all the jamz

Something I always take note of in television shows is the music. A fantastic soundtrack really makes a show stand out more in a good way (see: The OC for a not-as great show that’s made better by a phenomenal soundtrack; also, Friday Night Lights has a beautifully fitting score [exhibit A: Tony Lucca’s cover of “Devil Town”]l and, more recently, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a 90s throwback soundtrack and for the magnificent “Peeno Noir.”) . A bad soundtrack can make a show unwatchable. I have no examples for that because I wouldn’t want to subject you to that.

BoJack Horseman has some incredible music, so I figured I’d compose a short playlist of important songs from season one, and couple of my own choice, for you all to enjoy.

  1. Ironically, we’re going to start with the end credits. Grouplove performs an untitled, thought commonly called “Back in the 90s,” song, from which this blog actually gets its title (“I’m more horse than a man, or I’m more man than a horse. BoJack!”). It’s catchy and fantastic, and its lyrics are a perfect introduction to the show.

  2. Wild Horses from The Rolling Stones is the next “big” track from the show. It plays near the end of the show’s first season run. It’s a huge pun on BoJack being a horse, which makes me roll my eyes slightly, but then again, it’s a fantastic song, and it really fits BoJack’s character. I wonder if Bob-Waksberg chose to make BoJack a horse because of the song?

  3. Tegan and Sara’s hit song Closer is the closing tune to season one, and I think that’s a really interesting choice to end the season on. It’s all about getting closer to something,and I think that’s an important beat to the season’s narrative arc: getting closer. However, there is a really romantic quality to the song that makes me think of the relationship between BoJack and Diane. I’m not rooting for them to get together by any means, but it makes you wonder what’s in store for season two if the show ended on a love-y song.

  4. The Way We Get By by Spoon is a song I associate with Showtime’s Shameless, but I think it fits the bill here, too. It may be crass, and it may not be appropriate, but a huge amount of BoJack’s time is spent getting high or drunk and just going with the flow of emotions and horrible life choices that come with such things, and the song covers that on a superficial level. But beyond that, the song’s about surviving, even when you might hate yourself and situation. The way you get by is a state; it’s a fight if living’s a war. That’s one of the most BoJack things I’ve ever seen.

  5. Finally, I want to link you to Pillar Point’s Black Hole. Black Hole doesn’t fit in as well as the other songs; it’s mostly an aesthetic. There’s something in the singer’s voice and the slightly harsh beat that gets me in a mellow mood. Not too mellow though, more like a mellow conducive to passive aggressive judgment. Basically, this song is like the aesthetic BoJack and Diane laud so highly, but that traps them so badly.

And what’s a list without an Honorable Mention? (TVLine always has one, so we can too. I decided that just now all by myself. Be proud.)

Our honorable mention is Lyla’s Impossible, the only time the ending song was different from Grouplove’s piece. It really fits with the show’s theme, and deserves a shout out for being really smooth and breaking from the show’s usual.


My Book, Written By Me – “Downer Ending”

It’s time.

After weeks of me blabbering on and on about how amazing this episode is, I’m finally reviewing episode 11, “Downer Ending,” also known as the holy grail of episodes. This episode cemented BoJack’s status as game-changer. The symbolism and narrative cohesion brings together the entire season, and provides a stunning climax that leaves you speechless, overwhelmed by raw emotion. You’ll, simultaneously, be sad and glad and mad. All of the -ads.

When Raphael Bob-Waksberg pitched the show to Netflix, he knew this episode was coming. He knew that everything previously on the show – all of the individual story arcs of the separate characters built up to this moment.

And it can all be summarized with one word: Maine.

“Downer Ending” opens to BoJack and Diane meeting with Pinky Penguin, where BoJack is ranting about how damaging Diane’s portrayal of him is. Diane argues that her perspective on him paints a flawed portrait that people relate to on a deeply personal level.

