Some might call them classic. Some might call them cheesy. But Raphael Bob-Waksberg loves sitcoms from the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a love which clearly informs his animated Netflix series “BoJack Horseman,” a dark Hollywood satire about a sitcom star of that era.
Technically, Bob-Waksberg spoke with Indiewire to remind you that last year Netflix released a stand-alone special, “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish,” that serves multiple functions: A tale of BoJack and Todd rediscovering a classic episode of “Horsin’ Around,” a charming (by “BoJack” standards) communicator of the holiday spirit and a way of keeping “BoJack” alive in the minds of its fans during the year-long break between seasons.
But along the way, we dug into who runs the social media on the show, how a delayed response to Bill Cosby actually helped a key Season 2 storyline and the current state of Season 3, including some important context on what he meant the last time he spoke with Indiewire about saying that the new season would be weirder and darker.
So, how’s Season 3 going?
We just finished writing the season. We had our last table read a couple weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, which is great [because] now we know what the season is. But now we have to make it. We’ve been finishing up record[ings] and animating the first few. It’s really coming together, and I think we have some fun surprises and do a lot of fun stuff.
I know, with a lot of animation, you write the script, but then, depending on how recording goes, you can get some fun improv out of it. Do you find that a lot?
We find stuff every step of the way. The script is a long process, where the writers weigh in a lot, then we have a table read and we add some more. Once we get the actors in there we say, “Play around with this a little bit and find something new in it.” Even after it’s all recorded, we’ll even find some new jokes in animation. In Season 1, we were working on some episode and we knew there was some story on BoJack sneezing on Marisa Tomei that we had set up, and elsewhere, we had set up that there was a sneezing picture that BoJack hates, but everyone uses when they talk about BoJack. It wasn’t until Episode 11 that we realized, “What if the sneezing picture is the picture of him sneezing on Marisa Tomei?” We went back to Episode 2 and changed the picture and had a flashback in Episode 11. The great thing about it coming out on Netflix is that it’s never too late to go back to an earlier episode and adjust something to better set up a thing we want to pay off later.
That’s something I find fascinating about watching and rewatching the show — that there’s such a depth to the level of jokes being told. You can constantly be discovering new things.
Yeah, we want this to be a show that people watch multiple times. There is a lot there for people pick up as they watch it, and I think I’ve heard of people who have seen the whole thing through eight times or 10 times! They’re still noticing new things every time they watch because it’s so layered, not just in the comedy but in the characters as well. You kind of notice new things about how the characters act toward each other and operate like, “Oh, he’s saying this because when he was a kid, his mom said that.” Those connections are still being made. We put so much time and work into it and it’s really rewarding to see that people are picking up on that stuff.
How much longer will you be working on Season 3?
Forever! [laughs] We’ll basically be working up until we release it this summer. We’ll deliver it to Netflix a few weeks or a month before it goes live and then we’ll get a little break, unless I decide to make another Christmas special, and in that case, I’ll work all through the summer.
Let’s talk about that! I heard you say you would not be doing a Christmas special this year, and I understand, because it’s a huge commitment to add onto what you’re doing.
It’s a lot more work, and I’m happy to do more work because I love the show and I’m happy I have the opportunity to do it, but also, we really like the idea that we have a special and it exists. We want people to watch it and not dilute it with more Christmas specials. We talked about doing a special for another time of year, and we still might in future seasons, but we didn’t want to make it a regular thing people expect — that every year, between seasons, they’re going to get a bonus episode at some point. We had a few ideas for bonus episodes this year, but nothing so perfect. Time-wise it had to be at a good distance between the two seasons, so we couldn’t do a Fourth of July episode and then the season comes out a week later. There was a lot of looking at calendars and saying, “What kind of stories could we tell outside of the story of the season?” Because our show is so serialized… I like the idea at the end of Season 2, that you don’t know what’s going to happen to all the characters and you want to come back to find out. I didn’t want to do a special that would give you more information. I like people coming into Season 3 anticipating and not knowing.
