'BoJack Horseman' creator previews Season 4, talks honeydew and the show's most sincere character

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo: Netflix

BoJack’s back and as angsty as ever in Season 4. Actually, the animated horse/man isn’t back in BoJack Horseman’s Season 4 premiere episode — Mr. Peanutbutter is the focus of the opener — but when the series’ antihero makes his return, there are plenty of laughs, relationship dramas, puns, and, as is the show’s trademark, deeply resonating emotional journeys to enjoy.

Yahoo TV talked to BoJack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg about the new season, the new person in BoJack’s life and whether or not she will help foster some maturity and selflessness to his life, who he considers is the series’ most sincere character, and why there’s so much hatred for the “garbage fruit” that is honeydew.

Yahoo TV: Not to give away the specifics, but I have to say, if not for the greatest honeydew/Jared Leto joke ever, I would still be sobbing about the end of Season 4.
Raphael Bob-Waksberg: I’m glad we could cut that with a little bit of comedy.

And the sobbing isn’t necessarily because of something tragic, we should point out. But before we get into that, I have to ask you, what is the genesis of the honeydew hatred?
It’s funny, because I’ve been invited to parties now where there’ll be a fruit plate, and the person will come and be like, “Don’t worry, there’s no honeydew there.” I want to say, I don’t mind honeydew. It’s a character choice that I think originated in Season 1, and Laura Gutin wrote the episode that it started in as a fun character bit, and then we called it back in Season 2, and it’s so fun to just keep ragging on it, because it’s the kind of thing BoJack would really hate. I think good honeydew’s all right. I’m not a honeydew hater. I hope this doesn’t destroy my credibility. I live in constant fear that people connect to the show because it’s such a sensitive and accurate portrayal of honeydew haters, and it’s going to come out that I myself am not a honeydew hater, and they’re going to tear me down … how dare I try to represent this character trait that is very near and dear to them!

You have heard from people, even if you like honeydew, it’s not cantaloupe.
It’s never the first fruit I’m going to eat, I’ll say that.

And there are a lot of honeydew haters who’ve shared their opinions with you?
Yes, but I’ve heard the opposite too. People have come out and been like, “How dare you! Honeydew is great, you philistine.” I’m like, “All right, man. I’m not trying to pick a fight with anybody here. I’m just writing some jokes.”

Photo: Netflix

Back to the sobbing … again, without ruining specifics, there is a new person in BoJack’s life, teenager Hollyhock. Their relationship is a major one, one that has some twists, but suffice it to say she is a person who might make him mature a bit, with whom he maybe can have that meaningful, unselfish bond he’s always seeking. Was that why Hollyhock was introduced?
Well, we thought that way before [about BoJack], so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I certainly think he has matured over the course of this season, but I think he’s matured over the course of every season. I think he is … maybe maturing is the wrong word, because it indicates positive growth, but I think he has certainly evolved or changed throughout, and we’re always looking for new ways to push that or find new challenges for him. I think this relationship felt like an interesting challenge we’ve not explored with him before, so we’re really happy to explore that.

You’ve said before that you don’t like happy endings. This really isn’t an end; it’s more of a happy continuation?
I don’t know, did I say I don’t like happy endings? I think it’s another honeydew situation, where I’m being misrepresented. I am wary of happy endings, and I am wary of false happy endings or people feeling like they deserve a happy ending because we have grown accustomed to happy endings in fiction. You know what I mean? I’ve climbed this hill many times, and of all the things to get mad about, is fiction really the fiend I want to take on? The form of fiction or the idea of fictional stories? But I do feel like we have a narrative problem in our society where we believe that certain things will turn out a certain way because we are the good guys and we deserve it, or it should turn out a certain way and if it doesn’t, we did something bad or we don’t deserve it. I guess that is one thing that I would like the show to be corrective against, that feeling, because nobody deserves anything, I guess, if you really think about it.

And also, these things aren’t ending … an episode is ending, the season is ending…
Right, there’s no such thing as an ending, that’s exactly right. That’s also been a big theme of the show from the beginning, that you could have the happiest day of your life, but there’s always the day after, or the saddest day of your life and there’s the day after. That is both a frustrating thing, but it can also be an encouraging thing that when the worst thing happens to you, the next day is going to be the day after the worst thing happened to you; it’s not going to be the worst day of your life, it’s going to be another day. I think we’ve shown that for good and ill over the course of the show, and I’m interested in continuing to explore that idea.

