An Extremely Long Conversation About BoJack Horseman
That's too much, man!
Note: this discussion includes many spoilers for the third season of BoJack Horseman. If you haven’t watched the show, catch up on all three seasons on Netflix before reading this - now! What are you doing? Leave work immediately!
BoJack Horseman is an animated series on Netflix, created by the genius auteur Raphel-Bob Waksberg and drawn by cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt, in which a fictional horse (voiced by Will Arnett), who is also a manically depressed alcoholic burdened by his former life as the star of a beloved ‘90s sitcom called Horsin’ Around - deals with the shitstorm that is life in Hollywood. Incredibly honest, surreal and hilarious, the cast of characters surrounding BoJack’s life, including his agent Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), his frenemy Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), his live-in roommate Todd (Aaron Paul) and his former ghostwriter Diane (Alison Brie), articulate all aspects of the human condition. (Even though, some of these characters are in fact, an animated cat and dog.) In the third season, BoJack hit the Oscar campaign when his starring performance in the biopic Secretariat gained critical acclaim. Spiraling out between waves of success and bitter pain, the season came to a devastating end and one iconic vision of redemption, set to the best use of a Nina Simone song in cinematic history.
For a certain ilk, BoJack’s sensitive, pop culture-obsessed, tweet-savvy, 4/20 friendly fans, this show might just be more important than life itself. Now that the third season of the series has finally been released and disseminated online, BoJack fans Kyle Anderson, a radio host and writer for Entertainment Weekly and Chandler Levack, the editor of this very website, talked on Skype for an hour and 20 minutes about the show and their feelings. As you can see, it may not have been long enough.
Kyle: Well Chandler, shall we discuss animated horses?
Chandler: Let’s do it. I don’t even know where to begin.
Kyle: Let’s start at the end. Because I finished the series last week, and I’ve been trying to process the ending basically for a week. How do you interpret that last few minutes where he’s watching the herd, I guess? Would you call them a herd?
Chandler: It felt like a metaphor for how we’re all animals. Because weirdly, BoJack Horseman is such a fully realized human being, fraught with all these struggles about his own desires and is he a good person or not? Does he deserve to be happy? Does anyone deserve to be happy?
I mean he’s basically gone through hell and back, he caused Sarah Lynn’s overdose and death. And I think at that point, he’s truly reckoning with ending it all… It feels very much like a moment in an art film, like something you would see in a Kurosawa or an Antonioni movie! He’s just seeing these very primal wild horses in nature.
Kyle: In the universe of BoJack Horseman, are there horses that are just horses?
Chandler: That’s so interesting because even if you see a pigeon it has, like a cellphone. The animal natures reveal themselves, but it’s almost like, culturally.
Kyle: One of the reasons that I love this show is because I’m able to project so much on to it... This gets towards what you were saying about the primal animal nature of that ending... the illustration of BoJack’s curse being almost a cripplingly high level of self-awareness. These horses are just being horses. They’re covered in mud, so there’s something unrefined about them and there’s something beautiful about their purity.
Chandler: Absolutely because there’s no pets in BoJack Horseman, we never see animals in captivity. They’re all just people in the world. So I guess those wild horses, it’s almost like your humanity, your inner child. Or your soul? Maybe it’s your soul!
Kyle: Yeah, I buy that. Now, as far as this particular season went - how do you feel that it measured up to previous seasons?
Obviously, it ended in a character's death this time around, but in Season Two, he also goes on a bender, but it’s with Diane. So it’s very strange, like we hit the “bender episode." What an odd way to end your show about an animated horse.
Chandler: I guess the main thrust of the season was him getting so close to this thing he supposedly wants that he thinks will make him really happy. And then he gets it, but it doesn’t change the way he feels about himself at all. And then, they take even that away from him. What would’ve happened if they actually did give BoJack Horseman an Oscar?
Kyle: Right, right! So wouldn’t it be more narratively useful for him to actually attain this thing?
Chandler: And they could’ve done tons of fun stuff with the Oscars themselves.
Kyle: I do like that over the course of that bender episode, there ends up of being a three-month time jump with the Oscars playing in the background. This season really felt like the most direct Hollywood satire. Would you agree with that?