Their argument about whether or not people will relate to or like BoJack becomes a really meta moment in the show. They’re literally talking about BoJack, but also what they’re saying applies directly to the themes and concepts the show explores. Is BoJack a good person? How does one come back from being, excuse my French, an incredibly shitty person? Can people change? And then there’s the representation of depression.

All of that takes place in the cold open, and from there the story just progresses even further into BoJack’s psyche, and messes with the viewers’ heads.

The bulk of the episode depicts BoJack trying to write his own version of the book, making it better, by Friday. To aid him in his writing endeavors, BoJack enlists the help of Todd, Sarah Lynn, and Dr. Hu’s drugs.

What comes next is one of the most amazing, surreal moments in animated television: a 10-minute, entire act-long drug trip. It’s trippy and fucked up, and it completely dissects the heart of the show. It’s a representation of the mind, body,and soul of BoJack – and it’s terrifying.

Some lovely YouTube user uplodaed a 12-minute video that starts right after the drugs kick in for BoJack and goes through the ending of the episode. If you don’t have access to Netflix and haven’t seen this episode to know what I’m talking about, I highly recommend checking it out when you have the time.

The part that really stands out to me as amazing writing is the section of the trip where BoJack imagines an alternate universe for himself. What if he’d followed Charlotte to Maine? What if he’d made choices that were healthy and positive to himself, those around him, and his surroundings?

What results is a daughter, Harper, who is not the first fictionalized, animated horse that makes you want to cry while watching this show, but she is the only good thing BoJack has ever done.

But she isn’t real.

It isn’t said whether or not the events of the drug trip are diegetic, if he remembers what he saw and experienced under the influence or not. I think it’s implied that he does remember, though.

I think he remembers because after this, he goes to Diane’s ghost writer conference. He’s a mess. He’s just coming down from his days-long binge and has failed to write a better script. He knows that soon everyone’s going to see the real him on the pages of Diane’s book, and he’s terrified that the person on those pages is really him. He wants to be a good person, and he needs to talk to Diane, the person who knows him better than anyone else.

He goes there and asks her if she thinks he’s a good person, and when she looks away, silent and unanswering, the cricket sounds from the scenes in Maine are spliced over the moment.

And in that moment, my heart shattered, my jaw dropped to the floor, and I was stunned.

Key Elements of BoJack Horseman’s Universe

BoJack Horseman is, believe it or not, a show about a talking horse.

I know, take a moment to let that sink in.

The world that Raphael Bob-Waksberg created is a world where there are anthropomorphic animals who walk, talk, and live in society with and as humans, and nobody questions it. It’s the show’s norm.

It’s not our norm, though, and BoJack capitalizes on that. Because a walking, talking horse can be this universe’s Bob Saget, every episode contains copious amounts of gags or jokes that relate back to the discontinuity between the fictional world represented on screen and ours. A lot of that comes into play through puns, verbal and visual both.

Let’s take a look at the Neal McBeal the Navy Seal interview scene from early on in the show to see the animal pun work at play:

“There is nothing funny about stealing a meal from Neal McBeal the Navy Seal.”

Here we see a great example of the common kinds of verbal puns or jokes in BoJack.

Beyond the humor that stems from the animal characters doing and being human, every episode of BoJack shows BoJack screwing things up royally somehow.

Nothing is safe; someone always makes a massive mistake. Exhibit A, BoJack ignores Neal’s dibs. But the cool thing about this show is how these mistakes often come back into play later on. Continuity is incredibly well-preserved in Hollywoo. Exhibit B: BoJack sabotages Todd’s rock opera by setting him up to buy the game he once had an addiction to. In some shows, the fact that BoJack caused Todd’s misfortune would be swept under the rug in favor of moving the plot along. In BoJack Horseman, these moments come back and affect the greater story arch of the story.

By the end of the season, BoJack has alienated almost everyone in his life but Todd, his rock and constant support. But when Todd finds the receipt for the video game and pieces together that BoJack sabotaged him, he deflects to Mr. Peanutbutter, and BoJack’s isolation is complete.

