Doing it right. How Bojack Horseman worked with Ace LA

Bojack Horseman is a show that will not appeal to everyone’s tastes.  It’s a show about horrible people in depressing situations. The humour tends towards crass, and is often downright offensive.   It’s also getting a lot of great press at the moment for its positive portrayal of an asexual character.

Todd Chavez is the whacky side character who is usually relegated to the B plot of episodes.  Throughout season three we are shown a number of moments of him not quite fitting into standard relationship models, culminating in the finale  with him saying.  “I’m not gay…. but I don’t think I’m straight either. I don’t know what I am.  I think I might be nothing”.  

This statement resonated with the experiences of many asexual people, and the show has progressed from there to have some other unexpectedly meaningful moments, such as Todd attending an asexual meetup, the inclusion of the asexual pride flag, and characters discussing the idea of a romantic orientation separate from a sexual one.

The show deals with issues such as asexuality with a surprising sensitivity and grace.  Part of the way that it achieves this is by taking the time to adequately research the issues it is engaging with.  In this case, their research included a meeting with Ace LA co-executive director Shari.

‘It speaks to the depth and quality of the writing of the show.  I was brought in very early.  They were still story-boarding and writing scripts so there was still a chance to have some influence.  It was great that they had that foresight’

Ace LA started as a meetup group for asexual people in the Los Angeles area, and while it still serves this function, inspired by connections the members made at the Asexuality unconference, they have been putting more efforts into community outreach including developing presentations for health professionals, and running panels at other conferences.  

When the Bojack Horseman team wanted to find someone to discuss asexuality with they reached out to media monitoring organization GLADD, who put them in touch with AVEN who linked them to  Ace LA.  After a conference call with one of the producers, Shari had a face to face meeting with the writers and producers of the show.

‘It was just me going in for an hour and a half talking to the writers and producers of the show.  They asked very personal questions, but they were always very respectful of my boundaries.  Having watched the show and having been a fan of the show I was deliberately open about talking about my life and my experiences and so I never felt uncomfortable.”

‘I was aware they weren’t going to tell me about storylines or anything like that.  I didn’t have a presentation or anything mapped out but I had spoken about asexuality in a public forum before. I just started out by talking about my own experiences, because I figured that would just get the conversation going. So I talked about my coming out,  I talked about friends and family reaction to it.  And then the conversation shifted towards what would you like to see in the way aces are represented?  What would you not like to see?  It went from very personal to a general macro kind of discussion.’ 

“I made it very clear that I’m not speaking for the entire ace community, that  it’s a spectrum.  This is my personal experience of asexuality that won’t necessarily match other people’s’

‘They had clearly done some research.  They referenced podcasts and internet research they had done, so it wasn’t a complete Ace 101 kind of experience.   One of them mentioned that even before Todd came out, they saw on Tumblr that people were starting to read Todd as ace.  I don’t know if they had made the decision that early on, but they were definitely aware of how Todd was coming across’

After the conversation, Raphael Bob-Waksberg (the creator of Bojack Horseman) even sent Shari a personal note thanking her for coming in. He said: “We really want to do the right thing by the ace community.”

Shari is happy with the way the episodes played out. Some of her favourite moments are that there was a married couple at the ace meetup, and that there was an asexual ant eater – which she suspects may be the writers misremembering her telling them about the Ace LA mascot – an armadillo named Ace Spectrum.

Shari enjoyed that Todd’s entire personality wasn’t about his asexuality, and looks forward to seeing more fully fleshed out asexual characters in the media. She is a cartoon creator in her own right, and is currently working on her cartoon series featuring  an asexual character.

Her advice to other people doing outreach is to condense your message to three ideas you want people to take home with them. “Anything you can do to focus your message before you go in to have a discussion with any kind of media will really help”

About astarlia

Astarlia is proud of herself for only having volunteered for..... okay if you have to stop and count it's probably too many things isn't it? She is passionate about nerd culture, disability and mental health, alternative relationships, sexuality, and young adult fiction.
This entry was posted in Articles, Interview, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Doing it right. How Bojack Horseman worked with Ace LA

  1. Sara K. says:

    Thanks for getting in touch with Shari about this. I heard her talk about this a little in a vague way, but since that was before the Bojack Horseman ace reveal came out, she kept her lips very tight (i.e. she did not even say that the show in question was Bojack Horseman).

  2. astarlia says:

    It must have been so hard to keep the secret! She was great to talk to though, hope you liked the article 🙂

  3. Rivers says:

    I don’t watch the show, but I’ve really liked the little snippets and captions I’ve seen floating around. It’s good to know that they did their homework there.

  4. Siggy says:

    I already liked Bojack Horseman before it was announced that Todd was ace (although I was a season behind). And it’s great, because the last time a TV show I liked introduced an ace character, that show was House. >:-(

    Bojack Horseman can be crass, but my general impression is they’re sensitive about it. It did not surprise me that the ace storyline was so well-handled. Although I should mention, Todd starts a ridesharing company that tries to make a safe space for women, and then it’s so successful that he decides the business should be expanded to men. This would make Todd a terrible person if he were real, but it’s presented in a critical light and it’s also so goofy.

  5. Tabitha says:

    It’s great that they put so much effort into getting things right, but unfortunately they still messed up to some extent. “‘Asexual’ means you’re not interested in sex”–no, it really doesn’t… (from what I’ve heard, “ace = not sexual” is implied or directly stated multiple times on the show, not just that once). And “Some asexuals are also aromantic, but others have relationships like anyone else” others aros, implying that they’re odd/abnormal. The aro thing is pretty subtle and I’m not surprised it was missed, but the incorrect definition seems like it would have been more obvious and easy to avoid.

  6. luvtheheaven says:

    I started wasting BoJack Horseman, from the beginning, because of the ace representation and because after I started considering watching it for the ace rep I heard really good things. “It’s a show about horrible people in depressing situations.” seems way too strong. I’ve also seen the first few episodes of season 4 in full. I guess I’ll save more of my feelings about BoJack Horseman for my own blog and till I’ve seen more but I really love the show and think most of the characers aren’t horrible people. They make mistakes but I don’t currently want to call any of the main characters “horrible”. Maybe just individual actions are. Anyway it’s really making me happy that a show like this, a successful show, has in depth ace rep that overall is satisfying to most of us in the ace community. I’m super happy about this. I even met someone who showed up to my local ace meetup because of BoJack Horseman, as before a meetup was shown on that series she didn’t know meetups existed for aces and agree that she googled and found us! Another member of our group stumbled upon the ace representation without having heard any news about it first and was stop thrilled to see representation of people like him on tv that he used the conversation feature on to let the rest of us know – a feature no member of our group had ever used before. Seeing it positively affecting aces I’ve met in person is powerful and before having any context for the show, just watching the coming out scene Todd had, I actually was surprised by how validated the show made me feel, so it actually made me cry a little. It was just such a sweet little scene, and it is a pretty mainstream show, a show even my brother and his friends were already watching. THIS kind of show letting asexuality actually be a big deal and not a no big deal situation. I forgot how much I still need that validation from outside ace spaces, that agreement that I’m correct to feel my asexuality matters and understanding of how big a deal the coming to terms with it process is and how long it can take. So yeah. I have a lot of positive feelings about this and am so glad Ace LA was able and willing to help in this way!!

  7. Pingback: Asexualidad: Estos encantadores jóvenes y BoJack Horseman aclaran tus dudas (Pousta, 2018) – Chrysocolla Town

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s