BoJack Horseman is Netflix's loveable, washed-up TV star on a quest — which might be futile — to regain fame, happiness and a life full of meaning.
In the beginning of Season 3, BoJack has to defend himself during a junket with entertainment journalists. This season, he’s forced into the Oscar race for his performance in a film adaptation of Secretariat. Except his performance was largely replaced by the studio with computerized images.
BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg is an avid follower of The Oscars, and wanted this season to explore the machine behind Hollywood’s biggest night. Bob-Waksberg recently spoke with The Frame host John Horn about his conflicted love for the craziness of awards season.
"BoJack Horseman" satirizes so many aspects of L.A. culture, so I have to ask, what's the thought behind choosing the Oscars as a topic in the latest season?
I love the Oscars. Every year I get really into it and I handicap my favorites. It's sports for me. I don't have a sport except for the Oscar race. So I get really excited about it. But it also makes me anxious in a way as well. When I take a step back and think about that these are people who are parading around and pageanting around, from basically now up until March is just an insane mad dash of picture opportunities and interviews and being shepherded from place to place like cattle. It terrifies me the way we treat these human beings and thrust them into the spotlight and say, "dance for us and we will throw gold at you." I'm fascinated by what that does to a person.
It must be interesting for you and your writers to have observed all of this. Maybe some of your writers — and certainly some of your actors — have been nominated before. To unburden that experience and the pressure to win awards and the length people will go to win — was that a collaborative idea from everyone's shared experiences?
A little bit. I've gotta say, I've never really understood the appeal of awards. I never really got what the big deal was and then we won an award last year, we got the Critics Choice Award. And all of the sudden, I got it. I was like, "When I win awards, this feels nice! Now I understand how good this feels." It's so dumb and it doesn't mean anything, but I think we all want to be liked. People want a stage saying, "We like you." We all want that Sally Field moment. It's human nature. I think if we could somehow turn that off, maybe we'd all be a lot healthier. As you can tell, I'm pretty conflicted about the whole business. I think a big part of this season of BoJack is exploring that. Like, "Does this matter? What does it mean and will it make you happy?" The answer to all those questions are: "No and yes and something and nothing and maybe and no and yes."
In this season, you have Angela Bassett playing the publicist who is hired to win BoJack his Oscar and conduct his campaign. She was actually nominated for an Oscar for "What's Love Got To Do With It" back in 1994. In one scene, Bassett's character tells BoJack how good it'll feel if he wins the Oscar, but just for one night. Is this part of the idea you were trying to get at?
That was an important scene for us because a big theme on the show is that the thing you think you want, once you get it, won't make you happy — that it's the wanting that's the thing. To ever get that thing is just going to make you want the next thing. That's something we've kind of hammered in over and over again. When we were starting the season and thinking about the writing of it, we were like, "Okay, this season is going to be about BoJack trying to get an Oscar." The question is, is our audience going to care about this? Because we've been telling them for the last two years that anything BoJack wants is not going to make him happy. So this scene is a little bit about explaining in a new way what it means, not just for the career but for the idea that, "No, it won't lead to lasting happiness but it will have a moment of happiness and you shouldn't throw out the hope of a moment of happiness because of a threat of looming sadness" — if that makes sense.
I want to talk about the design of the show and the look of the characters. Not that long ago we had a high school friend of yours, Lisa Hanawalt, on the show. She told us then a little bit about the process of creating the characters. She said you asked her to draw someone from your math class as a dog?
Yeah. That quote reminded me of something: This is a show about cartoon animals. I think, from our conversation, if you don't know the show, it's easy to miss that. But this is a wacky comedy about talking animals getting into scrapes. We think about it and we take it very seriously. We talk about what is the emotional journey of these characters and what are we saying about art and the fleeting nature of happiness and love. But we're also telling wacky jokes about dogs who love tennis balls. That is kind of the fun of the show is playing both instruments at once.
One of the best things about the show are the hidden jokes in the background. How do you guys come up with those?
Most of the background jokes come from Lisa and her team of designers. There are really two kinds of background jokes. There are jokes that are baked into the background. Then we also a lot of times have animal jokes right before a scene starts or after a scene ends where you'll see a funny animal move through the scene in a funny way just as we're establishing the scene. That usually comes from Mike Hollingsworth who's our supervising director or the other directors or animators. But all of them are so smart and so funny. I love the fact that this show is a collaboration. One of the things we're constantly looking at when we're editing the episodes or looking at the animatics is: Where are there more opportunities for jokes? What else can we cram into this section. Even while these two are talking, can there be a joke in the background? One thing we found is that our audience really likes that and responds to that. This is a show that people watch more than once. They watch it over and over. So the more things we can hide and the more things we can have going at once, the more things there are to find.
Have there ever been jokes on BoJack where it sounded good at first but then you thought the better of it?
Yes. In season 2, we reintroduced J.D. Salinger as a character. He returns with this game show "Hollywood Stars and Celebrities: What do they know? Do they know things? Let's find out." There's a story where he has a pen and tells his crew, "At the end of today I'm going to give this pen to the person that I respect the most." Our other character, Todd, who J.D. Salinger hates ends up with the pen more through trickery than by earning it. Todd says, "I got your pen. That means you respect me." And J.D. Salinger says, "No I don't!" But the original line was, "Argh, you're twisting my words."
This is like Mark David Chapman all over again. Which is a pretty dark joke. Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon and said it was because of J.D. Salinger. So that's a pretty dark joke, but time has passed and we thought, maybe it's okay to laugh about that now.
Then we ended up with Paul McCartney in one of our episodes. Then I thought, if there's a chance that Paul McCartney watches this show, then this joke is going to bum him out specifically. I don't want to be the guy who's like, "Hey come on my show — and then, "Here's a joke about your dead friend."
So no subject matter is necessarily off limits, but I do like to think, "Who could potentially be hurt by this joke and is that a risk worth taking?" Sometimes it feels like, "Yeah it is." Other times it feels like, "No, we're on the wrong side of this one, let's take it out."