‘BoJack Horseman’ Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg Explains His Wacky List of TV’s Best Shows

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When Rolling Stone put together its new list of the 100 greatest shows of all time, we invited dozens of critics, actors, and TV creators to submit ranked ballots of their 50 favorite series, which we then tabulated to figure out the final order. Some people submitted shorter lists, and one insisted on just listing their favorites alphabetically, but almost everyone assembled simple and easy-to-comprehend lists of what they think are the best shows ever.

And then there was Raphael Bob-Waksberg. The creator of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman (also co-creator of Amazon Prime Video’s Undone, and executive producer of Adult Swim’s Tuca & Bertie) took a very different approach, as you can see here:

Top TV Ballot A

It was such an unusual entry that we felt we needed to know more about Bob-Waksberg’s thinking as he approached the task. He spoke with Rolling Stone about his motivations for the list as a whole and for specific entries, and about the challenges inherent to any kind of ranked list of art.

You replied in a very different way from everybody else we asked.
That surprises me! I would have assumed that people would have had a little more fun with it.

Did you even attempt to do a serious version of this?

So why this way?
You make these lists every year. As soon as I agreed to do this, I was like, “This is very hard! How do you possibly compare these shows?” Sometimes my frustration with these lists — it’s not so much about the lists as the conversation around the lists, talking about these things like there’s some objective truth to it. Like, “How can you possibly rank this show 20 and that show 32, when if you mathematically look at the merits…” It’s all subjective! It’s all personal! And so much of our appreciation of television is what it means to us and how we experienced it, and where it fits into our story. I think all writing — and criticism is very much included in this — is a form of autobiography, and I thought that I wanted to lean into it a little bit, and talk about what these shows meant to me.

Another rule I made for myself as I made this list was it had to be fun while I was doing it. I was not going to let myself get stressed out about it, because I was not getting paid for this. I wrote this list in June, and now that I’m looking at it again, I’m like, “Oh, I don’t agree with that anymore!” But I’m not going to waste time second-guessing myself. That list is very much me going by feeling in that particular moment.

We had a number of creators and actors ask if they could vote for the shows they worked on. And we had one creator who refused to vote for any of their own shows, because they only wanted them on the list if other people thought they were great. You put all three shows you worked on in a tie for first place.
Again, it’s all personal. And if I’m thinking about the shows that affected me the most, and have taken me on the most profound journeys and that have affected the way I see the world the most, it’s hard to beat those three shows. And they happen to be great shows!

Did you have any concern that doing that first-place tie, or any of these other votes, would invalidate the ballot, and cost your shows points in the final tally?
[Laughs incredulously.] I don’t care! The points for what? Who cares? It’s all for fun! It’s all just for nerds to fill out on the internet. OK, I’m very happy that BoJack made the list. But if my ballot had gotten thrown out and BoJack wasn’t on the list, all right. So what?

There are certain ones that are just straightforward votes, and they are in a much larger font.
The others were comments where I had to shrink the font to make room for. But, yes, Mad Men and the Key & Peele and the others, I just didn’t have a joke about them.

I want to ask about some specific comments, starting with “SNL when you were in high school.”
Again, what else do you need to know? That is as uncontroversial as anything on this list. I mean, maybe it should be a little bit higher, because who doesn’t love SNL when you were in high school?

“Children interrupt BBC News interview.”
Oh my god! It’s so good! Generally, I was like, “I don’t want to just put ‘YouTube videos’ on this list.” But that actually aired on terrestrial television, so that felt like legitimate TV. I’ve probably watched that more than any item on this list. It brings me so much joy. It came up in the BoJack writers room so often for no reason. There’s just so many pieces to it. It escalates perfectly, every moment builds on itself. It’s a masterclass in comedy. You couldn’t write it.

Was the Canadian Newsroom vote a dig at Aaron Sorkin, or have you actually seen it?
Yes! I love it. That was also very influential to me. I saw it when I was in high school when it was on PBS. My family didn’t have cable. So this was the closest I ever got to edgy comedy. I saw it before I saw The Larry Sanders Show. It was my introduction to this really cynical kind of mean comedy, and it really stuck with me. So I was really mad when HBO announced they were making a show about The Newsroom, because I was like, “Now I can’t talk about The Newsroom anymore without clarifying every time which show I’m talking about.”

The X-Files episode where it’s Cops.”

How do you feel about X-Files as a whole, though?
Also good, but didn’t make my list. Not as good! That one episode, there’s definitely a subgenre of shows in the format of other shows. When it’s done well, it’s very good. Just ShootMe had a Biography episode that I really liked. Obviously, 30 Rock had their Queen of Jordan episode. It’s fun to play with format. You see it a lot in comedies, but to have it happen on The X-Files feels really special and kooky.

The Leftovers after they changed the opening credits.” Is that a commentary on the original credits, or you saying that Season Two and Season Three were just better?
I think it’s both, actually. It’s not uncommon for a show to really find its footing towards the end of Season One and then enter Season Two with its chest forward. I would say BoJack is also an example of that. Season Two of The Leftovers really does reintroduce itself. It suggests a show that I think was more in line with what the show was. It suggests a show that’s fun, a show that’s wistful, a little sad, mysterious. The Season One credits suggest a show that’s important and tragic, and I don’t know that the show was at its best when it was leaning toward that. If you went back to Season One and re-edited it so that it had the Season Two credits, I believe it might actually make the whole show feel lighter and more fun.

