BoJack Horseman, everyone’s favorite miserabilist animated series, accomplished a lot in its third season: a nearly silent episode, a deeper dive into depression, and an ace send-up of awards season absurdity. Still, amid all that thematic ambition, the show still has some of the best background gags on TV, seen best in a flashback episode to 2007, which turns the not-so-distant year into a historical curiosity. Think of Mad Men, but with Auto-Tune and spray tans instead of Bob Dylan and cigarettes. And as with Mad Men, we thought it appropriate to pick apart all of BoJack’s historical references — which work, which are the most insightful, and which fail to hit the mark?
- We begin with a gorgeous street shot, which features a Britney Spears hair salon (Britney shaved her hair in February 2007), a flip-phone emporium (remember those?), a My Chemical Spray-Tan, an ad for cheap loans, and a Washington Mutual with a sign that says “Everything Will Be Okay” (it won’t), a tracksuit store, a “don’t taze me, fro-yo” sign (that infamous taser incident happened in September 2007; Pinkberry, which kicked off the fro-yo trend, opened in 2006), an Umbrella Ella Ella’s (the Rihanna single dropped in March, 2007), a Nas’s Big Ass Chainz, a Wii Remote Straps Warehouse (the Wii came out in November, 2006), an Eel or No Eel add (Deal or No Deal premiered in 2005), a 2007 T-shirt outlet with a “Crush on Obama” shirt (the Obama Girl video came out in June 2007), an Amoeba MP3s with a Fall Out Koi ad, and a closed Circuit City. One quibble: The political jokes put us in late 2007, but billboard says that Bearspray is coming to theaters in July — now, sometimes billboards stick around, so let’s just let that slide for now.
- Then, we start to hear Princess Carolyn singing along to a one of BoJack’s many great “generic songs” with the lyrics, “generic 2007 pop song / auto-tuned so all the voices sound weird.” That’s a fair approximation of pretty much every song from the 2007–2008 rise of Auto-Tune — see Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad (May 31, 2007), Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” (February 27, 2007), T-Pain’s “Buy U Drank” (February 20, 2007), Soulja Boy’s one great contribution to culture (May 2, 2007), the work of Fergie (more on that later), or the closest relative to BoJack’s fake song, Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape” (December 19, 2006).
- Finally, we see Todd and Emily (Abbi Jacobson), wearing 2007-appropriate long hair and hats (see: Fall Out Boy) and talking on flip phones (the iPhone was released in June 2007, though you’d think at least one character would have a Sidekick). They’re in front of a David Hasselhoff’s Floor Burgers, a classic early viral video that surfaced in May 2007. “Everyone likes Kimber,” Emily says about a friend judgmentally — “that’s like saying you like Fergie.” Is this a dig at Fergie, BoJack? Because you know big girls don’t cry.
- Now, another point of confusion: Emily says she loves Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, “a new video game” (released November 13, 2007), but that her father works for The Sopranos (which aired its finale on June 10, 2007, more on that later). To quote Oprah’s interview with a star who was just starting to fall apart in 2007, what is the truth?
- Over in a coffee shop with a Cheezburger meme (the site was founded in January 2007) poster, Diane serves coffee to Jessica Biel and Mr. Peanutbutter, who is wearing a “Swan” Dutch–Ed Hardy combo. Let’s tackle the clothes first, because Mr. Peanutbutter’s outfit is an interesting blend. Von Dutch was more of a staple of the early 2000s. Justin Timberlake wore it at the 2003 Grammys, future Oscar winner Brie Larson donned this look in 2003, but by 2004, some teen on the Third Street Promenade was telling the LA Times it had gotten “so overexposed.” Ed Hardy trends later, so that’s on point — see this Us Weekly look at the “vintage” style, which tracks the brand from roughly 2005 to the time Jon Gosselin killed it in 2009. Leave it to Mr. Peanutbutter to mix up cutting-edge style with a hat that’s three years out of date.
- Now, on to Jessica Biel, one of the premiere 2000s Jessicas. BoJack managed to get the former 7th Heaven star to play herself, and reference the fact that she’s the former 7th Heaven star who once posed nude for Gear magazine. Still, we have to note that the Justin Timberlake–Jessica Biel flirtation, began at the Golden Globes in January 2007, while most of BoJack’s other references place this episode in the later months of the year. Later, Jessica reveals that she’s about to be in a “very important gay-rights movie,” I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (which came out on July 20, 2007).
- Also in the coffee shop scene, Mr. Peanutbutter references a “very strange” offer from then sports hero Michael Vick. The investigation into Vick’s dogfighting ring began in April 2007, which would place the episode in mid-2007, or be a sign that Mr. Peanutbutter isn’t reading the news. In a later scenes, Diane’s friend also plays a Nintendo DS (released March 11, 2005), and her then-boyfriend Wayne mentions that he’s got a Twitter page (Twitter was founded in 2007, but its usage tripled during the March 2007 South by Southwest festival).
