BoJack Horseman creator picks 7 introductory episodes for new viewers
Still haven't gotten around to watching BoJack Horseman? Worry not: Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg recommends episodes that serve as perfect intros.
In one sense, BoJack Horseman is over. No more new episodes are being produced, and most viewers of the show will probably agree that the characters reached satisfying conclusions at the end of their six-season run. And yet, in another sense, BoJack Horseman lives forever on Netflix. It’s there, right now, in its entirety, waiting to be discovered by new viewers — whether people who have never heard of it before, or those who have but have never gotten around to actually checking out the incredible cartoon opus about a depressed actor who is also a horse.
Six seasons is a lot of TV, after all. So in the wake of BoJack Horseman‘s series finale, EW caught up with creator and executive producer Raphael Bob-Waksberg, who was happy to recommend a “sampler plate” of episodes for anyone out there interested in easing into the show.
Season 1×9, ‘Horse Majeure’ (written by Peter A. Knight, directed by Joel Moser)
The premise: BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) spent most of season 1 infatuated with journalist Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), who is ghostwriting his memoir. The only problem is, Diane is engaged to BoJack’s longtime frenemy and rival, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). In this episode, BoJack tries his best to sabotage their wedding.
Why it’s a good intro: “What’s nice about this episode is you get a sense of the serialization,” Bob-Waksberg tells EW. “You get a sense of, ‘oh stuff is going down already.’ We’re joining these characters midstream. There’s a climax in this episode where Bojack tries to stop a wedding. But it’s a well-balanced episode where you get a sense of all five main characters; everybody is doing something in a fun way. It’s also the introduction of Vincent Adultman, a fan-favorite character. It brings back Margo Martindale, who’s also a fan-favorite character. This was the point in season 1 where we felt like, ‘okay, we know what we’re doing.’ There are bigger swings in season 1, and it doesn’t spoil those, but it is a good intro to what the show is when it’s not introducing a bunch of stuff. Just being in the world with these characters.”
Season 2×7, ‘Hank After Dark’ (written by Kelly Galuska, directed by Amy Winfrey)
The premise: While on book tour for their new memoir, Diane brings up long-standing accusations of sexual harassment against talk-show host Hank Hippopopalous (Philip Baker Hall) that mirror real-life allegations against entertainment figures like Bill Cosby. Though Cosby’s accusers spoke out in a New York magazine cover story that was published the same month season 2 hit Netflix, Diane can’t find a single publication to cover the accusations against “Uncle Hank.”
Why it’s a good intro: “For a first-time viewer, it shows a side of our show that’s a big part of the show: The satire side, the politically-minded side,” Bob-Waskberg says. “This is a show that wants to say things about the society we’re in and the industry the show takes place in, which is show business. It has ideas about fame and power and how those things collide and corrupt, which is a major theme of the show. I feel like there are cycles, even just in the last five years. We had a similar arc in season 5 about problematic men, it’s an ongoing theme of the show. But I remember working on season 5 when the Harvey Weinstein stuff broke, and it felt like, is our industry changing? Wow, men are being held accountable…but then it kinda subsided like, but are they really? Some men are being held accountable, but by whom and for how long? I would love it if episodes like ‘Hank After Dark’ felt not relevant anymore, but in some ways it feels more relevant than it did at the time, when Cosby was being brought to justice.”
Bob-Waksberg continues, “Watching ‘Hank After Dark,’ knowing the show is serious about these investigations and themes, provides a different context to the first season if you go back and watch it after. In season 1 there is some misogyny and problematic behavior on BoJack’s part that is played somewhat lightly. Sometimes that’s intentional and sometimes it’s the character tropes we were playing with, but it’s helpful to know, watching it, that the show is not just going to have fun with these ideas and jokes. The show’s not gonna take BoJack’s side forever. It’s not a feature of the show, it’s something that’s scrutinized more and more as the show progresses. That’s an important bit of context for going back and watching the show from the beginning.”
