TV

Three Of BoJack Horseman’s Best Gags, Explained By The Show’s Creator

Find out just how "Character Actress Margo Martindale" came about!

Aside from being one of the most quietly devastating shows on TV, Netflix’s awesome animated series BoJack Horseman happens to have some of the weirdest and most meticulous gags of any other comedy series on the box.

So when Junkee sat down with creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, in advance of his appearance at Video Junkee 2017, we had to ask him about some of our favourite puns and visual gags from BoJack‘s spectacular third season.

Bob-Waksberg, who is as enthusiastic about the show’s surreal jokes as the fans are, was only to happy to explain how BoJack went underwater for an episode, how the show’s writers constructed a meticulous catalogue of 2007-specific jokes, and why exactly “Character Actress Margo Martindale” has turned into a super assassin in just three short seasons.

BoJack Underwater (And Silent!)

Bojack Horseman

Junkee: In season three you did this brilliant underwater, silent episode. What made you decide to do that?

Raphael Bob-Waksberg: Thank you. Well, if you want to get inside of the sausage factory: a lot of the times we’re trying to figure out a story or figure out a whole season, we’ll think about what kind of episodes we want made. What are different ways to tell stories?

That’s something I’ve really been interested in for my whole career. What are different ways in? You know, we’ve been doing that since the first season. Episode seven, which was all filmed from Princess Carolyn’s perspective, was the first big shift. But every season we try to have at least a few episodes where you’re like, ‘Okay, this seems like a different kind of thing’. And I like that. It gives us a new way to talk about stuff, and a different way in.

I got the idea that I wanted to do a silent episode. We couldn’t quite figure out what would justify that. Like, why would these characters all of a sudden stop talking? This is isn’t Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a demon can come and put a curse on everybody. We had to find a way to explain it.

And then meanwhile, we had been talking about doing an underwater episode. Our Supervising Director, Michael Hollingsworth was really pushing that idea, because we hinted before that there are sea creatures that live underwater, so presumably there would be underwater societies. But that was also challenging because I couldn’t figure out how to justify our characters going underwater. And if they did, how would they communicate down there? How would they talk to people? How would they breathe? How would they live?

And then one day, in the middle of the night, I woke up and realised, ‘Oh my god, these two questions answer each other’. And so the underwater episode kind of explains the silent episode and the silent episode kind of explains the underwater episode.

So from there it was just a matter of figuring it out, which was awesome. Complicated and difficult — but I’m really proud of the episode that Jordan and Elijah wrote and that Mike ended up directing and all the work that went into it. It really was a labour of love.


BoJack In 2007

Bojack 2007

I reckon my favourite running joke from season three was the references back to 2007. What made you pick 2007 as a time to go back to? And how did you catalogue all these meticulous jokes about that year?

I don’t know how we picked that year. I wanted something that felt long ago, but also not long ago. I felt like if we went back to like, 2002 or 2001, it would feel like too much of a different era. And I felt like part of the comedy would be treating the recent past like it’s this nostalgia item. To do a Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married kind of thing. But not that far long ago.

More than ten years felt like too much, but it also had to be far enough that you could actually play with the pop culture references. It was really exciting to be one of the first shows that I’m aware of to nostalgize the late 2000s. The ’80s have been picked over, over and over again. The ’60s, there’s nothing fresh you could say about the ’60s, there are no references you could make.

But, you know, 2007, who has made those jokes? Really not anybody yet. And so we went online and just found everything we could. Like, the top trends of 2007, the top movies. What was the big news of the year? What were the big songs? And Vera Santamaria, who wrote that episode, really dove in and we just tried to cram into every possible nook and cranny any possible reference we could.

I think my favourite 2007 joke — I don’t know if this translates to Australia, you’ll tell me — but at one point BoJack is looking a terrible newspaper review of his show, The BoJack Horseman Show, in 2007. And there’s a quote from the creator of Cavemen saying, “Glad that’s not my show”. I don’t know if Caveman was ever a show in Australia, if it made it down there. But it was based on a series of ads for car insurance that were so popular in America they made a sitcom based on these cavemen characters. At the time everyone thought like, ‘This is really cheesy’, and so crass to make a sitcom out of this popular advertising motif.

But the creator of the show actually was a Geico advertising executive, who then moved out to Hollywood and became a television writer. And after Cavemen, he ended up working on BoJack Horseman and his name is Joe Lawson. And he’s written several episodes and he’s fantastic. So it’s really to poke him a little bit, in a way that most of our audience wouldn’t even recognise.


“Character Actress Margo Martindale”

MargoMartindaleBojack

Speaking of meticulous jokes, one of my other favourites is “Character Actress Margo Martindale”. How do you make that funny, but also just a statement that Margo Martindale’s a great actor?

She’s just so game to do anything. It’s been fun to give her more and more crazy stuff to do every time she comes in. If you were to look at the Margo Martindale scenes of our show and just bring those together, there’s a really interesting arc, where she starts off the show very kind of meek and unassuming, and doesn’t really want to get roped into these schemes that BoJack keeps pulling her into. And then by the end of season three, she’s become this criminal mastermind and gone way overboard.

And a lot of it is that she’s delightful, and so we keep trying to bring her back and come up with more funny stuff for her to do. She has a great sense of humour about it.

I think one of the funniest things that happened with her was, early on, we had her on the first season of the show. And she just did it because she was friends with Will Arnett, because they were working on The Millers together, a sitcom here in the US. And so he went to her and said, “Hey, will you do my other show?” And she went, “I don’t know, I don’t want to do a cartoon”. And he said, “Margo, you have to, her name is Margo Martindale”. And she was like, “All right, fine.”

So she came in and she did the table read and she was so funny, really great. But she had never heard of the show — it was first season, nobody had seen it or anything. And the next day at The Millers, she told Will, “You know, I had a lot of fun at that table read. You know that Mr Peanutbutter character, he has some real dog-like qualities doesn’t he?” And Will said, “Well, you know he’s a dog right?” And she said, “No”. And he said, “Do you know the premise of the show?” And no one had explained to her that it was a show with animal people. She didn’t know that Will was a horse, she thought it was all people. Just some of them were weirdly animal-like.

Read our full interview with Raphael Bob-Waksberg here or catch him in conversation with Marc Fennell at Video Junkee 2017. View the event and book your tickets here.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is Junkee’s Staff Writer. She tweets at @mdixonsmith.

Love film and TV? We’re holding our inaugural Video Junkee festival in July, a new annual event for lovers and creators of online video. Video Junkee is on July 28 & 29 at Carriageworks in Sydney, featuring keynotes, masterclasses, screenings, interviews and more. Tickets are on sale now.