“What’s great about Los Angeles is nobody cares about where you’re from or who you are. It’s a superficial town where you can worry about stupid shit like keeping your pool clean, and what artisanal nuts to put on your salad. Why do you think people keep moving there?”
In its fifth episode, BoJack Horseman makes a potentially dangerous move by uprooting its action outside of the Los Angeles comfort zone. Most comedies take a while before rolling out a new environment, as they need the time to establish their characters and their universe before placing them somewhere new and seeing how it turns out. And for BoJack, whose early episodes have been good but not great and who relies so much on the myopic environment of show business, there’s a danger that getting outside of that bubble will undo some of the hard comedic work.
That fear is one that’s partially realized in “Live Fast, Diane Nguyen,” only because it pulls back and keeps half the action set in Hollywood. It does find a way to further sharpen the BoJack Horseman satirical edge, but unfortunately it’s one that’s only sharper by comparison. Scenes set in Los Angeles prove the writers are getting closer to the right take on Hollywood’s superficiality, and its obsession with even the most tenuous connections to celebrity. Outside of there, it’s all lazy stereotypes that get in the way of reasonably well-done character moments, not entirely justifying the decision to go east.
The east in question is New York City, for a meeting Pinky to discuss the progress on the book. (He’s relocated from Los Angeles to keep his kneecaps safe.) During said meeting, BoJack expresses the concern that Diane might not be “damaged” enough to tell his story, a decision that feels equal parts BoJack trying to push away someone getting close and a general concern about Diane as a character on the show. In the first few episodes Diane’s chiefly functioned as the straight woman to some of the looniness going on around her, a voice of reason when BoJack is going down questionable paths or a counterbalance to the complete doofiness of Mr. Peanutbutter. While Alison Brie isn’t doing anything wrong, Diane isn’t distinct enough to stand out in the show’s heightened world, territory that’s potentially disastrous for a character.
Diane’s first push toward relevance comes with the first major tragedy of BoJack Horseman in the death of her father, albeit a tragedy she brushes off with ease: “He was old, and also the worst.” Much like Todd became more interesting in “Zoës And Zeldas” when his talents and temptations became manifest, getting to know Diane beyond the face she presents to the world is a good move for BoJack given that its non-BoJack characters are struggling to register. Learning that she lied about being on the roof with her father deepens her beyond just trying to do a job with BoJack, as does the implied fact she moved across the county to get as far from her family as possible.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to take Diane’s pain seriously when the source of it is some of the laziest Boston stereotyping that’s ever appeared on television. There’s one great joke about her not being the black sheep of the family because they adopted a literal black sheep—possibly the first demonstration of this anthropomorphized world’s true comedic potential—and the rest of it is all blah. Her family are boorish and crude, constantly rewatching videotaped Red Sox games and demanding not to be interrupted, and speaking with accents that make Julianne Moore on 30 Rock sound nuanced. It eradicates early any possibility that there may be another side to the story, as nothing about her family raises them past her initial description as “narrow-minded, mean-spirited dirtbags.”
It’s not too much of a stretch then for another narrow-minded mean-spirited dirtbag to find a connection with them, as BoJack fails to remain in the car once the kalidescope runs dry. Some of it’s the superficial—BoJack can drop one anecdote about reaching for the same bushel of grapes as Ben Affleck and he becomes a legend—and some of it also gets to the loneliness scraped in early episodes. BoJack had nothing in the way of a loving family growing up, and in present day no close friends beyond people he barely tolerates. The idea of a sturdy family unit appeals to him to the degree that he’s willing to join the abuse of “Cryane” and even give them some new ammunition for their taunts.
That combination of factors, coupled with the fact that her family opts to grind Nguyen Senior up into chum to throw at Derek Jeter—another aspect of the story too extreme to swallow—leads to a full-on blowup. As she’s demonstrated in projects from Community to GLOW, there’s a degree of instability lurking behind Brie’s performances that’s impressive to behold when she lets it out from the controlled facade of her characters. Diane definitely becomes more interesting once you know she’s able to smash up a bar and steal her family’s truck with her father’s corpse in the back. And once again, BoJack picks up on more than you’d think. He knows exactly where to find her, how to phrase a message that would cheer her up, and when things get overtly maudlin he hits her with the right dose of reality.
While most of the action in Boston is either broad or overly cruel to Diane, the denouement of the episode makes up for most of its messiness. BoJack’s gotten to see Diane at her low point and helped pick her up, even able to give her some advice about how to push forward. (Though given after said advice BoJack makes a conciliatory call to Herb Kazazz, it’s more evidence he doesn’t always practice what he preaches.) Any concerns about her not being damaged enough to write his book were left in the dump, and now there’s more potential that this new connection will lead to better stories.
