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BoJack Horseman’s creator ponders when — if ever — the series should end

“Recently, I started thinking about, well, what if this is a 20-year show?”

Bojack Horseman
Back in the ‘90s, I was on a very famous TV show.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s sad, goofy series about a probably depressed horse and his band of friends, is my favorite animated show on TV right now, and each season of the series seems to reveal new depths to the characters that I might not have imagined being there before.

But because BoJack Horseman is heavily serialized (at least by the standards of an American animated comedy), it feels as if it must have a built-in endpoint. And considering the show just completed its fourth season and will air its fifth in 2018 — a pretty traditional midpoint for a long-running TV series — I’ve always been curious if there’s an ending in mind for the series.

So I asked creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg when he joined his fellow producers Lisa Hanawalt and Mike Hollingsworth on the latest episode of my podcast, I Think You’re Interesting.

What Bob-Waksberg said surprised me. Yes, he said, he has an endpoint in mind. But there are also certain budgetary realities (chiefly that a series doesn’t have to deal with an obviously aging cast) that allow animated shows to run for decades where live-action shows rarely run that long. The Simpsons has run for 29 years, with South Park crossing the 20-year mark this year and Family Guy not that far behind. So why couldn’t BoJack join them?

Here’s what Bob-Waksberg said:

Traditionally, I’ve thought about this as not being a forever show, and thinking, “I want to take these characters as long as I can take them, and here’s where their story ends.”

This is not a Breaking Bad, where we’re aiming toward a specific arc, we’ve gotta get from here to there. We are in the lives of these characters, and we’re gonna track their movements and see where it goes, and there will be ups and downs. I don’t necessarily know where we’re going to land or what time we’re going to land there.

Recently, I started thinking about, well, what if this is a 20-year show? I don’t think I am interested in staying on a show for 20 years, but it’s just the fact that The Simpsons is very stuck in time, and most cartoons are. And we are a cartoon where things change and grow in a way that live-action shows do, but because it’s animated, there are certain budgetary reasons that we can go much longer than a live-action show could.

There’s a real Boyhood potential in being, like, oh, what is the longitudinal arc of this show? And can we continue to go through multiple marriages and relationships and kids getting older and characters falling apart for multiple seasons at a time and then coming back together? Or is that going to be torture?

I don’t know if that’s interesting for an audience or interesting for me. But just very recently, I started to think about how that’s an alternate route than what I’d been thinking of seven to 10 years, although I haven’t really even thought about that. We do one year at a time, and if we have more stories to tell, we’ll tell more stories.

For much more with Bob-Waksberg, Hanawalt, and Hollingsworth (including the latter two’s thoughts on this particular timeline for the show), check out the full episode.

To hear more interviews with fascinating people from the world of arts and culture — from powerful showrunners to web series creators to documentary filmmakers — check out the I Think You’re Interesting archives.

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