‘BoJack Horseman’ Predicted the Return of Shitty Men Post-#MeToo
The show was written in the summer of 2017. After Harvey Weinstein's exposé, the writers only had to change one line.
Images courtesy Netflix
The writers of BoJack Horseman started working on the latest season of the show last summer. But given its nuanced, canny coverage of various elements of sexual harassment and problematic men in the spotlight, season five feels more like it was written last month.
With Louis C.K.'s return to comedy, it feels like we’re reaching the next stage of #MeToo in which shitty men attempt to make a comeback, and this season—which dropped on Netflix last Friday—grapples with the idea of public forgivingness for toxic, abusive men (and letting them forgive themselves) and it feels like the show saw it coming.
Even though it may seem like the writers were informed by current events, most of the season was already decided before the Harvey Weinstein story broke in October 2017. Showrunners only tweaked one line as a result of recent news stories, according to creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg.
“The original line was about how terrible it is that we don’t hold these men accountable, and then we started holding men accountable,” Bob-Waksberg told VICE. He adds that the team “maybe leaned into [sexual harassment and abuse] a little bit harder because it felt like, ‘Oh yeah, this is a thing people are talking about.’”
While #MeToo may seem to be a groundbreaking crackdown on famous and powerful harassers and abusers—arguably in large part because of social media—the idea of these men making a comeback has proved itself time and time again for decades. In fact, Bob-Waksberg says the inspiration surrounding character Vance Waggoner, who retreated from the public eye due to numerous stories about his behavior only to come back into the spotlight five years later, was Mel Gibson. When the writers began work on this season, Gibson was working on the Daddy’s Home film franchise. “[Gibson], by all accounts, is a terrible guy over and over again, yet continues to get opportunities in our industry, some of which seem to play off his bad boy persona,” Bob-Waksberg says.
This explains one storyline in the fourth episode of the season (“BoJack the Feminist”), in which Mr. Peanutbutter tries emulating Vance Waggoner’s bad boy persona, despite the fact that this persona is built entirely around numerous heinous allegations, like hitting a woman with a baseball bat. “Let’s not pat ourselves on the back too hard for calling out these terrible men, [because] although I’m glad [some are] being stripped of their power, many of them are not,” Bob-Waksberg says.
Intentional or not, the season’s eerie foreshadowing remains. The owner of the Greenwich Village club where Louis C.K. performed late last month defended his choices by saying that "there can't be a permanent life sentence on someone who does something wrong,” reminiscent of Ana Spanakopita's argument to Diane in the same episode. “All [Vance is] asking for is a fresh start,” Ana tells Diane, later adding, “He’s reformed. What else would you have him do?”
Throughout the season, several plot points delved into #MeToo in very different ways. For instance, BoJack violently choked his girlfriend and co-star Gina Cazador after he was lauded in the media for simply saying choking women is bad. Or in a more more lighthearted way, like with Henry Fondle—a literal sex robot promoted to CEO of WhatTimeIsItRightNow.com for his go-getter attitude. The latter was more influenced by current events and felt like “a light, fun way to talk about the sexual harassment problem in this industry,” Bob-Waksberg says.
Despite the fact that some of the main characters either inflict or are complicit in abuse, viewers can dismiss the idea that the show is asking us to empathize with abusers. Especially after watching the notably meta argument between BoJack and Diane in the season’s 10th episode, “Head in the Clouds.”
“That’s not the point of Philbert, for guys to watch it and feel OK,” Diane tells BoJack. “I don’t want you, or anyone else, justifying their shitty behavior because of the show.”
The idea of fans, or even people in the entertainment industry, taking comfort in the character of BoJack Horseman is something that Bob-Waksberg has given a lot of thought. Especially after he heard that Harvey Weinstein is a fan of the show—or at least a fan of “Fish Out of Water,” the widely acclaimed fourth episode of season three. “Hearing that really gave me the chills,” he says. “And it really made me think about what message he is getting from that show.”
Bob-Waksberg adds that this line of thought was “a motivator for some of the conversations that happen on the show this season.”
“Are there people who really see themselves in BoJack in major ways? And are they getting too much comfort from that connection?” Bob-Waksberg asks, adding that learning Weinstein enjoys BoJack Horseman was “a really difficult pill for me to—I don’t want to say swallow, because I don’t think I’ve swallowed it entirely. But thinking about that certainly led to a lot of conversations in this season.”
Bob-Waksberg says that at the start of work on this season he thought, “I’m gonna be really bummed out, personally, if we get to the end of the season and the moral is ‘We should all forgive Mel Gibson.’” Forgiveness is a huge theme of BoJack Horseman—and he grapples with the concept of that as well accountability, making it a tricky line to balance.
“I don’t believe anybody is hopeless, and that is one of the foundational columns of the series,” he says. “And so then when you ask me to apply that to some of the real-world dirtbags...I don’t quite know what the answer is.”
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