The last season of BoJack Horseman is playing out in two acts. The first act, which landed on Netflix last Friday, consists of eight episodes. The second act, which will bring eight final installments to the streaming network, will arrive in January.
While BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg says the decision to run 16 episodes and split them into separate chunks was made for both business and practical reasons, it also allowed him to take a fresh approach creatively to the sixth season. “I felt like I’d kind of gotten the rhythm of what a 12-episode season feels like, so it was exciting to shake things up and be like, what does a 16-episode season feel like?” he says. “But also, what does a half of a season feel like? We really structured the season to play into the two halves.”
During a recent phone call, Bob-Waksberg spoke more about how the ending of BoJack Horseman came about, his approach to its ending, and why a major part-one storyline involves an uprising among Hollywood assistants.
You did an interview last year with one of my colleagues, Alex Jung, who asked if you had an endgame in mind for the show. You said you didn’t, so I’m curious: At what point did you have a germ of an idea about how to wrap up this story?
I think I always had ideas. You know, I think every season I was working on, I thought, oh, you know, this is kind of where it might go. But I never wanted to decide too early, because I didn’t know how many seasons it would be going for, and I didn’t want to lock myself into an ending that then, years later, was no longer relevant or didn’t make sense.
When the end of the season was first announced, the reporting around it suggested that you had decided to end it. Then you have since said, and Aaron Paul has since said, that Netflix gave you a heads-up that this was probably going to be it. What happened exactly?
Well, I’m going to go into a little bit of backstory here, which is that when we worked on the first season of BoJack back in, I guess this was 2014, I wrote a finale to the first season that was somewhat definitive, and one of the notes that I got back on the script from Netflix was, Hey, maybe leave things a little more open-ended? Rather than tying everything up with a bow, could you set some things up for season two? At the time, I was like, Oh, that’s a great note to get. Yes, I will happily take that note! Ever since then, every season, I’ve tried to wrap up the stories in the finale, while also setting up some threads to be explored later. Because I was doing this, I asked Netflix a few years ago, Look, do me a favor: If you ever think I should not do that, if you think maybe we’ve reached the end of the road, just give me a heads-up. They don’t have to do that, obviously. But I said I would appreciate it if I could have the forewarning to give the show a proper finale, and not set up some cliffhangers that will never pay off.
So when they picked up season six, they said, Hey, remember how you asked for that heads-up? We think that this is your heads-up. So I’m very grateful that we got that notice.
Were you surprised by it?
Yeah, I thought we’d go a couple more years. But you know, it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s right for them, and six years is a very healthy run for a TV show. Frankly, I’m amazed we got this far. So I can’t complain. I think if we premiered on any other network, or even on Netflix on any other time than when we did, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten the second season.
Why do you say that?
Well, it’s a weird show!
A lot of things on Netflix are weird, though.
Yeah, and a lot of things on Netflix don’t get second seasons. I think it’s a very busy landscape. It’s hard to make an impression. I think we just got very lucky when we premiered. It just so happened that summer there wasn’t too much other stuff going on. People could gradually discover our show and fall in love with it. I also think Netflix had a lot of faith in it, and really believed in it, and gave it time to find that audience. And I really appreciate that.
I want to be very clear that this is an ending. This is a final season, we are building toward an ending. There’s nothing more to do. I feel very good about the show that we have made, and I think fans should be excited as well. There’s no injustice that needs to be righted as far as I’m concerned, as far as BoJack Horseman is concerned.
I have two hypothetical questions for you. The first one is, let’s say the show ends, and then two years from now, Netflix says, “Hey, make a BoJack movie.” Would you be like, “No, I don’t want to do that because …”
Like Todd Chavez and El Camino?
I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to rule anything out, but I will say, I am very happy with where we leave all the characters at the end of the show. Right now, I’m not itching to tell more stories in this universe, even though there were more stories that I would’ve been happy to tell. The thing about BoJack is it’s very much focused on BoJack the character, right? So, it’s hard to imagine doing the show where he’s not going through something, that’s still about his journey. Part of me feels like, oh, I would’ve liked to keep expanding the world, á la Springfield, and have an episode all about Lenny Turtletaub. Or have an episode all about these other side characters that we don’t really spend as much time with. I feel like we got to do a little bit of that on BoJack, but I also feel like it’s not what the show is. I think maybe there’s a limit to what we can do and still call it BoJack Horseman.
But I don’t know! Maybe in a couple years I’ll be itching to get back into it. Right now I feel like there’s something nice about making a thing and that’s the thing, then going on to make other things.
My other hypothetical question is, if the show had gone, let’s say, two more seasons, do you feel like, generally speaking, you would have arrived at the same ending that you arrived at now?