When you’re conceiving an idea, storywise, and thinking about the characters, are you thinking about them as animated characters or more as humans? Obviously, it’s a visually wonderful and striking and fun show, but I do forget when I’m watching sometimes that it’s an animated show, because these characters are so richly written and layered and complicated, as much as the characters are on any live-action series. At times, I think BoJack almost feels like its own genre in that sense.
I think we really try to let the characters lead the show and the conflict, and the characters and the relationships lead the show and explore where that goes, and not necessarily be beholden to a status quo that we need to step back into … that the characters can change and go and evolve, and the relationships can change and grow and evolve. If they have this fight in Episode 4, let’s play up the ramifications of that. Let’s not just ignore it, and everything’s back to normal in Episode 5. What I enjoy about the show is it can also switch gears, and we can let the comedy or the animal-ness fuel an episode or a storyline … “All right, what’s the silliest thing we can think of? Let’s just go there now.” Or let’s figure out the logic of this world. If these animals all live in this world, the people continue to eat meat, where is that meat coming from and what is that? Which is obviously very different, but maybe alarmingly not so different, from how we get meat in the real world.

Photo: Netflix

One of the sadder storylines is that Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter have some serious issues this season. But the great aspect of that storyline is that nobody’s let off the hook here; no one’s the good guy or bad guy. Diane is forced to question whether she just can’t be satisfied with anything when Mr. PB does something very nice for her and, for a very specific reason, it just makes her angry. Again, this doesn’t feel like cartoon characters going through this; this feels like two people being forced to really consider whether or not they’re compatible as a married couple. Do we think they are meant to be together?
Well, I bet you can guess what I think about the phrase “meant to be together.” Because no one’s meant to be anywhere. We’re all just figuring it out. Always in the fun of their relationship is to play that like a couple who’s figuring it out, and you don’t have the comfort of this couple that is “meant to be,” or this is a bad relationship that can’t sustain. It’s in the middle, which is what I think a lot of relationships are for long periods, or even very good, healthy relationships; you still have those days of, “What would it be like if I wasn’t in this relationship? Is this holding me back?” And the worst relationships have amazing days where you think, “Oh, my God, I’m totally meant to be with this person. I was crazy for thinking otherwise.” Even if that’s one day off.

That’s always been an interesting part of the story for me, is playing that relationship as you have to decide for yourself, but no one’s going to tell you, this is Jim and Pam … you’re in it. Or, this is Jan and Michael, from the same show, this is a bad relationship that needs to end. No, you don’t get that kind of perspective on your own relationship. To see them struggling and trying to make it work, but other times seeming to take a foot out, that’s been a very interesting thing for us to play over the course of four seasons now.

Photo: Netflix

Another thing I love about Mr. Peanutbutter that really came through this season is that there are celebrities that you read about, but I think even people in their own lives know these kinds of people, who you find out they’ve been married several times. And they seem like such nice, happy, down-to-earth people, and you wonder to yourself, why have they been through several marriages? What happened? I think you finally shed light on that with Mr. Peanutbutter. He really, basically, is a happy, glass-half-full kind of guy, and some people just find that annoying or challenging, and it’s not going to work. Is that what has inspired that character?
It’s interesting because I think that when we first started talking about him … I remember talking to [Mr. Peanutbutter voice actor Paul F. Tompkins] about it in the first season, because especially early on, he is presented as a heel, and then I think you learn to love him over the course of that first season, but that he’s initially presented as the foil of BoJack, the other guy that Diane’s with, that BoJack is in love with … the grammar of that sentence is bad, but you know what I mean. He’s the guy with the object of BoJack’s affection, so therefore he is the obstacle. I think he comes across very smarmy, and what I said to Paul at the beginning is, he’s not that way. He seems that way, but he’s actually not phony. That’s the difference, when he says, “I want to talk to you” and then gets distracted by someone else immediately, that’s not him being phony. He really does want to talk to BoJack for that second, but he gets distracted. He believes everything he says.