Chandler: Definitely - the campaign and the “In Consideration” Oscar baiting that always goes on. And I love Angela Bassett’s character, this publicist/rainmaker and their weird sexual relationship. And that scene where he goes to her house and he watches her through the window and she gets a big stain on her shirt and she’s wearing a ratty bathrobe. And the nearly silent film festival episode which I almost want to talk about separately. Because that was such an ambitious and absolutely gorgeous episode that also did capture exactly what it’s like to travel to a film festival.
Kyle: Oh my god, that’s one of my favourite half hours of television - ever. It’s really impressive how this show is able to express these very complex feelings that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone attempt before. The idea of him being underwater and having to essentially be silent. And not having access to booze or cigarettes, so all these things take him out of his element. Even for a very confident person that has success and fame - it’s still easy to be completely overwhelmed when you are put in a place and a culture that you are not familiar with. And also might not care about you.
Chandler: Exactly - that’s the thing with film festivals, right? You travel to these far-flung territories thinking that people are going to respond to what you’re doing. But then you’re thrown to the mercy of strangers who also get to evaluate your work.
Kyle: I feel like this has happened a lot with my professional career. Anytime I find myself elevated to another strata, where I’m like, “Oh this is the thing that’s going to change my life...” You enter into that world and it turns out that you're the same, but it’s the people who are perceiving you differently. That is another recurring theme of BoJack Horseman. It’s like “if I can just get the movie, if I can just get the Oscar.” Ultimately, the joy and the actual victories are few and far between.
Chandler: Angela Bassett makes that speech about he’s a special person and he’s always been a special person. And with the Oscar, even if you don’t win, you still get that one great night. And that one great night is gonna be worth the summation of your life. But I’m sure there’s tons of people who have been nominated for Oscars who are still entirely broken inside...
Kyle: One thing I find the show does keep coming back to is the idea that “Horsin’ Around” was a beloved show. Diane, late in the season, says: “My family was fucked up but for one half hour I could have some feeling of family and be comforted by that.” BoJack keeps running into people who have some version of those stories. I find that really interesting and it seems strange for a show that is satirizing Hollywood so intensely that they’re saying, “Look - art is great but if you can make a large amount of people laugh...”
Chandler: Remember when Angela Bassett makes him promise that he’s not going to pretend that "Horsin’ Around" is good? That his whole thing is going to be about being a serious actor? And then, it’s almost like that's the lie he has to tell himself? Because you can tell that BoJack loves "Horsin’ Around" and that’s for him, the primal experience of his life. At the beginning, when he was making it with his friends, it was pure and good. But somehow, it really turned corrosive.
Kyle: It also explains why he has that mini panic attack when he goes to do "Ethan' Around," which by the way, is my new favourite title for a thing. This happens to BoJack time and time again - he really turns over a new leaf, and decides he’s going to go into something with a real earnestness. As soon as he seems to be at his most open, he twists himself into the most knots.
Chandler: He just keeps trying to connect with people and always missing the mark. Like, you feel like his intentions are good, but they’re always misconstrued. And eventually, he starts to internalize that so much that he can’t help either destroying his relationships because he knows they’re going to end badly in the end, or just stop trying...
Kyle: It’s always genuinely devastating when he does have those moments of clarity. I actually really like that episode, I think it’s late in the season, where they’re trying to impress the food critic at the restaurant? It is so much about the relationship between BoJack and Princess Carolyn...
Chandler: It’s just this two-hander that feels like it should be a scene in Mad Men, you know?
Kyle: For a show that is animated, I did feel like this season did have a strange number of bottle episodes. In the beginning, BoJack Horseman was a show that embraced darkness and was very plain about it. And now, I’m weirdly so invested in the character that anytime I see these flickers of hope and humanity, for lack of a better word, I immediately know, “oh this is gonna turn to shit.” And weirdly, it’s funny that you bring up Mad Men because towards the end, I felt the same way about Don Draper!
Chandler: They’re two great anti-heroes! It’s like the finale of BoJack too where he’s past the point of redemption but he still manages to tap into this existential, primal state. Don Draper creates that Coke Ad. I don’t what BoJack Horseman is gonna do next.
