Entering its fifth season, BoJack Horseman has become one of the best shows currently airing on TV, an ambitious, engrossing, bittersweet rumination on people's ability (or inability) to change, one that is as interested in exploring the inner lives of its characters as it is in painstakingly set-up visual gags and puns. The latest season was ceremonially dumped on Netflix last Friday. Hopefully you've had a chance to binge most or all of the season by now—but in case you haven't, exit this page and come back when you have, because...
SPOILERS FOR SEASON 5 AHEAD. SERIOUSLY, DON'T SCROLL DOWN UNLESS YOU WANT THE SEASON SPOILED FOR YOU. WHAT SPOILERS ARE THERE? DO THE SPOILERS KNOW THINGS?? LET'S FIND OUT!
This season, the show examined the Hollywood machinery that springs up to protect "bad men," with BoJack descending into pill addiction as his real life blurred with his role as Philbert, culminating in him choking his ex-girlfriend on set and then heading to rehab. Diane struggled with her identity as a Vietnamese-American as she simultaneously went through with her divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter, who buried his emotions by jumping into a new relationship. After a few starts and stops, Princess Carolyn finally adopted a baby; Todd became an executive at WhatTimeIsItRightNow.Com and had some wacky adventures with the unforgettable Henry Fondle.
We caught up with creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg to talk about the larger narratives of the season, why Diane was arguably the most important character this season, his feelings on the #MeToo movement and Louis C.K.'s attempted comeback, BoJack jokes that he now regrets, and the toughest episode to break this year.
Hey Raphael, it's great to talk to you again. Hey Ben, how are ya? Listen, I got to tell you: to prepare for this I re-read the interview that we did last year. I don't know if you've taken a look at it, but it was really interesting to see some of the stuff that I was saying and thinking about then. I think it really resonates with the new season. So clearly, I had stuff on my mind that I think played out, I don't know if you felt the same way.
I did. I was just re-reading it this morning as well and I started taking out certain quotes that I wanted to ask you about. There's something you said to me last year that has stuck with me ever since, and it's something I've brought up with other showrunners and people in television, a question about the nature of the stories that you're telling and then whose stories and whose narratives you're choosing to highlight. That has really resonated with me, and I was curious about how you applied that to this new season. Yeah, I think a big way that idea applies to this season is in how much of the story is told from Diane's perspective and I think one of the big shifts this season is that for the first time, it doesn't end with BoJack. It ends with Diane. And a lot of the movement of the season comes from her discovering this thing about him [regarding him almost hooking up with Penny, the teenage daughter of his old flame Charlotte, in season two], about a third of the way through the season. And then not quite knowing how to react or how to be around him, or what that says about her.
In a lot of ways it is BoJack's season as well. He obviously goes through a lot and we're very much with him and it's his story. But I was also interested in telling the story of, not just the difficult, damaged men, but the people around the difficult, damaged men, who do care about them and the toll it takes on them. And what is their responsibility to themselves and to their difficult, damaged friends? And to the public at large, or the general community? And how do they juggle those responsibilities? I think it's really interesting and it was really fun to explore those questions through Diane.
Do you see Diane in this sense then as an audience surrogate for the character of BoJack, in general? I think in some ways yes, in other ways no. I don't want Diane to be a mouthpiece for me or the writers of the show or feel like she's just a meta-commentary on BoJack. Certainly she's very flawed and we've shown her hypocrisies in the past. And this season as well, we see her flaws and I think there are times when the audience would judge her as well, and be like well, why are you up on your high horse or why are you yelling at that high horse, as the case may be.
But I do think in this season, particularly, she does voice what somebody looking at BoJack might say to him or feel about him. I think she's a little more conflicted than an audience because she's not judging him as a character, she's judging him as a person in her life that she does care deeply about, but is also affecting other real people in her world. You know, when we're watching the show, we see the fake character affecting fake people, so we have a little more distance than Diane does.
Towards the end of the season, Diane is talking about the reactions to Philbert and wondering whether Philbert is just a way for "dumb assholes to rationalize their own awful behavior." Is that something you worry about with the show? Do you worry about certain audience members romanticizing BoJack, the way fans did with say, Walter White? Yes, I do worry about that. I think there's only so much that I can do to prevent that, without being completely didactic and naked, but I am doing what I can because I do think it's important to kind of keep reminding the audience that BoJack is a cautionary tale, not a role model. And as much as we want you to care about him, or empathize with him, you don't want to be him. And if you see parts of yourself in him, or parts of him in yourself, that is something to be concerned about, not comforted by.
Although sometimes, not always I will say, there are ways in which it is okay to be comforted by him, and that's what makes it a sticky, difficult thing, is that I also want our audience to feel comforted. And feel like it's okay to be depressed or it's okay to have these self-hating feelings. Or it's okay to come from a broken home. I think the way that BoJack reacts to this stuff is not always okay.