The story hinges upon minutia.

The final cool thing I want to point out as being an incredible element of the show is how the show refers back to itself. The best, most powerful example of occurs in episode 11, “Downer Ending.” First, the bad drug trip:

Fast-forward to the Maine sequence, and listen carefully.

There are tonal background noises that characterize BoJack’s symbolic Walden Pond. These sounds – the crickets, the cawing birds, and the soft lapping water – are juxtaposed with the silence in the room when BoJack asks begs Diane to tell him he’s a good person at the end of the episode. It’s the little things like referring back to important moments in subtle ways that really elevates the content of the show beyond the typically expected crude humor of adult animation.

Oh, and we can’t forget: alcohol is probably the most consistent element of every episode.

Those Writing Writers

Tumblr can be a scary place.

It’s filled with people. And places. And things. Properfreaking nouns! All of which can be terrifying in the way they respond to and interact with the world.

But, it’s also a haven for creative minds, and a fantastic way for people, specifically writers, to share and grow. Raphael Bob-Waksberg is one such writer.

Why does that name sound so familiar, you ask?

Well, he’s the showrunner/executive producer/creator of our favorite Netflix Original, BoJack Horseman. He is credited as writer on four of the twelve episodes of season one (that’s a full third of the total writing content for the season), is one of two writers to be credited more than once, and is the only writer to exceed two.

In short, it is very clear that BoJack is Bob-Waksberg’s baby. Evidence: the amount of interaction between him and inquiring fans. People ask him questions – sometimes really in-depth or thought-provoking questions – and he answers.

Even though BoJack is his first “big” break, Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s professional career is rooted in comedy. Before the successful pitching of and producing BoJack, a multi-year process that originated from an artist friend’s anthropomorphic drawings and the idea for a sad show about a depressed talking horse, he became a part of the Olde English Comedy troupe. He has several acting and writing credits (as listed on his IMDb page) from his work with Olde English, one larger such role that stands out being a credited writer for the troupe’s first feature-length film, The Exquisite Corpse Project.

Bob-Waksberg’s experience in comedic writing, particularly in improv, has had a great impact on his writing capabilities. On his tumblr, someone asked him how his background in sketch comedy has affected his writing for BoJack. Instead of just copy pasting the text over here, to make the experience more aesthetically pleasing, I took a screenshot of the question and Bob-Waksberg’s answer:

I kind of just have faith that I can write funny and it’ll be funny and I try not to think about that. I also have a staff full of hilarious comedy writers punching up jokes…

I want to take this moment to step back for a second and discuss the other writers of the show.

Earlier in the semester, my TELE 3110 (Writing for Digital Media) class at UGA had the distinct honor of speaking with Alison Flierl, the script coordinator for BoJack, and the co-writer of an episode in the forthcoming season two. It was incredible to hear about how the writing room works on this show. According to her comments, it’s just as positive and creatively cultured environment as Bob-Waksberg describes in his blog.

The other credited writers for season one are Peter Knight (credited twice), Laura Gutin, Joe Lawson, Scott Marder, Kate Purdy (writer of my favorite episode, “Downer Ending,” which, stayed tuned for a review of that episode in a couple weeks’ time), Mehar Sethi, and Caroline Williams. All of the show’s writers also get producer credit at some point for another episode or two, always separate from the one they write.

All of the show’s writers come from a comedic writing backgrounds, which only bolsters the show’s ability to synch humor with the very actively sad narrative, creating a balance of comedy and drama in its words that leave the viewer’s head spinning and slightly uncomfortable with how much they find themselves relating to a depressed talking horse.

Dialogue as Identification (or, The Troops Are Jerks)

“The Troops Are Jerks” –> Pay careful attention to the dialogue; BoJack’s dialogue is 100% natural for his character.

As a writer, I think it’s safe to say dialogue is terrifying. Seriously, of all aspects of writing, dialogue probably strikes the most fear into my heart. It can be so difficult to get a character’s voice right, to get across everything you’re wanting them to say, but in their voice and so it doesn’t feel awkward, stunted, or forced.

