This post discusses the entirety of BoJack Horseman Season 5.
The final moment of animated comedy BoJack Horseman’s fifth season, which debuted Friday on Netflix, is one I can’t stop thinking about. Diane (Alison Brie), now with a new, sharp coiffure, drives into a glorious sunset, following the Pacific Coast Highway until she returns to the dense, bustling traffic of Los Angeles. What matters about the moment, narratively, is that she’s just left her old friend BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) at a rehab facility, where—for the first time—he will try to address the cycle of addiction that keeps his life in the suspended animation of false progress. (The opening credits of the show, which change a little each season but present the same essential story of hangover, excess, and momentary peace, have never seemed more prophetic.)
Nothing happens, exactly, after Diane leaves BoJack and begins to drive home. Yet the episode lingers on, through the vivid landscapes of production designer Lisa Hanawalt’s imagining as the War on Drugs’ “Under the Pressure” begins its first tentative chords. The song feels like the beginning of something beautiful, even though its start implies its inevitable conclusion.
I read it as a hopeful ending, but you would not be blamed for feeling especially gutted at the close of BoJack Season 5—which takes the viewer through some of the most fraught territory the show has explored yet. As BoJack films the lead role in Princess Carolyn’s (Amy Sedaris) new project for whattimeisitrightnow.com—an antihero crime drama named Philbert—the toxicity he’d sort of managed to control in Season 4 as he got to know his half sister, Hollyhock (Aparna Nancherla), spews out of him in unexpected, awful ways. He’s crippled by an opioid addiction, and enters into a relationship of convenience with his new co-star Gina (Stephanie Beatriz)—which goes horribly wrong when, addled by hallucinations and guilt-fueled paranoia, he nearly chokes her out during a staged fight scene.
BoJack Horseman has always been a TV show about TV—a technicolor, bizarre glimpse into the inner workings of Hollywood—but the meta aspect is heightened this year by BoJack’s increasing inability to differentiate between the narrative of his show and his own vivid psychodrama. As Philbert’s set gradually accumulates more of the show’s cast—Diane becomes a writer, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) becomes a co-star, and Todd (Aaron Paul) naturally becomes a high-ranking executive at whattimeisitrightnow.com—Philbert is a staging ground for industry-wide conversations about harassment, gender and power dynamics, the creative process, and what it means to make a show about men behaving badly.
Show-runner and creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg told me that Season 5 was “our most meta season—which is really saying something for this show.” Then again, when Bob-Waksberg and his writers began work on BoJack, they didn’t entirely realize that BoJack himself would reflect the profile of so many men eventually implicated in the #MeToo movement. “Coincidence is a strong word, but there’s some architecture we’ve been doing in the show for the last four years that kind of dovetails into some of the conversations we’re having now as a society,” he said.
Or, to put it more simply: “BoJack—he seems like a creep!” Not just because of what happens in Season 5, but because of what has been happening on the show up until this point, and what’s been insinuated about the character’s behavior for the last several years. The driving question for BoJack’s plotline this year, Bob-Waksberg said, became, “How do we view this character in light of how we view this kind of guy now?”
Bob-Waksberg was candid about how much #MeToo forced him to reconsider his own assumptions—and how that reconsideration fed into the plot for Season 5. “The kinds of stuff that maybe in the first season would have been treated as a punch line, all of a sudden are not so funny anymore—if even they were funny then! And I think some people would say, No, it wasn’t funny then, you asshole! My frame for this behavior has really shifted,” he said. “It’s amazing that we’ve allowed ourselves, as an industry, to go so far down that road—to rationalize and legitimize that behavior as just par for the course.”
Cheekily—and with an eye on balancing out the heavy material of Season 5 with lighter fare—the story of entitlement also plays out with Todd’s ridiculous creation: Henry Fondle, a bawdy sex robot bristling with dildos that ends up rapidly rising through the ranks of whattimeisitrightnow.com. There’s some wicked social commentary in how this machine programmed to seduce becomes such a well-regarded figure, but according to Bob-Waksberg, “it didn’t start that way! It started—*let’s have Todd build a sex robot, that’ll be funny.”
“Originally we were thinking about stunt-casting the character with Alicia Vikander, because she played a similar character in Ex Machina,” he explained. “But then the scheduling didn’t work out, and we thought, this should really be a man’s voice. This should be a male robot.” In the end, Paul performed Henry Fondle, too, which meant frequently acting in scenes opposite himself.
Henry Fondle’s rise originally took longer, until the writers realized they could show the whole thing in just a handful of scenes. “We can tell a larger story here about how quickly these guys rise through the ranks, now that the way these guys get ahead is suddenly seen in a new light,” Bob-Waksberg said. “There’s a statement there about how men—or things that are coded as men; this is a robot—are given the benefit of the doubt.”
As the #MeToo movement enters its second year—punctuated both by the resignation of CBS chief Les Moonves and the return of stand-up comic Louis C.K.—BoJack’s ruminations are especially valuable. In the 10th episode, “Head in the Clouds,” Diane and BoJack get into an elegant, furious disagreement over whether he’s a bad guy—and, if he is, whether he’s really trying to get better. To emphasize the metatext of it all, one of the things they are arguing about is whether Philbert, the show within the show, offers justification or excuses for its own main character’s bad behavior.
Bob-Waksberg told me that much of the dialogue about the responsibility of an artist—and the guilt of the accused—came directly from meta-discussions in the writers’ room. In particular, #MeToo forced Bob-Waksberg to consider BoJack’s own culpability: “What is our responsibility to our audience to signal, hey, this kind of behavior isn’t cool, don’t emulate this?”