“Grover-as-a-waiter sketches on Sesame Street.”
Amazing. So funny.

And Sesame Street overall?
Also very good! But the Grover-as-waiter sketches are better. And again, this is personal to me, and for subsequent generations, Grover has been upstaged by Elmo. I have no beef with that. Times change, tastes change, kids love Elmo now. I’m not gonna be the guy going, “In my day, we liked Blue Muppet!” Who cares? But for me, Grover was my guy, and those sketches were him at his best.

“Michael Eisner introducing The Wonderful World of Disney.”
Part of this is influenced by the fact that I have worked with Michael Eisner on all three of my TV shows. His production company is behind BoJack and Tuca and Bertie and Undone. I pitched to him, and I have some affection for him as an individual. But I grew up with Wonderful World of Disney and him doing those introductions. I think they’re so clever, first of all, from a branding perspective, that he’s putting himself as the face of Disney. I’m sure people at the time were like, “Who does this guy think he is? Walt Disney himself?” But it also created a world around these unrelated TV-movies, so they were all part of something bigger. And I think in some ways, that’s very nefarious and has been used for evil. But I have a warm feeling when I think about Michael Eisner going, “Oh, hello, Goofy! You want to help me introduce this direct-to-TV Angels in the Outfield sequel?” Again, I’m just making this list and asking myself what do I like? Yeah, I like that. Do I like it more than Insecure? I don’t know. But apparently in June of this year, that’s where it landed.

“Family sitcoms where Jewish children infiltrate otherwise goyish families.”
What a genre! What a strange little micro genre of television. Look, I was a Jewish kid, and I didn’t see a ton of representation for myself on television. But these were places where I was like, “That kid is like me! Even though he’s celebrating Christmas for some reason, because he is clearly Jewish!” I get this wavelength. And a lot of writers are Jewish, so there was a Jewish sensibility. Obviously, when I talk about the Jewish kids and Growing Pains, I’m not talking about Kirk Cameron.

And finally, “Still haven’t gotten to Pose but I’m sure I would love it!!!!”
I still haven’t seen it! One of these days, I’m gonna watch Pose, I promise. It’s on my list. I’m too busy. I did feel like this could have been any show that I haven’t seen. Pose was a short title, so it fit. But also, I thought, “Let’s get some more people of color on this list. Let’s get some more trans representation!” The canon is very white, very cisgender, very heteronormative. I think lists like these do a lot to alter the canon. I’m sure this is something you think about all the time when you’re making these lists. How much are you advocating or trying to push the conversation? Versus just thinking, “Well, I’m a white man, and here’s what appeals to me.” How do you step outside yourself and try to appreciate some things that are maybe not for you without being condescending about it? Though I think not watching Pose but putting it on a list anyway was probably not the best way to do it.

Thanks so much for talking about this.
I will say that part of what allowed me to do this was me thinking, “Well, at least nobody will see my individual ballot. So nobody’s going to get mad at me online and demand to know why such and such is higher than such and such.” I just want to preemptively say, to those people reading this list now, if you want to get mad at me because I picked a show for the wrong reasons, or you feel like I misjudged a show, I don’t care! That’s fine! You’re allowed to think that, because part of these lists are for people to argue with them. Feel free to disagree. Again, I disagree with myself! I refuse to be held responsible! I will not debate you!

Debate me!
Nope. Not interested. What is interesting about these lists is the fact that sometimes consensus forms. And there are agreements. Isn’t that interesting that so many people love The Sopranos so much? Because when I watch it, I think, “This is a great show that’s made just for me.” And yet even people who don’t like The Sopranos go, “Eh, it’s a good show.” No one’s like, “Fuck The Sopranos!” So on the one hand, I do believe that this is a fool’s errand to claim objectivity or try to claim that shows are better or worse. I like shows better or worse just depending on how tired I am. If I didn’t have enough water that day, I’ll go, “That show sucked!” So much of it is about my experience and how it hit me when I was watching it, and what I was going through. And yet, despite all that, agreements bubble up. Which is interesting. And, again, so much of that agreement is based on our own expectations of what quality is and who it is for. Sometimes, I worry about the canon of television having been defined by a certain segment of people that maybe don’t recognize shows that are necessarily geared towards them. A complaint that people often say, and you and I are no different, is: “There’s too much TV.” And I feel like, the implication of that is, “There should be less TV!” Which I don’t know if I agree with. Like, there’s too much TV for who? Is there too much TV for indigenous teenagers? Is there too much TV about trans people who don’t get murdered? Who is there “too much TV” for, and are we making space for the other kinds of TV, and holding that TV in the same regard? What is my responsibility as part of that conversation? And, again, how do I hold up those shows that are maybe less for me, while also being honest about the shows that I love, because they are for me? That’s an ongoing conversation that I know everyone is having.


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