I’d say, generally speaking, yes. I think if we’d had more seasons, we would’ve gone on more detours to get there, and maybe had time to do a Lenny Turtletaub episode. I feel like we got through a solid ending that I feel good about, and like it’s a nice cap on the show. More or less, we probably would’ve ended up in a similar place.
One of the things that was so interesting to me this season is the storyline about the assistants going on strike, in part because assistants in Hollywood are actually speaking out about those kinds of issues right now.
I feel like it’s been a truism for as long as I’ve been in the business. Assistants are treated terribly. I actually think one of the interesting things about the conversation that’s happening right now, which is somewhat distinct from what we do on the show, is that it is so focused on the payment, and that the pay has stagnated, while cost of living has gone up tremendously. I think that’s a real problem. Like everything in Hollywood, it’s ridiculous how people are mistreated. I think we’ve all heard ridiculous horror stories of, Oh, did you hear that famous person made their assistant do this, or that person had to do that? It just felt like, let’s talk about that a little bit. That was actually going to be a bigger story in the season.
Yeah, I mean it’s already — it takes place over six episodes. We ended up paring it down, just because it didn’t really directly involve most of our characters.
I think we, the people making this show, are people who work in this industry and live in this town, and the things that we are talking about wind their way into the episodes. Part of our job in being a show about show business is to point out the things of show business that are kind of gross and aren’t quite right. When making a satire — which, it feels even pretentious to say the word “satire.”
It’s a satire. Oh, look at me, it’s A Modest Proposal. La-dee-da. But I think it was very important to me from the beginning that I wasn’t just satirizing with the show the people who I politically disagree with, or the people that are in Washington doing stuff that I hate. I wanted to also satirize the problems in our own industry and talk about what’s going on here at home. This felt like a great example of liberal Hollywood hypocrisy that is happening, where you have these very outwardly progressive people, maybe even making shows and movies about lifting up the small person and how we all need to be more empathetic and look out for each other, when, meanwhile, they’re throwing coffees at their assistants. Or, you know, telling them to take their stool sample to the doctor for them.
Is that a real story you’ve heard?
Wow. The comedy that you do about Hollywood, and that sometimes is extremely specific and calling out people by name — I feel like those jokes tend to be punching up at people who have power, or have abused power. But over the time that you’ve been doing the show, has there ever been one of those kinds of jokes that you or anyone on staff was nervous about doing?
There are ones that I look back at, and I go, Ah, we didn’t need to do that one. There’s a joke in the very first episode of BoJack where he is having sex with Emily Mortimer. It’s not even about Emily Mortimer to me, I think the joke is just that he’s having sex with this woman, and then later it’s revealed that that is a real woman, and the dissonance of that is funny to me. I mean, we do a similar thing where we introduce Margo Martindale, and you think it’s just some woman, and then he says, “Thank you, Character Actress Margo Martindale.” It’s actually a much better execution of that same joke.
When I was first starting, there was a real thrill for me of, What can I get away with? Nobody once told me, “Hey, Emily Mortimer is a real person who might be kind of freaked out that we’re making her have sex with one of our characters on our show, who happens to be a horse. And like, we’re not asking her permission or we’re just doing it, and saying it happened.” What I realized making the show is I need to take more personal responsibility, and not just push the edges of what I can get away with, and actually think about, Well what am I saying with this joke and do I want to be saying it?
Have you ever you run into somebody that you guys made a joke about on the show?
Let me think, who have I made a joke about on the show that I wouldn’t want to run into? I feel like most of the jokes are either pretty harmless — like they’re kind of along the lines of, Oh, Eric McCormack is not quite as famous as he used to be, which is like, that’s fine. [Laughs.] I would stand by that joke. That’s a fine thing to say to Eric McCormack. He’s okay.
I mean, yeah, Emily Mortimer — if I bumped into her, I would feel bad. I would want to apologize, if she in fact was even aware that this happened on the show, which I don’t know if she would be.
Ultimately, do you see BoJack as a more cynical or more optimistic show?
I’ve been asked this question before, and I feel like my answer tells you more about me than it tells you about the show. Because I think it is an optimistic show. But I think it has always been an optimistic show. If people are reading this answer and thinking, Oh, it’s suddenly going to get optimistic in the next eight episodes, while it’s been cynical this whole time, I would not look for a huge sea change to occur.
I see it as clear-eyed about the hardships of life, but hopeful that people can push through that muck and try to better. Although, you know, I think the story of Sisyphus is a somewhat optimistic story, so maybe I’m deluded. Look at him, he’s still doin’ it! He’s still pushing that rock up — good for him!