In the moment where Diane and BoJack are fighting at the Philbert premiere, they are squabbling over what humanizing this protagonist accomplishes—a conversation that reflects some of Bob-Waksberg’s own doubts. “Going into this season, I really had this belief that showing something on television or in movies inherently glamorizes it,” he said emphatically. But some of the other writers didn’t feel that way. Bob-Waksberg specifically argued with the writer of “Head in the Clouds,” Nick Adams, who wrote Diane and BoJack’s argument. “It’s his episode, actually, where Diane says—she uses the word ‘normalizes,’ which I think is a much better word than ‘glamorizes.’”
He described the needle they were trying to thread as one that embraces complexity, but doesn’t abdicate responsibility, either. “The danger of being sophisticated and nuanced is that you’re going to be misinterpreted. How do you account for that? Is it your responsibility as an artist to account for the ways that your show will be misinterpreted? More and more, I think yes—somewhat. Some of it you can’t account for, and it’s going to be out of your power. But it’s disingenuous to wash your hands from it entirely and say, Look, I’m just making a show.”
The fifth season of the show invests even more time in one-off episodes that showcase a particular character’s crossroads. For BoJack, it’s “Free Churro,” an episode delivered entirely in monologue through the device of a eulogy for his mother. That’s an indication of how the rest of the season sharply keys into BoJack’s psychology. The penultimate episode, “The Showstopper,” which features BoJack’s violence against Gina, is one of the most hauntingly sad explorations of his tortured psyche yet—ending, quietly, with him ascending a flight of stairs to confront an untethered balloon of himself, inflated but free, hovering but detached.
BoJack Horseman Season 5 is an attempt to integrate an understanding of BoJack’s own trauma with the irreparable consequences of his actions—to have empathy for both victim and perpetrator, without diminishing the harm done by the perpetrator. It makes for a tough, doubled feeling: is BoJack, as he asserts, the biggest victim of his own careening life? Or is he inflicting more pain than he realizes, as Diane suggests? “I want to believe we can forgive each other, and that we can do the things necessary to earn forgiveness. I don’t think that anyone is completely irredeemable,” Bob-Waksberg said.
But when asked, hypothetically, what it would take for him to personally forgive some of the men fingered by the #MeToo movement, he hesitated. “I really thought about that, and I struggled with it,” he said.
Those debates ultimately made it into the season. “It doesn’t necessarily offer easy solutions, but it doesn’t say, because there are no easy solutions, that we should just throw our hands up and stop talking about it,” he said. Bob-Waksberg knows that there are still some sentiments in the show that not everyone in the writers’ room would agree with. But, he joked, “Luckily, I am the boss, so I get to decide what goes in the show.”
In balancing empathy and responsibility, Bob-Waksberg put a great deal of significance into the conclusion of the season—which leads BoJack, almost against his will, to seek help to treat his addiction. “This presents a step forward for him in a very critical way that he has not been able to take before—which is admitting he cannot do it by himself. That was a very crucial stumbling block,” he said. “You could realize something is bad in your life and watch to change it . . . but if you are trying to do it all yourself and you are unable to, then that is not an admirable quality, that you are not able to ask for help from others.”
Bob-Waksberg thinks that BoJack suffers from the “specifically masculine” belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness—when, in fact, “the opposite is true. It takes great strength and courage to ask for help.”
Season 5 pushes the character to the darkest, furthest hole he’s been down yet. But there is some faint light at the end of the tunnel. Bob-Waksberg was loath to discuss much about future seasons—which have not officially been green-lit—but if given a Season 6, he said, “I am not interested in flushing that all away immediately . . . We couldn’t really tell the story of his process, or his progress, without dealing with this step—and he wasn’t going to take this step until he was absolutely forced to.”
BoJack Horseman may be TV’s most candid show about the realities of Hollywood—a niche topic, and not necessarily because creators are afraid that getting too real about it could damage their careers. “A lot of the hesitancy to talk about the industry in real, concrete terms is not because of people being afraid of biting the hand that feeds them, and more about the fear that people in the middle of the country will not be interested,” Bob-Waksberg said.
“What makes our show work, in a way, is that it’s not just isn’t the industry stupid and silly, but also, here’s the damage that causes for society as a whole, and also, here’s the way in which people have internalized these ideas that this factory has put out into the world. This is the damage that this has done.”
It helps, of course, that the show’s “Hollywood” is populated with a menagerie of bizarre creatures, adding a twist of hyperbole to its sometimes crushing realism. At a few points this season, BoJack tosses his head in a way that I interpreted as especially equine—fitting for a series where it increasingly seems as if the walls are closing in on him, eliminating his coping mechanisms until he has nowhere to hide from his own demons. Bob-Waksberg assured me that the gesture, which exposes BoJack’s neck, is one that they have done in seasons past. But BoJack’s horsemanship, such as it is, is something that is often on his mind. “We haven’t offered a firm answer on what it means to be a horse in this world, in this society. We’ve sort of played fast and loose with it. But that was a big theme at the end of Season 3,” he reminded me, as it closes with BoJack coming to the countryside, dressed in his jeans, while a herd of wild horses dashes across the plains, wild and free.
As BoJack continues to unravel and remake himself, BoJack Horseman has more up its sleeve that it will eventually reveal. A theme that the show hasn’t fully explored yet is how “[BoJack] is mostly surrounded by people who are not horses,” added Bob-Waksberg. “He is alone in the world that way. What does that mean? What does that mean, to be a lone figure in this world?”
Source : https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/09/bojack-horseman-raphael-bob-waksberg-season-5-me-too