Raphael Bob-Waksberg – Animating the darkest aspects of the human mind

The American screenwriter/producer rose to prominence with the animated series BoJack Horseman, and while he was working on this series, he realised that “being bad” was humans’ default setting. He also insinuated that the topic of broken people always seemed too heavy for animation. The success of BoJack was a landmark in television history.

When “The view from halfway down”, penultimate episode of the highly rated Netflix series, was made available for viewing, it marked the end of an incredible yet very depressing journey. My initial reaction, after bawling my eyes out and needing a break before getting into the last episode, was to wonder to myself “to create such a masterpiece, the screenwriter must be an awfully tortured soul.”

What you did was important. You hurt somebody, and somebody hurt you.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory

Raphael Bob-Waksberg is a California-born producer/screenwriter/comedian/voice actor. He has definitely more than one string to his bow. He also recently published his book “Someone Who Will Love You In All Your Damaged Glory.” Over the years, Bob-Waksberg made a little reputation for himself, the one of a very astute tearjerker, someone that will push the consumer of his work deep into their insecurities, in the depths of their consciousness. The creator of the “sad horse show” has a way with words, and he can give the viewers and readers a very honest and authentic grasp of rather complicated topics. In an era in which societal taboos are getting torn down as television, not because producers and decision-makers deeply care about identity/gender politics and mental health, produce more and more inclusive and intersectional content, Bob-Waksberg is still somewhat of an outlier. The Californian tried something unheard of, he animated a sad show.

Bojack Horseman poster. Courtesy of Netflix.

BoJack Horseman is a Netflix production about a has-been famous horse in an anthropomorphic universe. He was the star of a successful sitcom, and we witness his attempt to stay relevant in the most unforgiving place on earth, Hollywoo. The first season of BoJack is somewhat misleading, it has a stoner entertainment feel to it and roughly introduces us to the journey we were about to take part in.

However, once we start to explore the mind, actions and memories of the sad horse, we engage in a self-questioning process. Some will recognise themselves in BoJack and will romanticise it while others will engage in improving themselves. The thing about this show is that it really deals with an important number of topics that can be considered too heavy for television. I guess there are definite positives in the growth of the streaming industry. The characters in BoJack, despite looking like animals (not all of them) are profoundly human. There is no determinism in this show, just like there is no fatalism as BoJack once pointed out: “There is always more show.” Even though this show deals with complicated and heavy topics, it still has a deeply rooted positive underlayer. BoJack, just like any other human, is not a finished product. He is on a quest to stop becoming his actions and finally bring out what is “deep down” in him, whether it is good or not is up to him. And even if we focus less on Bojack, we can also mention the importance of talking about the topic of sexuality. In this specific case sexual identity, when the character of Todd realises that he is asexual. Mental illness, addiction, morality, sexuality/gender identity are some of the many themes explored in this anthropomorphic world. BoJack Horseman will make the audience laugh, it will make the audience cry, it will depress the hell out of its audience, but more importantly it will genuinely help them grow.

Still from season 4. Todd discovering his sexuality. Courtesy of Netflix via Vox

I would hope that ‘BoJack’ inspires people to go, ‘I want to tell my story in animation. I have an idea for an animated show that doesn’t just feel like “The Simpsons” or “South Park” or “Family Guy.” 

Raphael Bob-Waksberg for IndieWire

What Bob-Waksberg has done with BoJack Horseman was quite risky yet successful. He brought another dimension to animated television series where the focus would not be so much on comedy but character development. The sad horse show is quite not comparable with the genre defining The Simpsons. On a different note, it is quite interesting that chances are never given to shows like BoJack when it has been extremely successful and yet we still see Netflix distributing/producing a new animated show that offers nothing different from their original blueprints: The Simpsons, Family Guy… (we can think of Paradise PD and F is for Family for example.) On the other hand, this kind of shows really thrives on television because they can please general viewership. BoJack, no matter how successful the show has been, attracts a particular viewership and that is why it fits so well with the streaming model. Also, more than a year after its ending, it seems like the emotional wounds left by BoJack Horseman are not yet scarred, nor the void it left filled by another daring series.

“I would hope that ‘BoJack’ has maybe changed the way people think about the kinds of stories that are allowed to be told in animation.”

Raphael Bob-Waksberg for IndieWire

Animating a depressing show is quite innovative, and as we have seen with BoJack, can be successful. When we look at the most popular animated shows, we immediately notice a working recipe that is not going to be thrown away anytime soon. There almost is an unwritten rule that animation is made for lighter stuff, attributing it a childlike dimension. In a way, we could sum up that animated series, in Western countries, are generally catering to a young audience. We grow up with animated series and in the collective mind, we are supposed to laugh and feel good when watching an animated series. BoJack breaks this idea apart. It is a mature animated show which presumably caters more to young adults and adults. And it breaks this idea quite violently by displaying broken people, broken relationships, and simply a broken society which reflects the reality. Animation is supposed to be an escape from real world. An easy, 20 minutes long escape, and yet, BoJack draws you back to reality with real problems, relatable characters and real-world issues. This kind of show obviously has its targeted audience and is a trendsetter after opening a breach into a new world of possibilities for creators wishing to animate their world.

It would, indeed, be quite a shame to not get any more shows like the sad horse show in the future. From a personal perspective, I find genuinely amazing and more efficient to deal with the issues treated in BoJack Horseman in an animated world as it creates the necessary distance from reality to understand issues in a more simplistic way. Animation creates an infinite number of ways to transmit a message, to spread awareness, and finds a way to desacralize taboos. For some reason, it is easier to grasp and understand the actions of a horse messing up and empathise with him as opposed to a human messing up. And more importantly, it is somehow easier to understand some issues, whether emotional or societal, when it is presented in an animated world, our judgment gets less clouded by the veil of reality. Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s gamble of animating an offbeat, straight-out real and dealing with real issues series was a massive success and could pave the way for a new dimension for animated series. As we currently expect the new season of his latest show Undone, an animated show using rotoscoping which deals with the topics of mental illness and broken people (again), Bob-Waksberg keeps setting new standards in the world of animated series.

Poster Undone. Courtesy of Amazon Prime.

Erdem Ozgunay.

Cover photo: Courtesy of CommonwealthClub.

Source: IndieWire.

Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s