No TV show in recent memory has been as savage about the concept of “awards season” as the Netflix animated comedy “BoJack Horseman.” But Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the creator of the Hollywood (sorry, “Hollywoo”) satire, is campaigning for it anyway.
“It feels like the weirdest season to try to squeeze out awards for, considering the whole season is one long story about how award shows are ridiculous, and meaningless, and arbitrary, and they won’t bring you happiness or joy,” he told IndieWire.
Bob-Waksberg isn’t exaggerating when he describes the show’s take on this particular sort of circus. In Season 3 of “BoJack Horseman,” we saw former sitcom actor BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) hit the campaign trail after his life-changing dramatic turn in a biopic of Secretariat (a performance we learned in Season 2 would be largely computer generated). But after a few episodes that explored everything from the junket process to the nuttiness of film festivals, the season took a darker path in exploring just what getting an award might mean for a creative person — and what, exactly, it won’t affect.
“I’m happy when people like the show and when people talk about the show, so I think awards are just another way for people to hear about the show and hear, ‘Oh, that show’s good? Yeah I’ll check it out if this body of people says that it’s worth checking out,'” Bob-Waksberg said. “I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot here talking about awards shows because… ‘Yes, please. Consider us. Give us your gold, so that we may love ourselves and feel worthy, in its shining reflection.’ But I think you could watch the season of ‘BoJack’ and you would kind of get a sense of how I really feel about all of this.”
[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “BoJack Horseman” Season 3 follow.]
If you need a reminder of what exactly Bob-Waksberg means by that, here’s what happened in Season 3: BoJack hits the campaign trail to get an Oscar nomination for “Secretariat,” but (after a cruel tease due to a nominations mix-up caused by Todd and Mr. Peanutbutter) is left without recognition.
“In the episode where he finds out that he doesn’t get nominated, we kinda got to have our cake and eat it too,” Bob-Waksberg said. “Because of the structure of the episode, you get to see what would happen if he did get nominated, and we can kinda play out that story, and then undercut it and say, ‘Well actually, he didn’t even get nominated.'”
It’s a brutal story choice (which, for the record, Bob-Waksberg credited to the writers’ room as a whole), but one that seems to resonate with the show’s audience, for reasons that aren’t crystal clear to the creator. “Maybe it’s a little bit of guilt. We don’t deserve all this love and affection and adoration that we have been given, and that also we’ve instilled upon ourselves. This kind of awareness that yeah, these award shows or these magazine covers — all of it is a little bit silly, and an indulgence. And we kind of enjoy it in the moment like a really good chocolate bar. But we know that we shouldn’t, and we know that it’s not quite right or fair or appropriate,” he said.
And that sense of doubt or guilt might be what contributes to the show’s popularity within Hollywood. “When someone kinda comes in and is like, ‘I’m gonna take you down a peg. I’m gonna deflate this balloon a little bit,’ it’s like a relief. It’s like, ‘Oh, thank God. Yes.’… We’re just dumb people, bouncin’ around, trying to do stuff. We really don’t deserve any of the acclaim that we’ve been given. And so I think people like that, because it affirms something deep and true, within them.”
That’s something that speaks to the show’s ability to move between comedy and drama — which could work to the show’s advantage in the awards race, given that the primary category in which “BoJack” is competing is Best Animated Program, with no presumption of genre beyond that.
Does that give “BoJack” an advantage, given how often the show delves into darker subjects? “I don’t think it does necessarily, because I think it’s all just people voting on how they want to vote anyway. I don’t think they’re really paying attention to the language of the name of the category,” he said. “I think it’ll just be like, are we enough people’s favorite show? And if so, they’ll vote for us. And they can like us for any number of reasons. They could think we’re the funniest, they could think we’re the best animated, they could think we have that great ‘Leisure Class’ joke. However they’re moved to vote for us, they are welcome to do so.”
What would an Emmy nomination mean to Bob-Waksberg? It’s not a simple answer. “I am trying to triangulate this correctly, because I don’t want to insult anybody. For me personally, not much. We did not get nominated for Emmys the last two years. I am not expecting to get nominated this year. I don’t think it’ll change my day-to-day life, all that much.”
But… “That said, I think it could be good for the show. Which then would be good for me because that would mean I would get to keep making it,” he said. “I’m having trouble feigning enthusiasm. You know what I mean? It’d be cool. Don’t not vote for us, if anyone’s reading this. If people are like, ‘Oh fuck that guy. He doesn’t want it. I’ll give it to someone who wants it,’ know that I’ll take it, and it’s nice, and I think it would make me feel good. Yeah.”
In the end, it’s the show itself for which Bob-Waksberg reserves his passion. “I think ‘BoJack’ is a show that runs on surprise and innovation and finding new stories to tell always and new ways of telling them. New dynamics to play, new relationships to play, new characters in and out of the mix,” he said. “But I think I get bored very easily, so I think if it started to become routine or if I ever start to sound like, ‘You know what, I got a handle on the show. I know how to make this show,’ I think I would very quickly be looking for other work.
“Luckily, I never feel like I know how to make this show. Every time we get in front of the whiteboard, and think, ‘Okay, blue sky. Let’s make an episode of television.’ I always think, ‘I don’t know how to do it’… I don’t know how it comes together. It’s a magical, mystical process, and yet somehow it continues to happen.”
“BoJack Horseman” Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix. Season 4 should premiere later this year.