‘Bojack Horseman’ Showrunner Talks Season 4 (and How Jessica Biel Asked Him to be Meaner) [Interview]

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“Where’s Bojack” is the mystery of Bojack Horseman’s fourth season, and also the feeling of fans who’ve been waiting since they binge-watched season 3 last summer. Last season featured the landmark episode “Fish Out of Water” in which Bojack (Will Arnett) attended an underwater film festival, featured Bojack finding out he had a long lost daughter, and introduced Mr. Peanutbutter’s (Paul F. Tompkins) plan to for office.

/Film has been pursuing Bojack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg for several years now, so we had a lot to talk about when we finally spoke by phone. We spoke vaguely about season 4, so that you could read this either before or after you watch the season, and discussed general questions that have been percolating about the show for four years.

Was it a big risk to introduce Bojack so late in season four?

It’s not that late. We did talk a lot about how much do we want to keep him hidden, and how much do we want to keep him not in L.A. There were talks of could he go half or most of the season up in Michigan or driving around going from place to place? We definitely considered that, but we also thought we teased the idea of his daughter character in the end of season three. That’s also a really rich story we want to get into and if he’s driving all around, we can’t really explore that relationship. For the benefit of that story, which we think ultimately is going to be a deeper, more interesting story than whatever he’s doing in these other places with these strangers, it makes sense to get him back to L.A. somewhat quickly but we cover a lot of time in those first episodes. In world, he’s been gone for a full year but the audience isn’t missing him too much. Did it feel like a risk to not have him in the first episode at all?

I was wondering how far you’d push it, but I was ready to spend that time with the other characters. 

I think it’s interesting too because I think a lot of the audience’s perception is going to be shaped by the marketing. We’re really pushing the “Where’s Bojack?” of it all. There might be some disappointment of, “Oh, I thought it was going to be the whole season.” Or it might end up helping it feel like more time because they’re already wondering now where’s Bojack. We’ll see. It felt like a fun thing to try, to have a show called Bojack Horseman and have no Bojack Horseman for an episode. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing we do. Let’s go for it.

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Did you already have the political story for Mr. Peanutbutter when you set up his campaign at the end of season three?

No. We didn’t know what we were going to do with it. We just thought, “Oh, that would be a fun thing to explore.” I think if we’d thought ahead for even a second, we might have predicted that maybe by 2017 people would be sick of following stories about politics and it won’t be the most enticing thing to do. I like to think we did a good enough job to make it feel fun and interesting and not feel like it’s rehashing a lot of the vitriol and torture of what the last 16 months have been. As we were working on the story, we tried to say okay, what if it’s less about politics and the personal relationships. What does this campaign do to Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship with Diane and what does it say about him and his ex-wives?

It sort of fell into your lap that you had a candidate who never thought he’d actually get elected.

Right, but what I’ll say, while we were making the season, there was a lot of talk of where is this going? Do we want him to win or not and what does that say? I think that changed as stuff was happening in the real world. Is this funny or is it horrifying and what does that mean, what is the precedent for it? It shifted a little bit so I think we were very conscious not to too closely ape anything specific from the election. We didn’t want to just be like this is like this and this character is like that guy. Certainly I think what was happening in the world definitely seeped in because we’re humans and we have thoughts about the world and the way it work.

Did you always know the history of Mr. Peanutbutter’s House or was that all new this season?

No, sometimes what’s fun about this show is we’ll write stuff in as a throwaway gag and then we’ll return to it and go, “Okay, what does this actually say about the world?” The very first season of Bojack, you see a clip of Mr. Peanutbutter’s House. At the end, the credit pops up: Created by David Chase and Steven Bochco. We’re like oh, that’s a funny gag if those two guys wrote Mr. Peanutbutter’s House. So then when it was time to show the flashback to it, we were like, “Do you think we could get David Chase or Steven Bochco?” David Chase was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” It was a really fun way to start the season I thought. A lot of the backstory of these characters we’re finding as we go which is fun. We’re making the story forwards as well as backwards. This season there’s a lot of backstory, especially with Bojack’s family. That was really fun to dive into, stuff we’ve hinted at before or intimated before. I was like, let’s really explore that and what was that and how did that work?

Is episode 11 this season’s “Fish Out of Water?”

I don’t know. I guess that’s for the audience to decide. I don’t necessarily think of it that way. When we go into every season, we’re not necessarily trying to top ourselves or match certain things, like okay, we’ve got to have this kind of episode and that kind of episode and this kind of episode. It really is more like what sounds fun for us this year? I’m always excited to see which episodes pop with the audience. It’s not always the episodes that I expect to so it’s fun. I’m excited to see what people think about all of the episodes.

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You address that Margo Martindale is still lost at sea. Didn’t all the spaghetti strainers catch her?

No. She’s still missing and presumed dead perhaps.

Even though Sarah Lynn is gone, was it important that her catchphrase (“Suck a d***, dumb sh*ts”) still lives?

Yeah, that felt like a nice way to pay tribute.

It’s my favorite thing to say.

Good. Well, be careful who you say it around.

When Bojack meets Eddie, was that a nice chance to introduce a tragic character for a single episode arc?

Yeah, that was really fun. We talked about who does Bojack meet and in what ways is this character a reflection of what Bojack has gone through? Even though his backstory is very different and distinct, can Bojack see in him a model for what he would like to be and/or not like to be. We thought he made a really interesting foil for Bojack in that moment. Colman Domingo’s an amazing actor we were lucky to get, and to have him sing is pretty incredible. He’s a Broadway star which a lot of people don’t even know about him. They’ve just seen him on Fear the Walking Dead. That was really cool for me. I was like, “I saw you on Broadway in Passing Strange and now we wrote this song for you to sing.”

Was Lin-Manuel Miranda a Bojack fan?

I don’t know if he was a fan, but we asked him to do the show and he said yet. Either he was a fan or his agent thought it’d be good for his career. He was also very sweet, very friendly. One of our writers is a huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fan so Lin-Manuel recorded a little message for them which was really nice.

There’s a joke in the finale about a Matthew Perry SNL sketch that’s really poignant. I won’t give away the joke but did it take a long time to figure out how to describe a sketch we don’t see? 

It actually came from a very old bit I had way back in college from my own sketch comedy group. I was trying to write the finale and I was stuck on this one scene. I couldn’t figure out how to move from one thing to the other. So of course I was procrastinating. When I write, I try to turn my internet off so I can’t procrastinate through the internet, but then I just get deeply involved in whatever I have just on my computer. So I was going through old documents and pictures and looking at stuff just so I wouldn’t have to think about the episode. Then I found this joke that I thought, “Oh, I bet I can do something with this.” So it turned out my procrastination helped me unlock a piece of the puzzle.

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