On a personal note, that’s why my first screenwriting endeavor is limited on dialogue, because it’s scary. However, scary is good. Fear drives and motivates.

In terms of how dialogue works in BoJack Horseman? Dialogue provides the groundwork for the audience’s alignment with its characters. Because BoJack is an animated show, there is distance between the audience and the humanity of the characters. On a show that’s main goal is critiquing American society’s concept of humanity, and how we relate to ourselves and each other as humans, channeling the core of humanity is essential to the show’s success.

But the show is about cartoons, and cartoons are decidedly – and especially anthropomorphic cartoons – and purposefully not human, so the writers have to overcome this major obstacle to properly achieve good satire and social criticism through humor.

The dialogue of the show is quick-witted and sharp. The characters tear into each other and always have a quip ready to let go in response to someone else. The writers go to great efforts to make the dialogue match each character. Because the characters are so dynamic, their voices are loud and proud. They carry beyond their lines and bleed into their surroundings, providing the atmosphere necessary to be completely submerged in the character.

One of my favorite examples of the dialogue giving us intense insight into the characters, while being funny and incredibly human, is from the sixth episode of the show, “Our ‘A’-Story Is A ‘D’-Story:”

As you can see, BoJack himself is just as horrible as a human. Seeing a horse describe his own demise really does a lot for destroying any obstacles preventing identification with said character.

Happy birthday, Princess Carolyn!

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.38.41 AMBoJack Horseman sure knows how to start an episode, huh?

Unlike most current television shows, BoJack Horseman’s first season was released on Netflix all at the same time. This meant that there would be no waiting between episodes; you could marathon the show all at once.

The show started during the era of binge-watching, when viewers were suddenly watching shows in their entirety in as few sittings as possible, and that idea, the person sitting on their couch for five hours watching an entire season of a 25-minute, 12-episode adult cartoon, had an impact on the way BoJack‘s writers created their story structure.

To discuss this further, to really breakdown the episodic structure, we need to focus in on one. Our case study will be Episode 7, “Say Anything,” also known as the episode everything changed.

Like all previous and all subsequent episodes, “Say Anything” begins with a cold open. The screenshot at the beginning of this post is the first thing you see in the episode.

The Legend of John Stamos is a ~30-second clip from “Say Anything”‘s cold open.

As is the nature of the cold open, the theme song and opening credits roll next.

This is funky. But also, by starting with a cold open, the writers throw the show’s audience into the deep end at the very beginning, submerging us in the show. It’s a good technique to get the ball rolling, similar in effect to the Ancient Greek’s epic poetry technique, “in medias ras,” or starting in the middle. By starting in the middle of the action, the audience is hooked.

After the opening sequences, BoJack Horseman can typically be split into two plots: an A-plot or main plot, and a B-plot or sub-plot. One of these plots always involves BoJack himself and functions as a tool to further the season long narrative arc surrounding his growing depression and self-questioning. More importantly, there is a story structure that exists beyond the confines of a single episode.

Usually, BoJack is involved more directly in the A-plot than the B-plot, but in the case of “Say Anything,” Princess Carolyn takes center stage. There are three main sections to her plot, and we can identify those via repetition of the phrase, “Get your shit together.”

1. The first one we’ve seen at the opening of this post: the cold open. Princess Carolyn starts off strong, berating BoJack for his faults, and seeming ready to conquer the world, one agent crisis at a time.

2. Princess Carolyn soon moves on to scolding Todd for screwing up, but this time her focus is lessened and the power behind her words is lacking. There’s more desperation and less oomph.Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 2.05.46 AM3. Princess Carolyn hits rock bottom, à la BoJack (but with way more class):

“Serves you right for having feelings.” Honestly, this moment is what cemented the show’s place in my heart. When Princess Carolyn’s criticism turns inward and stabs you in the heart, I knew the show was doing something different than making animal jokes all the time.

