‘BoJack Horseman’ Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg on the Show’s 10 Biggest Influences

With Season 5 about to drop (September 14), the mind behind TV’s most madly inventive series reveals the animated works that have helped shape how it looks and feels

Of the approximately 953 shows Netflix has debuted in the last five years, BoJack Horseman is far and away the best. The animated story of a half-man, half-horse former sitcom star grappling with depression, alcoholism and his own shrinking fame has also been one of the best shows on all of television for each of its first four seasons. That streak continues with Season Five, which debuts on September 14. I’ve seen all 12 episodes (and will be writing about the best and most unconventional of those a few days after premiere), and they are as funny and poignant and surprising and filthy as the series has ever been. (Actually, this season may be the filthiest yet, including a protracted running gag about barrels of lube and another where Todd builds a sex robot named Henry Fondle.)

That BoJack can be so many different things, often at the same time, is a testament to the talent of creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, but also to the show’s many animated influences. I recently spoke with him about the cartoons whose DNA can be most palpably felt in the adventures of BoJack, Diane, Todd, Princess Carolyn, Mr. Peanutbutter and friends. These were the 10 he cited:

1. The Simpsons
“This show is such a titan of the format. It’s so influential in so many ways. My favorite episode is ‘Marge Be Not Proud,’ where Bart steals a video game [creating a rift with his mother]. It’s an insanely well-crafted joke episode but it’s also incredibly sincere and beautiful and heartbreaking. One of the best compliments I ever got on BoJack was, ‘That whole season felt like a long, sad episode of The Simpsons.’”

2. Who Framed Roger Rabbit
“Formally, it’s easy to see the connection: Roger Rabbit posits, ‘What if cartoons were real and interacted with humans?’ But the whole movie is also a love letter to comedy and the power of comedy. Why do none of the guys at the bar tell the judge Roger is there? He makes them laugh. How does Eddie kill the weasels? He makes them laugh. What does Jessica see in Roger? He makes her laugh. I really believe that comedy is an incredible tool, and you can use it in many ways. But it can also be a danger. In the movie, Roger pulls his hands out of the handcuffs. Eddie says, ‘You could do that any time?’ ‘Not anytime. I could only do it when it was funny.’ You can get so invested in your identity as a funny person, and that can limit you.”

3. Archer
“The caustic style of Archer was really on my mind when I was first doing BoJack — perhaps too much! There’s a gag where [Archer’s] having sex and his mother calls, and he takes the call and doesn’t want to stop having sex; there’s a very similar joke in the first episode of BoJack where he’s having sex and doesn’t want to stop watching Horsin’ Around. Then in the second season, Archer got breast cancer, and in the next episode was in chemo. I was really surprised, because up until that point, it had been very episodic, without a lot of continuity. That was a big influence on BoJack: Can this be more serialized?”

4. Animaniacs
“I’ve always been a big fan of aspirational references. It’s boring if I watch [a show] and get everything. I want to be challenged by the humor. And Animaniacs did it. I think of a song about the weird buzzwords Hollywood people use to describe box-office numbers. Looking back, who was that for? It was a bizarre thing, and I loved it.”

5. Daria
“As a teen, I really related to that character: the smartest person in the room who has disdain for everybody. But she was really well-developed, and that was cool. It did a good job of showing that smart people aren’t always right and stupid people aren’t always bad. I want to give my characters nuance. You think you have these archetypes, but then when you start exploring the character, you go into their nooks and crannies.”

6. The Tick
“There was a villain, Chairface Chippendale, who wanted to carve his name in the moon, and the Tick stopped him, but not before he got the C and the H in. So for the rest of the series, whenever there’s a night scene, there’s a C and an H there. That was something I was thinking about on BoJack when I stole the D from the Hollywood sign, which we’ve carried on for the rest of the series. That was the first clue to a lot of people that we were doing something more serialized and bigger than maybe people thought.”

7. Pixar
“I love how that studio plays with structure and isn’t afraid to try different things, like the dialogue-free first act of Wall-E. All of their stuff has been a big influence. Monsters Inc. particularly does a really good job of establishing a world, and what are the rules of this world. I think about that a lot. With the Toy Story movies, by knowing these characters, it becomes richer and richer with each movie. That’s an exciting thing for me, to have my show and deepen it and deepen it. The very last shot of BoJack Season Four was somewhat inspired by the last shot of Monsters Inc., that smile at the end of that movie.”

8. Futurama
“It plays with continuity in a really cool way, and plays with sadness in a really cool way.”

9. South Park
I particularly love the more didactic episodes of the show, even though I don’t always agree with them politically. I like those moments when Stan or Kyle will just have a speech for a bit. They do it in a very funny, naked way that works. I really appreciate that bravery. It would be easier to say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to offend anyone.’”

10. Animator Don Hertzfeldt
“His short Rejected was a big influence, particularly in the first drug-trip episode of BoJack. There’s some stuff where [BoJack] falls apart and gets erased and the paper gets crinkly, which is very much from that short. And he’s such a cool guy who’s working outside the realms of most professional animators, just doing his own thing, not selling it to studios and not watering it down. He’s so good.”