Over the course of my career as an entertainment reporter/critic, I’ve been through many battles of the spoiler wars. They rage with the release of much-anticipated entries to blockbuster franchises like Star Wars, the MCU, and the DCEU. Fans demand your review give your opinion, but with zero details to explain your arguments. From studios, critics get emails with vague requests about protecting the film’s secrets, which often translates to don’t reveal major twists or third-act content. Even filmmakers make these requests. Recently, the Russo Brothers took to Twitter to request not just critics but also fans keep mum on spoilers for Avengers: Endgame (#DontSpoilTheEndgame). And just this week, Quentin Tarantino wrote a similar letter to those who’d see Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s at its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (#NoSpoilersinHollywood). That sparked a fresh leg of the spoiler debate for Film Twitter. One side argued that critics would be shackled if they couldn’t discuss the details of the film. Others argued it’s unfair to fans to be exposed to spoilers ahead of the film’s theatrical debut in July. Meanwhile, I was reminded of BoJack Horseman and the best spoiler embargo request I’ve ever seen.
It’s become standard that Netflix sends a list of spoilers along with their series screeners. Critics are asked not to give away these bullet-pointed spoilers in their coverage before Netflix subscribers have had a chance to discover them for themselves. Usually, these spoilers are plot twists. But for BoJack Horseman Season 5, it was a letter, written in character by Flip McVicker, the fictional showrunner of the cartoon’s show-within-a-show “Philbert.”
The letter had a tone that was demanding, condescending, and contemptuous of the “critical community.” It was pretentious in its pontificiations about the art medium it discussed, and its spoiler list was absolutely absurd. It is a scathing satire of the spoiler letter that predates both the Russos’ and Tarantino’s. And yet it is perfect. And hilarious.
With permission from Netflix, Pajiba publishes that letter here.
Friends and enemies in the televisual critical community,
What is stories? How does time feel? Can a bad man also be secretly cool? All this and more were the questions on my mind as I sculpted the first season of Philbert, the program you now literally hold in your hands. I can feel your anticipation, your eyes itching to partake this next evolution of serialized storytelling — is this, you wonder, the show that finally meets — nay, surpasses — the promise of this medium? Well, you will know soon enough, but first! You must read my letter!
My name is Flip McVicker and my passion is words, those seductive temptresses that crawl into your ear at night and consume your dreams. Like a woman giving birth, this season fell out of me easy — it was the most natural thing in the world; I was tap tap tapping on the keyboard like jazz. After all, it’s quite simple to be a mirror — all you have to do is stand there and reflect. And believe you me, TV is a mirror. But that’s not all TV is. TV is also a bitch. TV is a lover. TV is a child. TV is a mother.
But what specifically is this TV? Philbert tells the story of a troubled detective in an alternate version of Los Angeles where guns are still legal. Through the haze of alcohol and haunted by his memories, Detective Philbert somehow always gets his man, but what if the one man he can’t get… is himself? Above all else, this is a show about what it means to be a man — a man in the world. Maybe you’ve seen shows about men before, but have you ever seen a show about what men are about?!
Before you answer that question — and without further ado — please enjoy being engulfed by the journey that is Philbert!
But, first, a caveat about spoilers: As you write about the show — and please do write about the show — I want you to feel unencumbered to write fully and from the heart (is there any other kind of writing?), so in an effort to not box you in, I’ve provided some helpful guidelines of what not to write about, so you can more freely embrace the things you should write about, which are all the things that are not the following things:
*Please do not reveal the year this show takes place. The year is a spoiler.
*Please do not reveal that when Sassy says, “Something just isn’t adding up,” Detective Philbert responds by saying, “Well, then I guess it’s time to go back to math school.” This is a very cool line that I want the audience to experience in the moment, to truly understand its nuance and power.
*Please do not reveal that in the fourth episode, the woman Detective Philbert sleeps with is named Firstname Lastname. That character name was an oversight on our part, and I’d really appreciate you not mentioning it in your reviews, because of spoiler-related reasons.
*Please do not reveal that at the end of the season it turns out that Philbert didn’t kill his wife, but his former partner Fritz did. This is a massive spoiler for the season, and knowing it going in would completely ruin the experience for anybody watching the show.
All that said, I hope you enjoy this season of Philbert half as much as I imagine you enjoyed reading this letter. And remember: TV is myths. TV is a cave painting. TV is you. TV is me.
Yours in conversation,
Even in materials only intended for the press, BoJack Horseman expertly spoofs Hollywood. Now, every time the spoiler battles re-ignite, I think of this letter and can’t help but laugh.
Header Image Source: Netflix