He is maybe the most sincere character on the show. His faults do not lie with his sincerity. He is a true, pure being in that way, and he does not necessarily have the best emotional intelligence or otherwise intelligence on the show, but he is very kind, as far as he tries to be. He is, in many ways, I think motivated by wanting everyone to like him, and I think in this season, we see how that gets him in trouble and how that sometimes is an admirable quality, because that means he’s very giving and very enthusiastic to others, but he has a hard time maybe prioritizing who should like him and wants to give all of himself to everybody.

Photo: Netflix

This is a big, not necessarily happy, season for Princess Carolyn, but one highlight is her very memorable tongue twisters in Season 4. How did Amy Sedaris feel about them when she saw how frequently they pop up in Princess Caroline’s dialogue in Season 4?
She hates them, which is why we give her so many. I think there’s something about … because we’ve had tongue twisters since the beginning. “You’re stealing a meal from Neal McBeal the Navy SEAL.” That’s Episode 2. But I’ve always loved them, and I love making actors do them. I think more and more, we just gravitate toward giving them to Amy. She’s so annoyed, but also I think something about her reading, you can tell there’s a fun friction that comes out of her saying these words. Where you can almost get the sense that she doesn’t want to, but she has to, which gives it a fun charge. She also is good at it. She really has a way of stringing them together in these very funny ways, so it is a joy. Yeah, this season, we drew a new character who was named specifically to give Amy more tongue twisters to say. It definitely feels like cheating a little bit, that we the writers are the gods of this universe, and so we can create things to make tongue twisters out of. It’s not an organic tongue twister … we’re making up movies that [the character] starred in that have ridiculous plots just so we can say these dumb tongue twisters. I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy making Amy do it. I think she secretly enjoys it too, even though she complains.

You also have great new guest voices this season. Andre Braugher is particularly amazing.
Yeah, he’s fantastic.

Are people coming to you, at this point, to ask to be on the show?
Some do, but also we just ask, and we write a character first and then we think who would be good to play this person. We have this amazing casting director, Linda Lamontagne, who really, I think, knows who is interested and who might be interested. It’s been really fun more and more trying to pick the right voice for these characters. It’s a joy, and we get to work with amazing people.

Do you have a wish list of people that you would like to have do voices on the show?
No, because it really comes from character first. It’s really like, who would be right for this? I don’t want to necessarily be writing a character to try to woo a specific actor or actress. There are people that I respect, that I’d love to work with, but no one that I feel … it’s work in a way. Sometimes I feel like when these actors come in that I’m a big fan of, I don’t get to be a fan because I have to be professional. I almost would rather meet them in a fan setting, where I could talk to them about their work. I don’t feel like it’s the best way to meet my heroes, maybe. Maybe it is, maybe it’s actually better this way, that I could actually just work with them and keep it professional and not totally geek out all over the place.

Photo: Netflix

How far down the road do you have BoJack and the other characters’ lives planned out? Did you know, for instance, in the beginning that this Hollyhock character and that storyline would be a part of his backstory?
No. We know very little at this point. We have a handful of ideas where we’re like, it still might be fun to do something with that or can we loop that back in, or, we left this thing lingering, that would be a fun thing to explore. But we’re flying without a net here. We’re figuring it out one season at a time, which is exciting. I think it leads to more organic storytelling, so we’re really playing off what happened before. We don’t have a set endgame that we’re driving toward. Basically, yeah, I don’t want to say we never have any plan, because we definitely plan out each season very clearly and carefully, and we keep an eye on where we’re going in the future. But there’s no big master plan. I think these characters are real, in a sense. Obviously, they’re not real, we are making them up, but I want to respect their journeys and see where their lives and their relationships take them. If you get too far ahead of it, you have trouble doing that, because then you’re trying to line up certain events for it to pay off in certain ways, and it just feels inorganic.

Are you thinking about Season 5 and where you might want to go with the characters?
Yeah. Yeah, there are conversations occurring or thoughts occurring. Again, we don’t write any season with the thought of what’s the next season going to be. [It’s], “What’s the most satisfying for this story that we could tell here?” If we can set up some fun stuff for the writers in next season to figure out, which always ends up being us, that’s just a bonus, that’s nice.

BoJack Horseman Season 4 premieres Friday, Sept. 8, on Netflix.

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