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July 07, 2016

Dark Horse

Netflix's Bojack Horseman gets its gallop on.

Bob Makela
  • Netflix
  • Aaron Smith

The pitch by a recent Bard College grad for Bojack Horseman probably shouldn't have worked.

Raphael Bob-Waksberg had only been in Hollywood for a year, with zero experience in animation, when he tried to sell his cartoon idea about show biz, existential despair and humanized animals to Michael Eisner's Tornante Company.

Still, Tornante bought the pitch, partly because of the mesmerizing artwork of Lisa Hanawalt. After a few years of developing the idea, Bob-Waksberg gave a 15-minute presentation to Netflix, one that featured fully realized animation and most of the cast (including Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris and Aaron Paul). By that point he had cooked up an entire season's worth of episodes.

"They bought the show around Thanksgiving [2013] and said, 'Can this be ready by next summer?' And we said, 'It sure can.' Then we went back to the animation studio, and they were like, 'What?'"

They nonetheless made their summer 2014 deadline, and while it may have been a little slow out of the gate, Bojack Horseman has since hit its stride with both critics and audiences as it enters season three this summer.

With its jazzy pastel dreamscape opening, pop-culture bons mots, manimal mind warp — thanks largely to Hanawalt's skewed animal-kingdom sensibilities — and lingering air of ennui, the show is more than just a surreal take on show biz.

"That's the skin it's wearing," Bob-Waksberg says. "But the heart and the soul beneath that is what appeals to people. You don't have to read Variety to get what's good about Bojack Horseman."

Voiced by Arnett, Bojack is the most lovable misanthrope since Archie Bunker, with a 21st-century helping of self-absorption.

The new season will feature a number of familiar voices, many of them fans of the series,like Daniel Radcliffe, who appeared as himself in season two.

Not every celeb has accepted a guest-starring gig. Last season the writers wrote a scene in which singer Michael Bublé jumped out of a birthday cake. When Bublé declined, Bob-Waksberg heard they might be able to get another singer rumored to be a friend of Aaron Paul's — another Paul, with the last name of McCartney.

"That's the beauty of television," Bob-Waksberg says, laughing. "When your first choice says no, you go to an even better second choice."

That Bublé-to-Beatle swap may just be the greatest fallback upgrade in TV history.

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