I think that's an important distinction to make. And that there's a better way to go about it than BoJack does, and I think a big part of the season is BoJack kind of realizing that he's going about it the wrong way. And I would hope that some of our audience can take something from that.
In terms of really digging into the addiction storyline, which is building up throughout the season and really becomes the crux of BoJack's story this season, I was really impressed with how much it rang true in terms of people I've seen in my own life, especially in the deglamorizing and the relentless monotony of addiction. Well thank you. We tried to be accurate and do our research and make sure we weren't saying something that was wildly untrue. But I can say it's not based on my personal experience or relationships I've had with people.
Well, I will say I remember I saw Leaving Las Vegas a couple years ago for the first time and we had already been making BoJack, who from episode one, season one, we established as an alcoholic and a drug addict. And I saw this movie with Nicolas Cage where he doesn't have a drink and he's literally shaking and cannot stand still. And I thought, oh that's the kind of alcoholism you don't normally see, I understand why this movie was highly acclaimed when it came out. Because it's not cool and sophisticated, it's desperate and gritty and awkward and embarrassing. And that's the side of addiction that I've wanted to show and I'm really glad we got to highlight that part of it this season.
The way you put it before—that the audience is seeing things this year a little more from Diane's perspective—seems really apt and important, because in season four we really got in BoJack's head, we saw his inner monologue and we heard his mother's voice and we got really deep into the family legacy of self-loathing. And this season we're a little bit more removed from him. We are observing him more than we are in his head. And that feels directly connected to observing the addiction storyline play out. Well, I do think actually, now that you mention it, I think that is also a thing that happens when you have friends who kind of lean into addiction, is they shut themselves off to you more as an observer. And that is something that I've noticed from my personal experience, is that you feel like you really know someone then all of a sudden they become more of a stranger. And it's interesting to hear you describe it like that, because that was not a conscious effort we made, but I think that does play in nicely with that exploration.
I know when we talked last year, it was a couple of months before the #MeToo movement really exploded, but did you already have it in mind that this was an area of Hollywood that you wanted to explore this season? Yes. I am very glad that this has become a much bigger part of our larger cultural conversation. I think a lot of good has come from that. I'm always frustrated and anxious by how little movement has actually been made, but I do actually think there have been some very good things to happen and I hope they continue to happen.
But this has absolutely been an interest in mine from the beginning. In Season Two, we had the Hank Hippopopalous episode exploring similar issues. Since last summer when we started planning this season, we knew we were going to get into this idea of Hollywood forgiving people, forgiving men specifically, and what does that mean, and what does that mean for our character? And then, when the #MeToo/Time's Up stuff started happening, it felt appropriate. Like, oh good, we're tapping into what everyone is tapping into and there's a larger frustration growing here and I'm glad that that is being expressed, and I'm proud to be one of the many people expressing it.
And you approach it from a couple different angles. There's Vance Waggoner, a kind of Mel Gibson stand-in, early in the season, which then carries over to BoJack and what he does at the very end of the season [choking a coworker while in a drug-induced fugue state] and how the Hollywood machinery rises up to protect him and shield him from any responsibility for his actions. It makes me think about what needs to happen for true contrition. I don't know whether you know him or not, but I've been thinking a lot about Louis C.K and his aborted attempt at a comeback recently. It's brought forth an extreme reaction from people, and exposed, yet again, that so many people in these conversations seem to be focusing on the accused and what he has or hasn't done, but so little on the victims and the results of his actions—the people who have had their careers stalled or ended because they were blacklisted by him and his manager. I do not like Louis C.K. I was a big fan of his until I learned about the stuff that he did. And now I think he can go fuck himself. If I can say that in your online publication.
Yes you can. It's an interesting thing to grapple with for me artistically because I am making a TV show that asks audiences to be somewhat sympathetic to a pretty grimy dude. And it's something that we try to acknowledge and talk about on the show and not feel like we're making excuses for him. But the truth is that I personally am someone who does believe in the power and importance of forgiveness and redemption, but I think that needs to be earned and I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done to get it.
And if we're talking about Louis C.K. specifically, he has, in my mind, not done that work. And I don't think BoJack has done that work. I would like to believe that it is possible for everybody, but it is not my top concern at the moment, how is Louis C.K. going to earn back my trust and love and affection? I'm not necessarily interested in helping him do that. But I hope he does because I think a lot of good can come from him actually speaking out about what he did.
I would love it if his comeback was not him doing standup routines, but him being interviewed by Oprah and talking about what he's learned. I would love him to reach out—not necessarily to the women that he's wronged, I think they've dealt with him enough—but to the men in the audience who gave him a standing ovation. And explain to them why he doesn't deserve a standing ovation. I think he has a lot of people who are still defending him and if he's truly sorry for his actions and remorseful and wants to atone, his first job is telling those people to stop defending him and explaining to those people why he doesn't deserve an easy forgiveness. And I think when he does that, that will be maybe the first step towards his larger cultural forgiveness, in my eyes. I don't know if he will ever or can ever be forgiven by the people he's individually wronged, the boat has maybe sailed on that. But I still think there's a lot to the public as well, not just the individuals that he's wronged.
