Raphael Bob-Waksberg is the creator of BoJack Horseman, writer and producer of Tuca & Bertie and co-creator of Undone. He is nominated for the Outstanding Animated Program Emmy for the final season of BoJack Horseman. He talks about the show and animation, and he exposes the interviewer’s lack of knowledge about his continued work.
Awards Daily: In your Emmy-nominated episode, “The View from Halfway Down,” you touch on so much of BoJack’s guilt, intermixed with a real sense of mortality in this purgatory-like setting. Where did that idea come from?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: On the show, a lot of the time we’ll come at stories at odd angles, or what is a fun way to tell the story. I had the idea at the beginning of the season, or between the two seasons, that a real cool idea for an episode would be BoJack having a dream with all the characters who have died. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with that but as a format that would be a good thing, and you could have interesting philosophical conversations because many people have died on the show, representing a wide range of characters and viewpoints. That’s a fun little ensemble, so let’s do something with that.
When we have these far out ideas, the next step is to justify that. What is the story we are telling that would make sense telling it this way? Back in season three, there’s the episode with no dialogue, so we had to figure out how to justify having none of our characters talk. We set them under water. In season five, we wanted an episode that was one long monologue. How do we justify that? A eulogy. Same thing here. Where in this season is this episode going to go? And what is the story going to be that we are going to gain from this experience? It’s not just a dream for the sake of a dream or a conversation about guilt and philosophy for the sake of itself. Once we landed on BoJack having this near-death experience towards the end of the season, it felt like a really interesting way to tell that story.
AD: I feel like we could go on and on on how we got to the place we got to with these characters by the end. So I’ll ask you, what was it like for you?
RBW: Emotional! It felt like I was saying goodbye to my old friends. You can feel that emotion in the season itself that we’re saying goodbye. It’s not a ‘We will see you later.’ It’s goodbye. We wanted the show to feel like it ended definitively in some ways. I wasn’t interested in leaving the door open for a reboot in ten years. I wanted to say, ‘This is where we get off,’ but also one of the themes of the show is life keeps going. So we wanted it to be open-ended in some ways, but open to interpretation that you can imagine that these characters are continuing to live their lives in whatever way you think is appropriate. But we did want it to feel like we were saying goodbye. Because that’s what we went through, we had to say goodbye so you have to also.
AD: Continuing on that thought, where we leave the show with BoJack and Diane, it’s left very ambiguous where they are with each other, which felt very true to where these characters were going. Was that always the plan?
RBW: No, I don’t know, yes and no. I feel like the story flowed the way it was going while we were writing it. But yes, it is ambiguous and open to interpretation. I know what I think the story is saying about them at the end. But you can form your own opinion, and we don’t really know what happens to these characters or this relationship in the future, if in fact there is a relationship in the future. That is left for you to decide. I am no longer the master of this story, there is no more information I have to give you, you can decide for yourself if you think anything happens next.
AD: So how did you and your writers go about creating the balance of the humor of the show with the deep emotional moments?
RBW: It really got dark this last season, huh? [Laughs]
AD: [Laughs] It was always dark.
RBW: I realize this season a lot of the chickens came home to roost. More the horses came home to roost; I don’t know what came home to roost this season. I feel the show has always been guided by balance, always thinking about what kind of interesting things could happen here. And sometimes the most interesting thing is funny, and sometimes the most interesting thing is sad. We always keep surprising ourselves and our audience to not feel like we are doing things that we’ve done before. I think a room full of comedy writers–we are funny people so the show is going to be funny. There’s always going to be bright-colored poppy animals, so there’s always going to be fun and lightness to it. So I think when we are crafting the show we always talk more about what is the oddest moment here? What is the character arc? What serious thing do we want to tell? And we just assume oh, by the way, it’s also going to be funny.
AD: How did you guys decide on the animation style for BoJack?
RBW: The look of the show was created by my friend Lisa Hanawalt and one of the main reasons I wanted to make the show was because I am such a fan of her artwork. Then the way the animals move allows the animal gags that you see in the background; they are done by Mike Hollingsworth and his team. Then between the three of us we really nailed down what the show looked like and how it worked. Then we just brought it to the incredible designers and storyboard artists and animators that brought so much life to the show over the years.
AD: Do you have any ideas or projects you’re currently pursuing?
RBW: I’ve got two other shows I’m working on, man! Tuca & Bertie, season two, we are working on for Adult Swim right now, and Undone, season two, for Amazon. I don’t know what you’re implying but I’m keeping busy. I don’t need more on my plate.
AD: I had not heard that Undone got a second season.
RBW: Yeah, we are currently trying to figure out how to make that show in the middle of a pandemic. That will be ready sometime in 2021, I think.
AD: Has animation always been the form you have wanted to use to express yourself creatively?
RBW: No, I was always a fan of animation, but I never worked in animation really until I did BoJack Horseman. My limited TV experience before BoJack was all live action shows. But it so happened I was pitching to The Tornante Company and they were looking for animation projects, so I came up with animated projects and I’ve created a little home for myself. But it’s really exciting. I think there are a lot of opportunities for different kinds of storytelling animation, than what has been done in the past. I’m excited to continue exploring this medium, because I think there are limitless opportunities with it.
AD: Are you ready for the Emmys in whatever version they are going to be?
RBW: Sure! Sounds like I am not going to leave the house, so it will be really good for me.
AD: What was it like getting the nomination?
RBW: I don’t know! Good question. It was weird. I was like, we’re doing the Emmys this year. We’ll see what that’s like. I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of good thoughts about the Emmys I’m afraid. It would be great to win. It’s nice to be nominated.
AD: Anything you want to leave our readers with?
RBW: Watch BoJack, if you haven’t. If you have, watch Tuca & Bertie and Undone.