Season 2×8, ‘Let’s Find Out’ (written by Alison Flierl & Scott Chernoff, directed by Matt Mariska)
The premise: Immediately following the real-world commentary of ‘Hank After Dark’ is this colorful bonanza of an episode in which BoJack must compete against Daniel Radcliffe (playing himself) on the premiere episode of a new celebrity game show hosted by Mr. Peanutbutter titled Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out!
Why it’s a good intro: “Watching these two episodes together, you get a sense of the tonal whiplash that is a feature, not a bug, of the show. It goes to serious places and also gets so zany,” Bob-Waksberg says. “This is super zany, a really fun one, but it also has a touch of seriousness where Mr. Peanutbutter and BoJack have a serious conversation about, what do you want? What’s it gonna take to make you happy? Being so explicit about asking that question, and having BoJack answer it, reveals to the audience something that was always obvious to me. It clicked into place for a lot of people that oh, this is what the show is about, and this is why BoJack is the way he is. You watch the show and think, ‘oh this guy has everything, he’s a rich influential TV star, so why is he still self-loathing and moping?’ The answer that comes in this episode is, ‘yeah, exactly!’ That is what we are investigating! You are correct to be asking that. We are also asking that. BoJack is asking himself that, other characters are asking that, this is an investigation of that. We are not ignoring that central irony. Keeping that in mind helps you watch the first season as well, knowing this is what the show is about, kind of.”
As for Radcliffe, Bob-Waksberg says, “We wanted BoJack to go up against a real celebrity in this episode. We were brainstorming who might be fun. I think i saw an interview with Daniel Radcliffe where someone asked what he was watching and he mentioned he was watching the show, so we knew we could go to him. He really liked the script. He’s played himself a couple times, but I think he liked there was a bit of a character arc to play, and different beats, different kinds of jokes. It wasn’t just, ‘what if Harry Potter was secretly an a–hole?’ That’s definitely part of the humor, but there’s more to it than just Daniel Radcliffe being a pampered celebrity jerk. He gets to make some jokes and they weren’t just about Harry Potter, I think he appreciated that.”
Season 3×1, ‘Start Spreading the News’ (written by Joe Lawson, directed by J.C. Gonzalez)
The premise: BoJack spent most of season 2 filming Secretariat, a biopic of the horse he always looked up to. Once it was finished, season 3 was spent running an awards season campaign, and it kicks off here.
Why it’s a good intro: Every episode on this list represents a good introduction to BoJack Horseman, and together they make a nice “sampler-plate.” But there is also a second approach recommended by Bob-Waksberg: Instead of taking on one great episode at a time, just start here, watch all of season 3, and then go back to the beginning.
“Just go in with season 3 episode 1, watch all of season 3, and then go back and watch seasons 1-2. If you need a refresher you can watch 3 again, or just skip to 4,” Bob-Waksberg suggests. “The downside is you’re gonna get spoiled for some stuff, you’re gonna learn about events in season 1 and season 2 that would be surprises. But what’s nice about watching a full season is seeing how it builds on itself, how the episodes work in tandem with each other. You get a sense of that watching this episode. Episode 1 of season 3 is a grabber, it makes it easier to watch the next one.”
He continues, “This episode is very confidently what the show is. It briefly recaps where we were last season, but also starts off a great story in its own right and presents some challenges for the season ahead. I think it grabs you in a way that season 1, episode 1 does not.”
Season 3×4, ‘Fish Out of Water’ (written by Elijah Aaron & Jordan Young, directed by Mike Hollingsworth)
The premise: In one of the most unique episodes in the entire show, BoJack’s Secretariat press tour takes him to an undersea film festival where he tries to make contact with director Kelsey Jannings (Maria Bamford) and apologize for pushing her out of the making of Secretariat. But it’s hard to communicate when you’re underwater, meaning most of the episode plays like a silent film.