Princess Carolyn’s repeated phrase parallels her emotional journey, and that’s something the writing on BoJack typically does. It foreshadows character development and future happenings within an episode through the characters’ actions.

Comedy is the vessel to reflection and introspection on BoJack, and it’s a beautiful thing.

The B-plot of “Say Anything” is the lead-in to the plot of the next episode, and the show is really good about using continuity as a transition, and planting the seeds for certain trains of thought episodes in advance. Working with the knowledge that the show’s first season would be released all at once definitely had some sort of effect on how the show’s narrative and character arcs would play out.

And with that, I leave you with a still of Princess Carolyn’s phone wishing her a happy birthday: a great example of the show don’t tell, comedy as introspection/meta thought structure.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 2.26.49 AM

Am I a Good Person? // The BoJack Horseman Story

Who, exactly, is BoJack Horseman? He’s obviously important if the whole show is named after him. Penguin Publishing hires Diane Nguyen to ghostwrite his autobiography – but what’s his story?

BoJack Horseman is washed up 90s star of Horsin’ Around – but primarily exists to expose celebrity culture for the invasive farce it is, and to provide insight into depression. By virtue of BoJack’s anthropomorphism, the show’s writers are able to dig deeper into the human psyche and create a piercing study of the collective human condition.

What do we do when we aren’t enough? How do we react when we realize that what we are isn’t what we should be, could be, or want to be?

What do we do when we don’t like ourselves? Are we capable of change?

Change is probably the word I’d use to describe the BoJack Horseman story more than anything else. Everything about his character arc through what episodes have been released bleeds change.

I was researching other people’s reactions to our show’s Byronic hero, and I found this case study on Vimeo. Don’t take this video at face-value – it’s making commentary as if BoJack were real.

“He’s a real man. A real horseman…BoJack Horseman: actor, author, hero?”

Ignition’s video gives more insight into the wide social sphere of influence the show’s obtained in its brief tenure, but beyond that it does a great job of characterizing BoJack’s character: he is, for all intents and purposes, a human. He’s just also a horse. Will Arnett voices BoJack, which was a really smart move on the part of Waksberg and company: Arnett is a moderately famous comedic actor whose fame adds to the depth of BoJack’s personality. Because he sounds like Gob from Arrested Development, his personality and character development make more sense.

I couldn’t find a clip of this scene posted online anywhere, so I had to make a slideshow of screens from Netflix instead, but take a look at this really important exchange between Herb Kazzaz, BoJack’s ex-partner, and BoJack in episode 8, “The Telescope:”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ouch. But, fair, no?

The allure of BoJack isn’t that he’s this great guy you aspire to be: he’s a complete asshole. You don’t want to be BoJack, but the writers and creative direction align you with him anyway, making you, the viewer, incredibly uncomfortable and unsure of where to go from there and how to feel.

The next episode, BoJack tries to sabotage Diane’s wedding, because of his misplaced feelings for her, and after he fails, as the we expect the whole time, he reflects on himself and life.

And then the show skips forward by two months and we see BoJack has fallen back into his old, horrible, alcoholic curmudgeon habits that sends him on an even worse downward spiral that culminates in the famous drug trip scene from episode 11, “Downer Ending.”

By nature of the show, BoJack is a very meta character. Diane is writing a book about him, that’s supposed to be his thoughts on himself, that then becomes a mirror for BoJack’s self-clarity.

Diane says that people respond to the flawed portrait she painted of him – they love him, they hate him. They love and hate him, and that comment goes for the audience’s response to BoJack as much as to the creators intentions with the character.

This blog is called More Man Than Horse, initially a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the show’s ending theme, but it also describes BoJack. He’s a horse, but he’s honestly more man than horse, and that’s why the show works. Todd, Princess Carolyn, Diane, and company are brilliant characters, but without the fortitude of BoJack himself, the show would have nothing.

With that, I’m linking back to a video I posted in my first blog post: “Am I a Good Person?”

So, tell me. Is he?