What’s smart about [“Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”] is that it does exist in a timeless place between seasons. I think a big part of that is how you focus on the relationship between BoJack and Todd. Given the fact that a Christmas special is supposed to be this really heart-warming, generous thing, what made you say, “We should tell the story of BoJack and Todd, our most heartwarming emotional couple?”
I don’t know why we did that. That probably came out of laziness more than anything else. If we’re going to be watching “Horsing Around,” it’s going to be in BoJack’s house, and Todd lives in BoJack’s house. That was probably the big thing — I wanted to make a “Horsin’ Around” episode. Then, the conversation was, “Is that a bridge too far for our audience?” Would that actually be fun for them or not? My answer was always, “Yeah! Let’s go as weird as we can!” I think we have an audience who will meet us there. I think they like when we go to these weird places and do these weird things.
But we also wanted to kind of hold the hand a little bit and bring our audience in with the characters that we know, having BoJack and Todd guide us through it. I think it balances out pretty well. You get the full “Horsin’ Around” episode, but you also have the BoJack-Todd framing device. I don’t know if I’d think of it as a BoJack-Todd episode. I think of it as a “Horsin’ Around” episode, which was cool and fun to get to do. I grew up on those shows. I’m a big fan, so it felt like I was living the dream to get to write one, even if it was making fun of it and showing how stupid they are. It comes from a genuine place.
I was wondering how tough it was to write a pretty straightforward sitcom episode, structurally. Because you get touches of that throughout the series, but this was your first commitment to having an A-line and a B-line.
It was a joy! I really loved it. I have a lot of affection for those old shows. You can put on an episode of “Full House” or “Family Matters” or “Growing Pains” now and I’ll watch it. And I’ll totally enjoy it. I heard people comment on the Christmas special like, “Okay, I get it, it’s a bad sitcom, but why would I want to watch a bad sitcom for a half an hour?” I was like, “Oh man, you don’t get it.” It’s great. I genuinely think it’s good. [laughs] I would love to just watch episodes of “Horsin’ Around” if I could. There’s a cheesiness that I don’t think is bad. There’s a texture to those shows that I actually find really enjoyable and really good. And you cannot convince me that they’re not good because I love them in all of their badness.
I don’t know, I know that’s not an opinion everybody shares, obviously, but it is something that I always kind of wanted to do with the show, is to say that these shows are not good in the way that we think of TV now. We think of TV as the new novel, as this new art form. But there is something really comforting and warm and nice about these cheesy jokes and nakedly sentimental moments and as eye-rolly and nonsensical as they are, I think there’s something kind of magical that exists within that. I wanted to be able to touch a bit of that glory on my own because I can’t go back in time, and I can’t write for “Full House.” Although I guess now I could, probably. If I wanted to. [laughs]
I bet you know a guy at Netflix who could slip you the address for that writer’s room.
It’s funny because I was talking to Netflix about that. I actually said, “I think it would be fun if I guest-wrote an episode of ‘Fuller House.'” And they asked me, “What would your episode be about?” And I mean, the premise of the show is that DJ is a widow, and now she’s raising these kids on her own with the help of Stephanie and Kimmy Gibler. I said, “That’s really interesting, where when she was young, she had this traumatic event where her mother died and now, can you imagine that you finally get over it and you find a husband who will love you and support the kids, then he dies too? Can you imagine how traumatic that would be?”
So my episode was going to be all about her feeling like she couldn’t tell her kids that she loved them because she was afraid that anyone she loved would die or get taken from her because she was cursed. And the guy I was talking to was like, “Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to make that episode.” [laughs] And I was like, “No, no, no. It would still be like an episode of ‘Full House’ — fun, full of jokes. And then like, Jesse would come up to her and say, ‘Deej, Deej, Deej, you don’t have to worry about people dying because you love them — because we all die. Your kids are going to die whether you love them or not. You might as well love them.'” And that was going to be my heartwarming ending. They did not love that. But that was going to be my pitch for “Fuller House.” If they’re interested, I will still write that episode for them. [laughs]
What all this goes to say is that I think there is a darkness lurking under the hoods of all of these kinds of shows. And I was interested in investigating that a little bit, which is what I did with the Christmas special.