- Outside of Princess Carolyn’s office, a plane skywrites an ad for HBO’s David Milch–led surfer drama John From Cincinnati (it premiered to high expectations in June 10, 2007), which is crossed out in a later episode (it was canceled on August 13, 2007). Again, we’re solidly in 2007, but the exact timing is off, as Princess Carolyn offers up scripts for twin Oscar movies No Country for Old Men (released November 9, 2007) and There Will Be Blood (released December 26, 2007). Still, the Coens started work on No Country in May 2006, while PTA started There Will Be Blood in June 2006, so technically, BoJack wouldn’t have a chance of joining either project this late in the game. Princess Carolyn’s later insistence that a TBB milkshake joke “will be funny in a year or so,” however, is right on.
- To convince BoJack to sign on to a pilot script, Princess Carolyn brings him four Four Lokos, an alcohol plus caffeine drink that was introduced in 2005, but didn’t get big until the fall of 2010 when college students popularized the drink, leading several states to ban it. Let’s say BoJack’s ahead of the curve, addictive substance-wise. After getting him wasted, Princess Carolyn takes BoJack to a meeting in a Jason Mraz–brand vest and fedora (Mraz didn’t start topping the charts until 2008, but he was performing “I’m Yours” as early as ’04 and ’05). BoJack also mentions parkour, which was seen in 2006’s Casino Royale, but which, as Jim from The Office pointed out in 2009, was the “internet sensation of 2004.”
- When Jeffrey Wright’s Mr. Cuddlywhiskers meets with BoJack, he references his seven years spent on Krill & Grace (Will & Grace ran for eight seasons, from 1998 to 2006), a show that did so much for “krill people” (you get the point).
- As BoJack debates the merits of the joining the show, Princess Carolyn reads a copy of Eat, Spay, Love by Elizabeth Gerbil (Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love came out in 2006). “iPhone’s coming out later this year,” BoJack says, “so I need time to gear up for that.” (The iPhone came out in June 2007 after being announced in January.)
- When Todd and Emily hang out in a coat closet, we hear a riff on 2006 classic “Fergalicious” (released October 23) which includes the line “no need to get litigious,” probably thanks to Netflix’s copyright lawyers. In the background, there’s an HD-DVD case (launched in 2006, the format lost out to Blu-ray in 2008), and a pair of Ugg boots (which topped $300 million in sales that year). Emily knows how to kiss, because she practiced with a picture of Adam Brody, who was just finishing his time on The O.C. (its series finale aired on February 22, 2007, though Emily must have been a die-hard fan keep with it through seasons two and three).
- At this point, The BoJack Horseman Show skips ahead two months, to “two months later in 2007,” which doesn’t matter much, because, as seen above, we didn’t start in any specific month. Though at a table read, we see posters for The Pig Bang Theory (The Big Bang Theory premiered September 24, 2007) and Koalafornication (Californication, a pretty close analog to The BoJack Horseman Show, premiered on August 13), and Dirty Sexy Monkey (Dirty Sexy Money premiered on September 26), which would place this segment of the episode in the fall at least. Character Actress Margo Martindale appears in the background — accurate, because she’s always working.
- Diane has an open letter to open letters published in McSweeney’s, “a very popular website” (McSweeney’s was just climbing out of the bankruptcy of its parent company in 2007), while Mr. Peanutbutter’s “Blockbuster original series” is taking off (Blockbuster would file for bankruptcy in 2010). After a fight with Jessica Biel, Mr. Peanutbutter buys a copy of “Good Songs 2007”: “A CD at a coffee shop? That is crazy.”
- “What’s that you say?” Princess Carolyn’s boss Marv asks over the phone, “There’s a panic? At the disco?” (Panic! at the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” hit No. 6 on the charts in August 26, 2006; Pretty. Odd. came out in May 2008.) In a later music reference, Diane says “Hey there, Delilah” (released May 2006) after seeing Mr. Peanutbutter’s abs. He then tells her to add him on MySpace (which was valued at $12 billion in 2007).
- Another two months later, Mr. Peanutbutter is hosting a fundraiser for presidential candidate John Edwards, who entered the race on December 28, 2006, and left it on January 30, 2008. In October 2007, The National Enquirer first reported that Edwards was having an affair, which he eventually admitted to in 2008, though he had several more years of denying things to go. Where does this place BoJack? Who knows! Sometime before October, but after all the 2007 references we’ve already gotten.
- In fact, there’s one reference that restricts this episode to the space of a few weeks: As Todd escapes Emily’s bedroom, he grabs a copy of the final episode of The Sopranos, and tears off the last bit of film as he falls to the ground. The finale scene was shot in March 2007, while the episode aired on June 10. That would mean that this chunk of the episode takes place in April or May, while earlier parts happen in February/March and January/February. That doesn’t explain the late 2007 references elsewhere, but perhaps we have an answer in BoJack’s conversation with Lost’s Jorge Garcia (the season three finale introduced flash-forwards to the show and aired on May 23, 2007): This episode takes place in purgatory — or, more simply, an alternate reality, with talking animals.
(We’ll skip over the fact that the Writers Guild of America strike began in November 2007, so BoJack’s show was doomed from the start anyway.)