And he's one example and I would put a lot of people in this boat with him. But I do believe there is a possible path. I haven't seen anyone really make an effort to take that path. I think everyone I've seen trying to make a comeback takes the coward's way out, where they retreat back to those fans, the people who were never mad at them, and they build back their fan base through them. And I understand why that's an instinct and why that feels comfortable, but I think the path toward redemption does not come from the comfortable path.
So much of this season is about confronting past mistakes and trying to look them in the face and deal with them. I was just reading an article this morning that was all about comedians reflecting on jokes that they were unhappy with, that they used to make. Yeah! I saw that on Vulture, I love that.
I thought it was a great piece, and a really thoughtful idea that encouraged people to feel safe in admitting wrong and admitting mistakes. I was wondering, do you have anything like that with the show that you wish you could change or that you would've done differently now? Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. You want a full accounting? I mean, I could go on for a while. I'll start with the least risky thing to admit. I'll work my way toward the more embarrassing stuff. But I think when I first started the show, I don't think I had the firmest awareness of the amount of still thriving anti-Semitism there was in this country. And I think I thought, as a Jew, I'm entitled to make jokes about Jews and jokes about the Holocaust. And I think looking back in season one and also the Christmas special, I think I leaned a little too heavily into that. And now I am less comfortable making those kinds of jokes because I think there are certain people that are taking them the wrong way.
This is an example I've spoken about before: in season two we have a line where BoJack refers to indigenous Alaskans as "inbred Eskimo blubber-munchers," I believe. Something along those lines, which at the time, was an example of BoJack saying something offensive and inappropriate. But I saw what I think was a Tumblr post that someone made saying, "as an indigenous Alaskan myself, I am very rarely represented on television, so it really bummed me out that one of my favorite shows, the one reference to my people they made was in that way."
And I thought, oh yeah, that's true. That's a true bummer and I was not thinking of it from her perspective when we wrote that joke, and we had no indigenous Alaskans on staff to say, hey wait a second, maybe we're not coming from this at the right angle. So, I would not have made that, and other examples of things like that, where we've done things that are kind of ... I don't think we'd ever try to be so offensive or edgy, but things I think of kind of like face-offensive or feel the point is how over-the-top it is, and looking back, I go, I don't think I was really authorized to make that joke.
I think there's a handful of jokes about people not being able to pronounce Diane's last name, which now I think we were not in the right place to make those kinds of jokes. You know, lots of little stuff like that. I would probably change it rather than doing it again.
Do you feel similarly about the decision to have Alison Brie, a white woman, play Diane, who is Vietnamese-American? Is that something you might do differently now if you were starting the show? Yes. Yes, I would do it differently. And I've spoken about this at length, I did a big interview with Uproxx about six months back where I talked a lot about that. That is definitely something I would not do again.
[In that interview, he said: "I think I used the idea of color-blind casting—[of] 'It doesn’t really matter' — as an excuse to not pay attention. I just said, okay, let’s find good people for every role … But I think if you’re not paying attention, you’re going to end up with mostly white people just because that’s how our industry is set up,” he explained. “If you want to go against that, you have to be active about it. You have to actively hire people of color. You have to actively think for every role: Can this be not a white person? If I’m not thinking about, it’s not going to happen.”]
There are a lot of genre exercises and one-off special episodes this season: Mr. Peanutbutter goes through four different time periods over Halloween, BoJack starts to hallucinate between being Philbert and himself, and of course, the amazing funeral monologue episode. I was wondering if any of these were particularly hard to break, if any of them were particularly challenging or made you nervous going into doing them? I will say the eulogy monologue episode was surprisingly easy. And the four Halloweens was surprisingly difficult. There were so many things to keep track of because we had four different Peanutbutter stories that all had to work as one story. Then we also had all these other characters in every period that we wanted to keep track of. So, we had to think, alright, what's BoJack doing this year, what's BoJack doing that year? What's Todd doing this year, how old was Todd here? When does Diane enter the picture? When does Todd enter the picture? What is Princess Carolyn doing this time? What is Princess Carolyn's relationship with BoJack at this time? I remember realizing, oh, BoJack is going to get the call about his father this year, we have to get Princess Carolyn out of that house somehow, because she would stick around otherwise and comfort him, because they're dating at this point. But I don't want her to be there, because he's alone and it's why he lets Todd stay with him.
So, there was just a lot of complicated math we had to do. And Kelly Galuska, who wrote that episode, did an incredible job keeping track of everything. And one thing I'm very proud of that we were able to keep in was that Jessica Biel was afraid of mummies. I was so sure I was going to cut that at any point, because it's just a bizarre thing, and that was a real baby for her. And I think she was surprised and delighted that it made it all the way to the end of making the episode. But yes, that plot point didn't factor in.
Yeah, she's been such a trooper with all the jokes you've thrown at her. She's fantastic. She's such a joy, I love working with her.