Where there is a pretty dark scene between Sabrina and BoJack.
That’s right, “the horse” [not BoJack]. That’s something I picked up on this rewatch — that “Horsin’ Around” credits BoJack Horseman as The Horse.
He doesn’t have a name on the show. Part of that was just for ease, early on. I didn’t want to confuse the audience by giving him a different name on the show. “Is he BoJack or is he Gary or whatever?” I was like, “No, let’s just call him ‘The Horse’ because that will be easy to understand.” But I think there is something kind of funny about the idea of “No, the horse didn’t have a name because he was the everyman horse. He’s the horse that audiences identify with and giving him a name would be too specific.” [laughs] They kept him unnamed as a general audience surrogate, and that’s really funny to me. It kind of goes into questions of identity as well, who are we and are we somebody or are we just a horse. [laughs] For the record, this is me at like 50 percent pretentious level when I talk about my own show. I can really go in deep, but I don’t want to embarrass myself.
I was talking to Paul Scheer last summer, and he was saying that he had heard this thing about Will Smith, where Will Smith had said, “If you do a sitcom, you should make sure that your character name is your first name because, no matter what, that’s what people are going to be shouting at you in airports for the rest of your life.”
[laughs] That’s true.
So it makes sense in BoJack that people say, “Oh, you’re The Horse from ‘Horsin’ Around.'”
Exactly. Tony Danza, obviously, keeps naming all his characters Tony. That’s the obvious punchline — Is it just because he would forget to turn and look if they said another name? [laughs] They have to call him Tony? But I also think it’s dangerous because Vera Santa-Maria writes for “BoJack,” and also wrote for “Playing House”…
A great show.
A wonderful show. And she told me that Lennon [Parham] and Jessica [St. Clair] were called Lennon and Jessica on their other show, “Best Friends Forever,” and then they would read the comments, and it would say things like, “I don’t understand why Jessica is being such a bitch,” or “God, Lennon sucks.” It was like, it cuts that much deeper because they’re actually talking about them. So when they did “Playing House,” it was like, “No, we’re going to have character names, because we cannot take that anymore.” That’s harsh, man. I feel that even when people talk about the characters on “BoJack” and they say things like, “Ugh, Diane is dumb.” I am just like, “Fuck you, you’re dumb.” [laughs] I don’t say that obviously, I just like think it really loudly.
You can say anything you want in the privacy of your own home.
[laughs] Exactly. I shout and my neighbors go, “Don’t call me dumb!” And I say, “I’m sorry sir, you are not dumb.” And they say, “Oh, okay I understand.” And then we have tea together, and all is well.
That’s a lovely story. Something I really wanted to ask you about, touching on this one season: You’re putting out another season next summer, but there’s this whole year-long gap between them.
[laughs] Oh my God. For you, there’s a year-long gap. But I’ve been working non-stop on this show.
No, of course. But the real question is, how you keep the show alive with your fanbase?
The Christmas special was part of that, the idea of, let’s remind the audience of how much they love this show. It’s funny, too, because the Christmas special isn’t listed with the rest of the show on Netflix. It’s its own entity. So we have a lot of fans who haven’t even seen the Christmas special. They don’t even know about it because they came late. We have people who started watching the show in the second season who don’t even know they have another episode. I’ve been trying to get the word out that like, “Hey, there’s more BoJack!” We do have people who watch the show as soon as it comes out, but we also have people constantly discovering it. I’ll use “Fargo” as an example because I just watched it and it’s wonderful, but it comes out every week, it has the nights that it’s on and then that’s the time for “Fargo.” And then you wait a year until the show comes out again.