Back in Los Angeles, Todd’s been left to his own devices, devices that need next to no time to go pure bonkers. If the events of “Zoës And Zeldas” hinted at some deeper reason why Aaron Paul took this role, “Live Fast, Diane Nguyen” swings the pendulum back to indicate he’s here to have some fun after the soul-crushing intensity of Breaking Bad. It takes him a grand total of ten seconds to accidentally disobey BoJack’s directive not to do anything in the house, and from there he’s leaping on the bed he broke two episodes ago and drinking champagne in the Jacuzzi. And when he goes outside to try a daredevil stunt, a misguided tour bus shows up mistaking Casa de BoJack for the home of David Boreanaz, a conclusion Todd’s only too happy to encourage.
Here’s where the absurd sensibility of BoJack Horseman marries perfectly with the show’s satirical approach. The ruse that Todd prepares is so slipshod—merely taping photos of Boreanaz over BoJack’s existing art and photos, a Boreanaz mannequin that works about as well as Ferris’s decoy in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—that it wouldn’t fool anyone, yet the house fills up with ease. Poor Boreanaz (Pooreanaz?) is only identified as “famous from television shows such as dramas on networks,” and yet the rubes line up to purchase Boreabble Heads and gawk at Mila Kunis tweeting in the kitchen. (Both developments established by an increasingly mercenary Princess Carolyn, making full use of the contract Todd signed last week.) It’s perfect understanding of shallow tourist culture, the mere proximity to a celebrity—any celebrity—enough to induce paroxyms of glee.
The scheme of course ends in tears due to Todd’s poor management skills and questionable cash storage practices, but it’s an encouraging sign in the larger BoJack picture. After the previous episode’s b-story failed to gain much momentum, the arc of the Boreanaz House proves that the series can sustain a plotline that barely involves BoJack, and that it doesn’t need him fixating on his own fame to have something to say about Hollywood culture. Paired with the character developments in Boston—and factoring out some of the Boston of it all—it’s enough to make “Live Fast, Diane Nguyen” another encouraging step in the right direction.
- Achievement in Voice Acting: Amidst the sea of bad accents, Melissa Leo channels The Fighter and wins another award for playing a Bostonian housewife as Diane’s callous mother. She’s as much a caricature as her sons, but the disdain in her voice and the clear mark it leaves on Diane is palpable.
- The episode’s cold open is a fitfully amusing take on BoJack’s oblivious reliance on his celebrity, albeit one that doesn’t really go anywhere. BoJack’s an asshole, he doesn’t care about normal people, the TSA decides to take him to task for it. Moving on!
- In probably the best Diane character detail of the entire episode, her cell phone ringtone is NPR’s Ira Glass informing her that her phone is ringing.
- Todd hearing BoJack’s voice in his head is a great recurring gag. “Uh oh, am I reading something?”
- Mr. Peanutbutter sounds taken aback for the first time all series when Diane mentions BoJack’s in Boston with her. Interesting…
- Candidates for series David Boreanaz stars in: Person Of Interest, Castle, Burn Notice, New Girl.
- The sequence of the Nguyen Chum bouncing through the streets almost redeems the Boston activity, particularly the twist it takes at the end.
- “This is Pappy Van Winkle, friend. Do you know how old this bourbon is? If this was a person, I’d have stopped having sex with it a year ago.”
- “You’re hearing my voice in your head because that’s how reading works.” “Oh, yeah.”
- “And the truth is, I used to sit alone on the hill out by the dump and dream of waking up as Chelsea Clinton, but with my hair.”
- “Have a Boreanderful day.”
- “He was graping it up with the Daredevil himself!”
- “Closure is a made-up thing by Steven Spielberg to sell movie tickets. It, like true love and the Munich Olympics, doesn’t exist in the real world. The only thing to do now is just to keep living forward.”
- Today in Hollywood signs:
Horsin’ Around DVD Commentary:
- It’s no surprise that Mr. Peanutbutter decided to go visit the Boreanaz House, as “Love And/Or Marriage” established that Bones is one of his favorite shows. Even if it’s not about what he thinks it’s about. (On that track, given that BoJack got Emily Deschanel to offer a line about the Bones-mobile, David Boreanaz needs to appear at some point to get mad about his house and to clarify to the masses exactly what show he’s the lead of.)
- Ira Glass will be the first of Diane’s public radio ringtones, with Sarah Koenig and Terry Gross filling the role in subsequent episdoes.
Tomorrow: We’re back to Hollywood, only it won’t be that for long, as “Our A-Story Is A ‘D’-Story” changes the nature of the town forever.