Breaking The Scene (Bojack Horseman)
A scene from what is unashamedly my favorite show. Here, we see an example of how the writer masterfully maintains a comedic tone while dealing with real character drama.
The Show: Bojack Horseman (Season 3, Episode 9)
Where To Watch: Netflix
Written By: Kate Purdy
Princess Caroline has failed to get Bojack cast in any projects recently. Bojack has just fired her, but she refuses to leave the restaurant. They’ve been working together for the better part of 20 years.
- Princess Caroline wants to keep her job
- Bojack wants to fire her
- Princess Caroline tends bar, still refusing to leave the restaurant. Has a patron show her how many teeth he has.
- Bojack accuses Princess Caroline of thinking of him as a burden. Says that she liked being the one to save him. The patron asks if he’s allowed to close his mouth.
- Princess Caroline keeps counting the patrons teeth. Bojack says he never asked for Princess Caroline to save him.
- Princess Caroline rebuffs Bojack, says he has only ever been asking for her help. Brings up numerous (comical) examples.
- Bojack argues that all Princess Caroline does is abuse him. Brings up examples of her berating him, ending with the accusation that he wasted her 30s.
- Princess Caroline softens, says she never accused Bojack of wasting her 30s. Bojack argues she didn’t have to, tells her that anytime he’s around her he feels bad about himself.
- Princess Caroline notes that her firing isn’t about her agent skills, but about Bojack’s own guilt. She leaves, annoyed.
- The patron, alone with Bojack, says he doesn’t want to get in their drama. Asks for Bojack’s sweater.
- Bojack denies the patron the sweater. The patron says Bojack isn’t being fair to him or Princess Caroline (whom he calls Princess Katniss). Bojack leaves.
Why It Works:
A Character for Tone: One of the ways the show is able to maintain it’s wonderfully unique tone is through the trick of having some sort of comedy-centric character in each scene. Because this character is unabashedly included for the sake of maintaining a fun tone, they are often welcomed rather than demonized. Here, the patron operates as the tone-saver. Without him, we’d be watching a fight that is, by and large, emotionally draining. But with him, the scene goes from bleak to fun as the writer imagines the many ways to use him as a joke.
Historic Relationships: Bojack and Princess Caroline have a deep history between them, and it’s wonderfully explored and referenced in this scene. They fire back and forth about the various problems they’ve had to help each other through, and it’s this familiarity that allows the emotionality of the scene to rise. You’d think they’d have said everything to each other already, but when Bojack reveals his “wasted my 30s” line, the tone changes and it feels drastically more dire. When you give characters a history to their relationship, drama is created in a form that feels entirely natural.
Monologue turned Dialogue: This is a facet of this scene which fascinates me, as normally it’s regarded as a bad idea to have your characters just monologue at one another. And though each character speaks for a rather extended length here, they are undoubtedly doing it in service of dialogue. Bojack insinuates that he doesn’t like to be saved, causing Princess Caroline to rant about all the times he’s had to be saved. Bojack, then, rants about each time Princess Caroline has made him feel guilty. Each rant is in direct reply to the other’s words, and thus is afforded a sense of naturality. On top of this, the extended speeches allows for a distinct structure to form, thus making each character’s rather complex argument easy to digest.
Real Drama, Ridiculous Scenario: This is one of the toughest balancing acts to pull off, but this show (and scene) pulls it off effortlessly. As Bojack and Princess Caroline argue, they have a random patron just holding his mouth open, seemingly afraid to close it. This continues throughout the scene, even when the scene becomes increasingly drama-heavy. By having this one small element persist through the scene, the show is able to retain it’s joke-heavy tone rather than forfeit it. Yes, sometimes these kinds of inclusions can leave the joke feeling needless, but here it makes sense. The joke is what keeps us in this world and allows for the natural flow of other comedy to enter.
Kate Purdy is one of the best writers in TV, and this scene is a major reason why. By wonderfully combining well-structured dialogue with similarly well-structured characters and a setting which allows the show’s comedy to shine, these great moments of “funny drama” exist in a form that feels wholly natural and engaging.