Next week, season five of BoJack Horseman will premiere on Netflix and, judging by the trailer, this season will find our equestrian protagonist returning to those same self-destructive cycles of abuse he seems incapable of escaping. But before we dive into the questions we have going into this new season—like, “What did BoJack screw up this time?” and “Why is he being shot in that one promo image?”—let’s take a look back the inception of this unlikely hit show with an oral history from Vulture, which, much like the show itself, features a lot of nuts-and-bolts Hollywood production talk but is centered around a kernel of artistic passion.
The biggest takeaway from reading stories from producers, animators, and actors, is the singular voice of BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. From the very beginning, it was apparent that he had a unique idea for a TV show and that only he could help bring that particular show to life. While pitching the premise for BoJack to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Bob-Waksberg was asked if the show could instead be about a former athlete or race horse instead of a former actor. But, even in those early stages, Bob-Waksberg had confidence in his vision for the show and pushed back against the industry veteran. “I think he was impressed by Raphael’s conviction, and he was won over,” says executive producer Steven A. Cohen.
“Who knew Raphael Bob-Waksberg would deliver such a brilliant, clever, funny, and emotional script, with the brilliant series to follow?” Eisner tells Vulture. “That kind of talent shows up about once a decade.”
But, while producers had full confidence in the show’s creator and a fairly clear outline of what the first season would look like, Netflix audiences didn’t quite knew what they were going to get with BoJack. It was a comedy, but it dealt with fairly dark themes. Some of the character’s arcs were silly, but some were downright tragic. Initially audiences bristled at a cartoon about anthropomorphic animals that seemed to want them to reflect on the human condition so much, but, for everyone working on the show, that was a feature, not a bug.
“Raphael could have made that show just a funny cartoon for grown-ups, and it probably would have been fine,” says Paul F. Tompkins, who voices Mr. Peanutbutter (one word). “But I just think the fact that he challenged people’s perceptions and did it the way that he did it was very courageous.” Bob-Waksberg’s willingness to take the showbiz comedy into darker territory is mentioned again and again throughout the oral history, and further speaks to his ability as a writer. Fans who appreciated the show for what it was and stuck with it know that that darkness isn’t played for cheap emotion, but is rather rooted in real character moments and story.
You can read Vulture’s full oral history here, which includes some early character designs from the show’s chief production designer Lisa Hanawalt.
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