Netflix has just released the final episodes of its adult animation series, BoJack Horseman. The show premiered in 2014 and follows the life of the titular BoJack — a horse who also happens to be a washed up '90s sitcom star living in the Hollywood Hills.
It's a show about Hollywood; it often mocks celebrity culture and the movie business — but it also tackles serious issues like addiction, mental illness, sexism and trauma. And a number of critics have said it's one of the best TV shows of the 2010s.
Raphael Bob-Waksberg is the creator of BoJack Horseman. He's also an executive producer and writer on the show. Bob-Waksberg says that while he's never been a has-been TV actor himself, he did find Los Angeles "very isolating and alienating, mostly just 'cause I was new there and didn't know anybody," he tells me.
"But I took that to be a profound, all-encompassing observation on the place itself. And I wanted to tell a story about someone who lived in one of these houses that you see up on the top of these hills that that overlook the whole city and feel, you know, glorious and glamorous and at the top of everything, but are also very isolating and alienating."
On telling a relatively dark story in a bright, goofy cartoon setting
That was thing I was really nervous about at the beginning was, is this silliness and the goofiness of this world going to prevent us from going to darker, deeper, more introspective places? And the truth I found was really the opposite, was that the brighter and the sillier and the cartoonier we went, the more the audience was willing to go with us to these very melancholy places that maybe on a live-action show would have come off as indulgent or saccharine. And the darker we went, the more our audience was willing to follow us.
On the intersection of humor and despair
Yeah, well, it's interesting. I mean, I'm Jewish, and I think that's a very Jewish sensibility — to me at least, to make jokes in the in the midst of horrifying circumstances. And it's not that you're necessarily making light of the horrifying circumstances, just that you use your humor to survive. And certainly that is the thing with maybe non-Jewish comedians as well. But that's one that I definitely grew up with. And in my upbringing, and kind of where I come from, that is the thing of like, you have to laugh to stop from crying. And, you know, the absurdity of life and the strangeness of it is very comical, even when it is very sad too.
On BoJack and grappling with the legacy of beloved figures who've done bad things
I think in terms of the show, we kind of come at it from two levels. One, is what is the redemption or forgiveness that BoJack is owed, or is seeking from the public at large? And then also, what are the private amends he needs to make, or how does he salvage the personal relationships that he has with the people in his life? And I think those are two different questions that require two different answers. And both of those answers are pretty complicated! You know, we try not to be too prescriptive with the show. I don't necessarily think I know all the answers, but these are areas I'm interested in exploring and talking about and trying to find solutions to. And I don't know if we as an industry, or a society, or as individuals have found satisfying answers to these questions. And that's one of the reasons I think they're interesting to write about and interesting to discuss on television.
On BoJack Horseman's success
It was not a show that set the world on fire. This is not Friends, but it's a show that's connected with people. And every time I meet someone who says, you know, your show meant something to me, your show changed the way I see myself. Your show helped me articulate a feeling that I had that I was never able to identify. I think, like, wow, we did it, you know, which is — it's tremendously encouraging.
This story was produced for radio by Tinbete Ermyas and Kira Wakeam, and adapted for the Web by Petra Mayer.