Why it’s a good intro: “I think for most people, if you’ve heard of the show, even if you haven’t watched, this might be one of the episodes you’ve heard about,” Bob-Waksberg says. “I think one reason people talked about it a lot when season 3 came out is it does feel like you can jump in without knowing much about the show. It is very standalone in a way that maybe isn’t the perfect representation of what the show is. It’s an episode that takes place underwater, and most of our show does not take place underwater; there’s no dialogue, and most of our show is full of dialogue. But it is very experimental, which most of our show is. There was a lot of ‘let’s try this thing, let’s try that thing.’ It gives you a sense of the ambition of our show and the different ways we tell stories, but because it’s so standalone you don’t need to know too much going in. The cold open explains everything that’s going on here, so you can get lost in this quiet underwater world. It’s a showcase for the visual inventiveness of the artists and designers who work on our show, and it’s also a great showcase for Jesse Novak our composer; the score for the episode is so beautiful and gorgeous.”
Bob-Waksberg continues, “It definitely speaks to the themes of the show: isolation, disconnect, selfishness vs. selflessness, and the challenges of making connections. It’s a very beautiful portrait of it. I’m very proud of it, I think it got a lot of attention with good reason.”
Season 4×6, ‘Stupid Piece of S—‘ (written by Alison Tafel, directed by Anne Walker Farrell)
The premise: Season 4 focused a lot on BoJack’s relationship with his aging mother (Wendie Malick). After she moves in with him, viewers are treated to an episode in which they hear BoJack’s inner monologue — and it is not very nice.
Why it’s a good intro: “This is an episode where we’re really hearing BoJack’s internal monologue. You hear just how self-loathing and abusive it is,” Bob-Waksberg says. “It’s almost like you’re watching a DVD commentary track, where the whole episode you’re hearing BoJack just chasting himself and you feel the weight of how hard it is for him to get through every day. It’s hinted at in other episodes but here we’re diving into it. It’s also Illustrated with this very frenetic, messy animation style. You see BoJack the way BoJack sees himself, which is very messy and unformed. If you’ve never seen the show, but you’ve people talk about the show and say ‘it’s so depressing but in a cathartic way,’ this is what they’re talking about. This is one of our heavier episodes, it feels more like a drama than a fun cartoon even though there is a delightful B-story. This episode gives you a sense of that side of the show. It’s a good introduction to that kind of storytelling.”
Season 5×6, ‘Free Churro’ (written by Bob-Waksberg, directed by Amy Winfrey)
The premise: This is another unique episode. Focused entirely on BoJack’s eulogy for a dead relative, the episode plays like a one-man show from Arnett, who talks for nearly the entire run time.
Why it’s a good intro: Because of the serialized nature of BoJack Horseman, in which each successive season builds on the plot twists and revelations of the previous, Bob-Waksberg warns that introductory episodes are relatively harder to come by in the later seasons that depend more on prior knowledge of events. But then again, Bob-Waksberg hosted screenings of “Free Churro” when it was submitted for awards, and found new viewers still appreciated it.
“It brings the focus on Will’s performance, which is incredible in the episode, but also on the very nuanced animation of face-acting,” Bob-Waksberg says. “When you think of animation you think of big moves and setpieces, but there is a lot of talent that goes into keeping the audience engaged when you’re just looking at a person talk for 25 minutes. The face-acting was incredible in the episode. What Amy and her team did is pretty incredible. You can go into the episode knowing very little about the show, with the caveat that you should understand that again not every episode is like this. But this is an episode we submitted for awards last season so we would send it out on its own. I did a screening of this episode where I asked for a show of hands, who has never seen the show before? It was more than I was expecting, and I was very surprised at how well it played with people who didn’t know the show. One thing you get more out of it if you don’t know the show, is how funny it is. If you watch it in the context of the show it feels very heavy because you’ve been with this character on his journey and you know how deeply felt it is. But ironically if you’re less attached to the character, you can enjoy the comedy more, because there are a lot of jokes in it. To watch it on its own is a different experience, you get a different appreciation for it.”
BoJack Horseman is streaming on Netflix.