But the point of Netflix is you can watch it whenever you want. I talk to people all the time who are still watching it, like halfway through. That’s the beauty of it — you can go at your own speed. That feels like a dodge. Maybe I’m not answering your question at all because clearly there are more people talking about it in the summer and there are fewer people doing that now. I’m not going to deny the premise of your question. How do we get people to keep thinking about it? I don’t know. People don’t have to think about it all the time. That’s okay, too. We go away for a year and we come back and that’s great too. I’m not going to tell anyone how to be a fan of the show, or how to watch it or think about it.
That is fantastic and I totally appreciate that. This is actually my quasi-transition into a question I’ve wanted to ask for a long time. I follow BoJack Horseman on Tumblr, which is something that is updated quite regularly. How does that work? Is that something written by the staff or by you?
All of the social networking that BoJack does is by Netflix people. It’s by social networking people who are handling that. When he first started tweeting, I was like, “Alright, I’m going to write all the tweets!” And I wrote like 20 tweets and then they turned around and they were like, “Well, we used those 20.” And I was like, “What? Those were supposed to last for months.” And apparently that’s not how tweets work. It’s a hard job! I do not have time for this. [laughs] All those are handled by lovely Netflix social media people who are doing a wonderful job of keeping the conversation going. I don’t really have time to keep up with that because I’m working on the show, but every once in awhile, I’ll see something that BoJack tweeted, and I’ll be like, “Oh, good tweet!” Sometimes it’ll be like, “What! That doesn’t sound like something BoJack would say.” But then I forget about it and it’s fine.
One cool thing about what they’ve been doing is there have been interesting crossovers with “BoJack” and other Netflix shows.
Yeah, I saw the Aziz Ansari one.
As a Netflix creator, do you have a sense of belonging to this larger community?
That’s just like dumb campus pride. I feel like anybody on any team feels like, “Yeah, these are my people.” I’m excited when any Netflix show comes out. I’m like, “Yeah, Netflix! Doin’ great! We’re all on the same side.” It’s cool. It’s such a great family to be in. They make such wonderful, diverse shows. It feels really cool to be on the list of Netflix shows. I love “Master of None,” I’m watching “Jessica Jones” right now, which is fantastic. “Orange is the New Black,” obviously. It’s really cool. I feel really honored to be on that list. We don’t get together to play summer camp games, except for at the TCAs, but I like it.
It reminds me of something that Marta Kauffman said at your panel at the TCAs, which is that Netflix has 60 million subscribers, but she doesn’t need all of them. There’s not a sense of competition.
Absolutely not. I’m not in competition with Marta Kauffman or anybody. [laughs] And, unlike traditionally the way we think of media, you can watch whatever you want when you want it. There’s no limit to it. We’re creating a library that will exist for as long as Netflix is in the business of streaming content and people can catch up whenever they want. I don’t think of “BoJack” as a right-now show. I think of it like I’m creating a thing. And it can be part of the Netflix catalog, hopefully, for a very long time.
That actually speaks to something I was curious about, something that got brought up a lot in discussions of Season 2, which were discussions related to Bill Cosby. The question that arises is, there’s so much about comedy that you can make timely, but there’s also the question of being timeless. How do you approach that?
People say it’s easy to be timely and it’s like, “Actually, it’s not,” because we’re not on the “South Park” schedule, unfortunately. The conversation around Cosby when we started writing that episode [“Hank After Dark”] was very different than the conversation around Cosby when that episode came out. I think we were saved in that respect by not making it super-specific. We made it more of a broader critique of society, rather than saying, “We need to take down Cosby, it’s crazy, why is nobody talking about this?” Because then when the episode came out, everyone was talking about Cosby. We would have looked like idiots. And so part of that is to protect us. We have to make sure it’s timeless enough that it will still work by the time the episode comes out. And that protects us from the immediate datedness of an incredibly topical show.
