It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year’s Emmys. That’s why we’re using this column to spotlight the award-worthy shows that premiered after the 2015 Emmy eligibility cut-off (May 31, 2015) and put them on the voters’ radar for 2016. And just to make things extra easy for the Academy, we’ve specified the category for which they should be recognized.
The Show: BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
The Category: Outstanding Animated Program
The Nominee(s): Raphael Bob-Waksberg (Executive Producer); Alison Flierl (Writer); Scott Chernoff (Writer)
Suggested Episode Submission: Episode 8: “Let’s Find Out”
As stated up top, we here at Yahoo TV may believe that it’s never too early to start thinking about the 2016 Emmys, but BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg has a very different opinion. “I think it’s crazy to try and predict next year’s Emmys,” he says, laughing. “I don’t know what our competition is going to be at this point or what’s going to happen in the next 10 months.” While we don’t possess a crystal ball either, it’s hard to imagine a 2016 Outstanding Animated Program category that doesn’t feature BoJack’s stellar sophomore season amongst the five nominees. Coming off an already-strong first year, the Hollywood — uh, make that Hollywoo — satire got sharper, funnier, and more emotional in Season 2. The storytelling grew more intricate as well, to the point where BoJack Horseman almost felt like a six-hour animated feature rather than an episodic series.
To fully appreciate the show’s comic range and dramatic depth, you’ve really got to binge-watch the whole season. But if you wanted to drop in on a single chapter to see what all the fuss is about — as most Emmy voters are wont to do — the ideal gateway is the eighth episode, “Let’s Find Out.” Designed to act as a midseason break separating the increasingly dark first half from the very dark second half, “Let’s Find Out” is essentially BoJack’s version of a bottle episode — one of those installments of an ongoing series where the action remains almost entirely confined to a single location.
BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg
In this case, the location is the set of a new game show that’s about to premiere its very first episode on the MBN network: Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! (The show’s official, though not-so-helpful, shorthanded is HSAC!WDTK?DTKT??LFO!) Although it appears relatively late in the season, this is the only background info you need to understand the episode:
- BoJack has reluctantly agreed to be a guest on the series premiere of HSAC!WDTK?DTKT??LFO!
- The show is hosted by BoJack’s good-natured canine rival, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins).
- The show was created by J.D. Salinger (Alan Arkin). Yes, that J.D. Salinger, who is alive and well in this universe.
- The game show-within-the-show isn’t supposed to make any damn sense.
Here’s the funny thing about No. 4, though, and it speaks to what’s so great about the episode as a whole: HSAC!WDTK?DTKT??LFO! actually does make sense. Sure, the categories are random, the questions are either impossibly easy or just plain impossible, and the volume in the studio is cranked all the way up to 11. But there’s also a semi-logical escalation to the gameplay that feels like it was designed by someone with lots of experience watching terrible game shows. And that turns out to be the case: “We’re both TV junkies,” admits Scott Chernoff, who wrote the episode with his writing partner — and BoJack script coordinator — Alison Flierl. “So we really took pleasure in the game show aspect of the episode: The way questions are phrased or little touches that make it feel authentic within this world.”
The duo immersed themselves in YouTube clips from ‘70s and ‘80s game shows for research, and also drew on their shared experience working for Conan O’Brien’s TBS talk show in figuring out how a live event program like HSAC!WDTK?DTKT??LFO! would unfold. That’s why you’ll be able to recognize familiar game show conventions — like the requisite “getting to know you” patter and the appearance of a surprise celebrity guest (who turns out to possess the form and voice of Daniel Radcliffe) — even as they’re skewed in hilariously bizarre ways. “The idea is that you are experiencing this show through BoJack’s eyes and from that perspective it makes no sense,” explains Chernoff. “But we also had to figure out how the spirit of the show makes sense for the viewer.” Or, as their boss Bob-Waksberg puts it: “The show has more story logic than it has game show logic. The [gameplay] works for the story we’re telling, but you’re never able to pin down what the rules are.”
“Let’s Find Out” writers Alison Flierl and Scott Chernoff
Although they’re credited as the writers of “Let’s Find Out,” Chernoff and Flierl — who aren’t part of the show’s full-time writing staff — make it clear that the episode was a group effort. “We were given a really beautiful football to run with,” says Chernoff. “There were so many great ideas that the writers came up with, and we could sift through and curate them.” Adds Flierl: “They gave us the building blocks and we went off and outlined from those blocks.” According to Bob-Waksberg, the first of those building blocks was an old Curb Your Enthusiasm spec script penned by BoJack writer Peter A. Knight. “The idea of Peter’s script was that Larry would appear on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? with Ron Howard, who wouldn’t know who he was. Then at the end, Larry pretends not to know who Ron Howard is and deliberately ruins the game.”
“Let’s Find Out” loosely follows that same narrative arc, with BoJack growing increasingly frustrated both by the insanity of the nightmarish game show he’s trapped on, and, more importantly, the fact that Radcliffe doesn’t recognize him. The Harry Potter star didn’t appear in early drafts of the script — a generic “Major Celebrity” was written in as a placeholder instead — but when word got back to the staff that Radcliffe was a fan, Bob-Waksberg immediately acted on that intel and secured the actor’s involvement. “Daniel had a great time doing it. He recorded it over the phone from England. And at the end, he told me ‘I’ve seen every version of a Harry Potter joke and you guys wrote my favorite.’ He meant it as a compliment, but I was like ‘Every version? Oh man, what number are we?’”
But forget about story structure for a moment. “Let’s Find Out” ranks amongst BoJack’s best-ever episodes because it’s hysterically funny, cramming so many visual and verbal gags, random asides, and spot-on homages into 25 minutes that you’ll happily watch it a second and even third time to catch them all. Many of the jokes function on multiple levels, too, sometimes accidentally. For example, Flierl says that the opening sequence of BoJack walking through the studio hallways en route to the HSAC!WDTK?DTKT??LFO! soundstage was intended to resemble a classic Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk. Then composer Jesse Novak added in a percussive beat that makes the scene more closely resemble an outtake from last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman… even though the episode was well into production before the film was released.
Other gags are more deliberate, including such instantly quotable lines as: “It’s a perfect day for a Red Bull!” and “You want to host a game show where everyone feels bad at the end, you can get in your little car, drive to Santa Monica and pitch it to AMC.” Throughout the episode, the jokes are so on point, one imagines the writers high-fiving each other after finishing a page. “Oh, we’re constantly high-fiving each other,” Chernoff jokes. “It’s one of the great things about having a writing partner.” (Here’s another thing to high-five about; Flierl and Chernoff will be writing another episode for BoJack’s third season.)
Even amidst all the hilarity, “Let’s Find Out” still finds the time to deliver a good ol’ BoJack gut punch — that moment when these cartoon characters become real people. Here, it occurs when Mr. Peanutbutter and BoJack take a timeout from the game to have a soul-scraping conversation live on air, while in the control room, Salinger turns on the rain machine to heighten the drama. “The most important thing is the characters’ story. If you’ve constructed their story in a way that makes sense for them, than everything should fall into place,” says Chernoff. “You know it’s a serious moment because rain is falling!” And if there’s one thing that Emmy voters can’t resist, it’s an emotional scene in the rain.
Both seasons of BoJack Horseman are streaming on Netflix.