Kyle: What does this show look like in Season 4?
Chandler: Did they set something up about him having a son?
Kyle: Well there was the teenager was trying to get in touch who called Princess Carolyn’s new office, so I suppose that's the idea? BoJack did have one weird moment earlier in the season, where Diane’s talking about getting an abortion and he’s like, “oh I’ve had a bunch of those. Actually I never attended of those. Wow, I hope all those women got abortions.” If that’s actually going to be the case, that’s actually brilliant foreshadowing.
Chandler: Another thing I wanted to ask you was about actors. Is this the best show about what a sitcom actor is like, in terms of their psychology?
I imagine for someone like Dave Coulier, whose life is defined by Alanis Morissette being really mad at him and Full House - has he come to terms with that? Or did his ego get weirdly suspended in that moment in time?
Kyle: I actually interviewed Dave Coulier recently.
Chandler: Great! Then you’re exactly the person I can ask!
Kyle: I actually wish that I interviewed him before Fuller House, because that has recast the way people feel about the legacy of that show. But the way that he talks about it is the way that I hear a lot of people who used to be junkies, who have then gone through rehab, talk... You’ve interviewed people like this too, Chandler. You know that they cannot allow themselves to fully feel those things, or put themselves back there, for fear that they will backslide.
Dave Coulier has very positive things to say about Full House but again, always projecting. He has a few set things, his Full House things, because he’s like, “well this is what I’m capable of, for fear of fully entering that world back there, whatever that was...”
Chandler: Back to BoJack Horseman... maybe we can talk about the other characters like Diane and Princess Carolyn and Mr. Peanutbutter? Do you think BoJack and Diane have kind of a Sam and Diane thing? And the show eventually is going to point to the fact that they've been each other’s soulmates all along?
Kyle: Well, for the first two seasons Diane was really a favourite character of mine. A lot of the performances on the show are great, but I really like the way Alison Brie interprets that character. There are a handful of episodes where we really got deeper into her relationship with Mr. Peanutbutter.
Chandler: I love their marriage counselling!
Kyle: I thought all that stuff was really interesting and struck the right balance. But weirdly, I felt like the show got bored with that? And then Diane - did she show up right at the funeral in the finale? And I remember thinking, “where the hell has she been?”
Chandler: He has that party for his Oscar nomination, and those really funny EDM lemures show up at his house. And then Diane shows up, like “I thought you would be freaking out because you got nominated for an Oscar.” But then you're right, she just disappears again.
Kyle: But the Sam and Diane thing… I’m weirdly still invested in her relationship with Mr. Peanutbutter. I love the idea of Mr Peanutbutter running for Governor, I think that is so smart.
Chandler: Like of course, he would.
Kyle: It makes perfect sense. But I do feel like when BoJack is around Diane, he’s almost always telling the truth.
Chandler: They’re both really good and really bad for each other because I think that they both see each other for who they clearly are. And with Mr. Peanutbutter, she can try to be a happier, better person. The abortion episode was amazing. It was really funny but also super dark!
Kyle: Obviously I wouldn't necessarily consider BoJack Horseman an “issue show.” But has there ever been a television program that has talked as frankly about abortion?
Chandler: Through the lens of a... what is she? A dolphin named Sextina Aquafina? Also her rap song, “Brap! Brap!”
Kyle: Oh my god, that was so great and so completely wrong.
Chandler: I like that Princess Carolyn got rewarded with true love at the end.
Kyle: And I was just about to say that out of all the characters this season, I felt like she had the most complete arc out of anybody. And I really do love the idea of her dating a mouse and seeing the world.
Chandler: I really liked the sad relationship she had with Ben Schwartz’s agent character last season. I think she needs to take care of people, she needs that drama in her life. And she’s a great foil, she puts out fires.
Kyle: The idea is that she received a version of happiness that feels more real and more transformative is actually a big deal on this show.
Chandler: And then Todd… I don’t know, what happened to Todd?
Kyle: I like saying “Cab-bra-Cadabra” but he does sort of weirdly drift in and out of the universe. Is he just wandering into parallel dimensions? I did really like the relationship that he had with Abbi Jacobson.