But part of the mission statement of the show is that we’re satirizing Hollywood and show business. So if there are things that come up, it feels almost wrong not to talk about them. It’s not, “This a problem that’s happening, we have to say something,” because that’s silly. No one is looking to us to say something. It’s just that we have this megaphone for a very brief period of time, and if I’m feeling something, I want to shout it because I don’t know if I’m going to get another opportunity. I do want to talk about stuff that’s going on.
That’s true of all of our writers. They see it as an opportunity to investigate things. We can’t be too specific about it because we want the things we’re saying to live on. I would love it if “Hank After Dark” existed after a time that was no longer relevant. If, in five to 10 years, that episode has no bearing on society, wouldn’t that be wonderful? That would be a dream. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon, unfortunately.
To wrap things up, when we spoke last summer the best pull-quote was that your plans for Season 3 were, “darker and weirder.”
Oh my God, I regret that pull quote.
Okay then, I’m glad I brought it up. This is your opportunity to say what you really feel.
Sometimes I just say words. [laughs] I can’t wait to see what the pull quote from this interview is going to be. We’re not trying to outdo ourselves each year. It’s not like, “Oh man, we really pushed the envelope, we have to go even farther.” That’s not interesting.
I think what I meant, when I said “darker and weirder,” is that we have plans to go to areas we haven’t gone before and try new methods of storytelling. And now that we’ve written the third season, I can confidently say, it is plenty weird, it is definitely dark. I don’t think anyone is going to watch it and think, “What happened to this dark, weird show?” We’re not trying to be edgy. I think I want to start shying away from the word dark. Because I think that implies that that’s what we’re going for, like we’re going to really lift up the rock of Hollywood and human nature and seeing the worms wriggling underneath. Like we’re just telling the story, man. [laughs] And sometimes it’s going to be dark and sometimes it’s going to be light. And that’s what life is. But I don’t want to give this impression that if people see the season and it is really dark, I don’t want the thought to be, “They went there because they had something to prove.That’s why it’s so dark. I wish they hadn’t felt the need to go darker.” Because that’s not what’s going on.
But I can’t control what people take away from it. Although, I guess that’s what the purpose of all these interviews is, is to control the narrative around my show and tell people how to react and how to look at it. But I don’t know, man. People are going to get what they get. And I think that’s the beautiful thing about television. It’s a weird time of year, too. Because all of these year-end lists of best shows. I love it and I hate it. That’s what it is. There’s no authority. Every critic I’ve seen is like, “How do you put together a Top 10 list? I don’t know! These are just the ones that I’ve seen and like.” Which I think is the correct approach. [laughs]
We try to break it down as much as possible, so if we can’t put a show on the official Top 10 list, we can still get it on a best episode list or something, but it’s still impossible and the worst thing in the world.
I feel like there’s so much snobbiness. This isn’t the critics I’m talking about, just the public at large. There are “good” shows and “bad” shows, and like a show that was once “good” and now it’s “bad.” People like what they like, you know. This whole idea of too much TV, I think is really gross. Because I feel like it’s mostly white men who are saying it. And it’s like, “Yeah, man, there’s too much TV for you, but by nature of there being so much TV, there are other voices being represented.” Isn’t that a wonderful thing? But I don’t know, I get the willies, you know what I mean?
It’s nerve-wracking to be judged on that level.
Right. And every day a new list that goes up and it’s like, “Where did we rank? Are we good? Do people like us?” We made a good season, I’m proud of it. The fact that other people like it too, that’s great. I’m happy for all of it. It’s such a joy. I’m so blessed I get to do this. I really have to remind myself all the time, that this is what I wanted. This is it, this is the thing, I get to make a TV show. And I get to do whatever I want on it, I get so much freedom and so many wonderful people working with me, and so many brilliant people are making it even better. It’s a joy. It truly is. I think this season of all seasons, is the time to take stock of that, and appreciate what we have.
And I think there’s no better way to do that than to watch the “BoJack Horseman” Christmas Special, which is now available on Netflix.
Did I turn that around?
It was perfect.
“Sabrina’s Christmas Wish,” the “BoJack Horseman” Christmas Special, is now available on Netflix.