinds of things in animation.

What’s an example of something in Bojack that couldn’t exist in a Simpsons or South Park

Well, I think the fact that we are so serialized. Actually, South Park has become more serialized in the last few years as well. That was a big thing for me in the beginning. A lot of these shows have a status quo they keep bouncing back to. One of the things we really wanted to do from the beginning, one of the things that made our show special from the beginning is there’s no snapback. At the end of every episode, the damage that is done retains and the next episode will carry over the emotional story. It’ll carry over even literally. If someone punches a hole in a wall, the next time we see that wall, there’s going to be a hole in it. The world doesn’t get fixed automatically. I think Netflix gave us an amazing opportunity to do that. We knew people were going to watch this show in order. No one’s going to accidentally bounce into the eighth episode of the season. We can really build over the course of the season and tell this longer form story.

And when someone dies, they stay gone and impact the story.

I think that’s exciting. I’m not a sadist but it does feel fun to have an idea in the room and be like, “Oh, this is surprising and this is interesting. I think this is going to make people feel something.” And then once you have that idea, it feels kind of foolish to shy away from it. Certainly with Sarah Lynn, there was some concern of once you pull this lever, it’s not going to go back the other way. You have to commit to that decision. But I feel, good is a strong word, I’m proud of it and I think it worked for the story we were telling. I think it resonated. We don’t want to feel like we’re just killing people left and right and it becomes like nothing matters anymore. That’s kind of the opposite problem when you have a show like this where oh yeah, tragedy can happen any times. But if it happens too much, it suddenly doesn’t feel like tragedy anymore. It just feels like oh, they’re doing that again. So I think we’ve really tried to make any bad things resonate, have weight and continue to linger. Even things that you think, “Oh, they kind of resolved that,” it can still pop up again. That was one of the exciting things for me about the “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” episode where we hear Bojack’s inner thoughts, to hear him ruminating about some things you thought maybe had been resolved already or we hadn’t addressed in a while. Oh no, they’re still in there. They’re in the back of his head and they’re still playing, he’s still working his way through them and they kind of always will be in there.

Was it a hurdle with Netflix to do an animated show that is not just a comedy, that has some drama to it?

No, I think that excited them. Yeah, it’s going to start out very broad and cartoony and it’s going to feel like other animated shows. Then gradually over the course of its first season, it’s going to become this other thing. I think that was really exciting and it was part of the initial pitch, and they were onboard from the beginning. I think that’s actually what helped me sell the pitch, this idea of it’s going to be the same but different. That’s kind of how every show is sold in this town. If it’s too the same, nobody wants it. If it’s too different, nobody wants it but we pitched it as the same but different.

Does animation allow a kind of storytelling that live-action just can’t do, like “Fish Out of Water” and “Time’s Arrow?”

Yeah, I think those are great examples. I think animation does a lot. I also think in some ways animation allows us to be a little more naked or a little more vulnerable in a way because it creates distance. I’ve seen people talk about teenage shows are really fun to write for because teenagers just say whatever they’re feeling all the time. They don’t have to worry about subtext as much. They get to these grand emotions that are harder to buy with adults saying them. I think genre is the same way. I think in a science fiction show or a fantasy show, you can go to some more melodramatic places that express true feelings the way people feel, that you can’t necessarily do in a more grounded show. I think our wacky animated world allows us the same kind of wiggle room. We can go to these darker places because we’re cutting them with these very silly jokes and this very silly world.

Voice-wise, is this allowing Will Arnett and Amy Sedaris to do this layered soulful work that the industry tends not to let comedians outside of the comedy box?

I would like to think so. I love our actors. I perhaps foolishly think they’re doing the best work of their careers if I’m allowed to say that on my show. I think Will is an incredible talent and I’m really thrilled that we have this showcase for him because I think generally he is thought of as a comedic actor. He doesn’t get the opportunity to go to these darker places and he’s really good at it. So is Alison and Paul and obviously Aaron [Paul] comes from drama, that’s not a surprise.

Alison too has gotten to do live-action drama.

Yes. I think one of the things we discovered early in the first season and more and more was that every time we push our actors they rise to the occasion so there’s always a question of oh, what if we did this thing. Do you think our actors can pull it off? They always can. It’s a real gift to right for them because I don’t have to be worried that they’re comedic actors, they can’t do this, because they can. If other people aren’t going to take advantage of this, I’m happy to do it.

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