Chandler: I thought she did a beautiful job, much like Ilana Glazer did last season. But I like the part where she makes a move on him and he doesn’t go for it and she’s like “What are you?” And I don’t know - what is Todd’s sexuality? There was suddenly this level of interiority to this zany sidekick... Like, oh that’s why Kramer is always available!
Kyle: Are you suggesting that sidekick very well might as be its own gender?
Chandler: His comedy is always very situational as opposed to character-based. Although he has that incredible speech this season where he tells BoJack “you’re the problem. Everything that’s wrong with you is because of you.”
Kyle: There are parts of this show that could’ve been crafted by like Ingmar Bergman! That very Swedish version of existential dread.
Chandler: It’s so true! Like The Silence or something.
Kyle: There’s that undercurrent of decay, and there’s the idea, like we’re all doomed so the only thing you can do is joke about it? That to me feels very '80s Woody Allen.
Chandler: There’s a film noir aspect too, like the Sweet Smell of Success! And I just remembered that at the end of Andrea Arnold’s Fishtank, the main character runs away and encounters this wild horse in a stream. I always think of the opening credits and that image of William Holden face down in the swimming pool in Sunset Boulevard. The Graduate, too.
Kyle: The movie that I just thought of when you were mentioning all that was The Apartment.
Chandler: That’s one of my favourite movies of all-time!
Kyle: It’s amazing and simultaneously super goddamn funny, but has one of the more fucked-up second acts in all of cinema history? For something that is supposed to be a breezy comedy about bangin’ at the office - that suicide attempt sequence goes on for a long time. And they talk about real shit! I don't know if that movie would even come out today!
Chandler: I also think Lost in Translation is a great call because that’s a film about people looking for affirmation about who they are. What am I here for? And what is my purpose? And especially about the entertainment industry and the surreality of it. But on BoJack Horseman, there’s so many great puns!
Kyle: I get so much joy out of pausing the show whenever there’s a bookshelf, and looking at the titles.
Chandler: My favourite joke is every time they have a party, they keep going to that same sign company and it’s always like, “Happy Birthday Diane And Put It In Pink and Use A Pretty Font.” And they can never get it right.
Kyle: I will never get tired of very literal sign jokes.
Chandler: Kyle, you live in LA now. How close is the show’s vision of Hollywood to your experience?
Kyle: I’ve been telling people since I’ve moved out here - it’s like when Woody Allen goes to Los Angeles in Annie Hall.
Chandler: It’s just Jeff Goldblum on the phone going, “I forgot my mantra?”
Kyle: You know - he’s around. There is a more intense alienation that exists out here. It’s so much easier to not work, so many people who are attached to Hollywood either work weird hours, or they work sporadically. Particularly for someone who has lived on the east coast for his entire life, there is something disturbing about how nice the weather is.
One thing, it’s in the intro to BoJack Horseman, is that there’s so much swimming pool imagery? And I weirdly feel like that’s important. The idea of what a swimming pool represents. On the one end, it's a sign of status and wealth and can be a source of fun and refreshment. But it’s also a death trap that you keep in your backyard?
Chandler: It’s a place you can drown in if you’re not careful.
Kyle: That’s a very apt metaphor for LA.
Chandler: I never thought about the fact that LA is just a town of people like, waiting. They’re alone in their cars, driving around, taking meetings. Talking about the possibility of doing something, but mostly killing time. Oh, it’s sad! Have you ever had a moment when you were interviewing a celebrity that reminded you of this show?
Kyle: I was at ComicCon and I was interviewing Clark Gregg, who is just a great actor. And I’ve interviewed that guy a bunch of times, and he was promoting Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a show I haven't watched that I assume is fine. But I can always tell in talking to him that he really likes making this show and that it brings him great joy in his life. So I was like, “You know Clark, I’ve done this long enough and I feel like it’s so clear that that you guys are so passionate about working with each other and working on this thing....” And he said, “It always makes me super sad whenever people tell me that. Because I have a ton of friends who don't seem to like anything they do.”
Chandler: I think you have to be really deluded to be an actor.
