Inside The Radical Abortion Episode On "BoJack Horseman"
The writer behind THAT episode spoke with BuzzFeed News about abortion dance anthems and taboo jokes.
BoJack Horseman confronts taboo subjects with wackiness bordering on chutzpah; in its third season, abortion is no exception. When biographer-turned-social media manager Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) accidentally tweets about her own abortion through the Twitter account of teenage dolphin pop star Sextina Aquafina (Daniele Gaither), the young music artist relishes the attention. Sextina quickly becomes the "voice of choice," releasing a dance single in which she sings, "I hope and pray to god my little fetus has a soul / Because I want it to feel pain when I eject it from my hole." Although "Get Dat Fetus Kill Dat Fetus" was intended to be a pro–abortion rights anthem, sober-minded Diane is horrified as she believes the irreverent song and its accompanying music video could damage the reproductive rights cause with "tone."
The writers room of the Netflix series was interested in exploring this tension and mined the unmentionable for humor. Joanna Calo, who wrote the episode (titled "Brrap Brrap Pew Pew"), told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview that the song was intended to harness anti-abortionists' worst fears, as it muddled questions about abortion as a procedure. "Is it about sex? Is it about violence? Is it about women that are out of control? That was supposed to be the vibe of the song," Calo said. She cited Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" music video as a "touchstone" for the visuals behind "Get Dat Fetus Kill Dat Fetus" — which includes flying weapons made from coat hangers (pew pew!), a dolphin fetus floating in an amniotic sac, and high heels striding through baby toys.
Though the episode is confident — even brazen — in joking about abortion, behind the scenes, the writers were concerned about abortion opponents' reactions to their levity.
"I was nervous," Calo said. And indeed, one right-wing site said that the show "grotesquely and callously advocates for unapologetic abortion on-demand while bashing pro-lifers." "Oh my goodness," Calo laughed in reply to the comment, noting that the writers were simply "excited to show a different perspective."
So, while the real debate over reproductive rights is often controlled by abortion opponents, BoJack Horseman rejects the premise that abortion is inherently heartbreaking. Calo said that the series' creator and showrunner, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, was the one to propose that Diane unwaveringly decide to get an abortion. "That was the plan, from the beginning: Let's tell a story about someone who knows this is right for her, has a supportive partner, but does kind of have to go through the process," Calo said. "We tried to make it — in our ridiculous cartoon world — very grounded."
Diane's pragmatic, serious storyline is inextricably coupled with Sextina's hilariously outrageous stance — and both women's points of view on abortion are treated as valid. "The hard part about talking about it in general is everyone wants it to be just one thing: 'abortion is good,' 'abortion is bad,' or whatever," Calo said. "We really wanted to talk about the fact that, of course, as a group, we support a woman's right to choose, but also that every person is gonna have their own experience."
For background, Calo talked to several friends who'd had abortions, as well as a Planned Parenthood volunteer; she approached the inquiry as if she were writing a paper, she said, supplementing the interviews with additional research. The episode mocks real-life abortion mandates — such as the requirement that some health care providers inform women of the (highly disputed) claim that fetuses can feel pain after a certain number of weeks. In one such moment, a Planned Parrothood medical professional tells Diane, "By law, I have to tell you that at one month, your puppies have a favorite color, and that color may be blue." Ridiculing legislation — which can assume that a woman should be second-guessed in her decision to have an abortion, Calo said — was satisfying.
The writer's personal favorite highlight from the episode occurs during an MSNBSea segment, when anchor Tom Jumbo-Grumbo (Keith Olbermann) introduces a "diverse panel of white men in bow ties to talk about abortion." Bob-Waksberg wrote the joke that closes out the roundtable: "I heard a theory that if a woman really has an unwanted pregnancy, the body has a way to break the fetus down into gas particles, and then she can just fart it out" — which is essentially what actual Missouri Rep. Todd Akin said in 2012.
Once it's done skewering male entitlement, the final scenes of the episode are more earnest — and female-centric. In the women's clinic, a young female character seeking an abortion tells Diane that Sextina's song made her feel less afraid of the procedure; it's something Calo hopes might happen with the episode. "I love the idea that someone who is going through something like this, thinking about getting an abortion in a town where it's hard to get ... or in a family where that's not something they're supposed to talk about, that it might make them realize that there are other people that feel differently," she said. "If we can joke about sadness and joke about loneliness and joke about making mistakes over and over again, then maybe it's OK. We can remove one way of feeling bad about it."