Kyle: I had barely lived in Los Angeles for a week when I was talking to a friend. He’s a film editor and he’s worked on some stuff that’s good, some stuff that’s bad. And he was like, “You know, the thing about Los Angeles that you have to understand is that this is a town full of people who believe their own delusions.” And it’s not a malevolent thing. It’s literally a kind of survival. I think we are at the point in BoJack’s life where he is starting to see the forest through the trees and is wondering whether or not that idea is healthy.
Chandler: Well, it’s interesting because I think we always expect that our characters are going to change. And that they’re going to learn a lesson and redeem themselves and be better. And when you think about the people you know, and who you are too - it’s like, how often do people actually change? Maybe we don’t change and we keep making the same mistakes and picking ourselves up, thinking we’re going to turn a new leaf, bottoming out and doing it all over again... And I think this might be the first show where the character just doesn’t change. And the beauty and the futility of like, rolling your boulder up the mountain again, only to have it fall back down.
Kyle: Almost nobody’s life is going to have any kind of arc, particularly one that happens in fiction. But I still feel like the show’s stance is that - it’s still worth it. And I think that’s a very Cassavetes-esque take on the human condition.
Chandler: I love we’ve referenced Bergman, Cassavetes, Coppola, BoJack Horseman…
Kyle: Yeah - all geniuses!
Chandler: I think that’s why Mr. Peanutbutter’s such a fascinating character because he’s a mirror image of BoJack Horseman. On paper they’re exactly the same - anthropomorphized stars of '90s sitcom that had mid-tier success that’s it’s allowed them to live comfortably. But Mr. Peanutbutter is easily able to be satisfied and the world just provides for him. On paper, BoJack shouldn't feel so sorry for himself. But I think for certain people, you just have to work so much harder at being happy.
Kyle: Well I think if you’re depressed, it always does seem like there's someone like Mr. Peanutbutter. Like - “well how is it is so easy for him?” It’s almost disappointing that Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane are married because I would otherwise suggest that Mr. Peanut is BoJack Horseman’s Tyler Durden).
Chandler: It’s so true! Maybe my last question is - which character on the show are you?
Kyle: Ever since you’ve first asked me this, I’ve really gone back-and-forth. I am a person who really likes to take care of other people. Certainly, often in deference in my own feelings, so I feel like I’m really a Princess Carolyn. I find myself thinking about myself in the context of Diane quite a bit, because I feel like my role is a kind of an observer. But ultimately, I’m probably more like BoJack, which is why I still watch this show. And why I insist that other people watch it and why I don't know why we aren’t always talking about it all the time!
Very often, my whole personal and professional life is based on “let’s get to the next thing.” And that voice is getting quieter, but I really understand and internalize “the curse of getting what you want.” I go through the same cycle of self loathing that BoJack does. Because when you step outside yourself, you think, “come on asshole.” There’s that internal drive and it’s always going to be in some ways, a piece of self-sabotage. But what about you, Chandler? Who on BoJack are you?
Chandler: Oh boy. I think I’m kind of a BoJack/Diane split. In a similar way, like an observer, there’s a a wrestling of wanting to fit into conventional modes of like, society or what other people’s expectations are, but I think I can be... Anti-authoritative, or eye-roll-y about other people telling me what to do. I think that reporter streak of “this is wrong, I’m going to tell the truth”, or say the unpopular thing. Alienate people with my secret Daria-ness. I think I’m also a real BoJack in that I’m kind of dramatic, and selfish. And sort of self-obsessed - I’m not always aware of other people. I think I deeply care about people and I’m deeply sensitive and I think I could be capable of even loving someone - but maybe there’s something wrong with me or broken that can’t be fixed? And no matter how hard I try to connect to people or be in love with the world, it’s so hard to be satisfied by that?
This just got a lot more personal than I thought it was going to be. But you know, I want my Princess Carolyn happy ending too, so…
Kyle: Someday, you’ll meet a mouse.
Chandler: Oh god, I hope so. Anyways, this was really fun. I feel like I went both to therapy and a really good film class.
Kyle: That’s the best I can hope for whenever I have a conversation with anybody. Especially about a show about an animated horse.