Screenshot: Netflix

The gap between seasons of BoJack Horseman is typically a fallow period for news about the series—most interviews, reviews, and think pieces coming and going within two weeks of the season drop—but there was a particularly meaningful story that came out this past January. In an in-depth UPROXX interview (Disclaimer: conducted by TV Club contributor Pilot Viruet), showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg spoke at length about the issue of diversity in animation and the struggles of colorblind casting. More specifically, the glaring example at the center of his show, where Vietnamese character Diane Nguyen is voiced by white actress Alison Brie. It’s a fascinating read, Bob-Waksberg blaming his inexperience and excitement for some problematic choices at the start of the series, and getting into the ways he hopes his show can do better about it in seasons to come.

Through that lens, it’s hard not to see “The Dog Days Are Over” as an effort to grapple with this issue. Once again BoJack steps outside of its Los Angeles comfort zone, this time slinging the viewer good 7,650 miles away as Diane impulsively flies to Hanoi. The reasons for it are ostensibly plot-driven—the end of her marriage to Mr. Peanutbutter driving her to go anywhere that isn’t Hollywoo—but it’s also a journey that grapples with some of the identity crisis elements that are now an intrinsic part of the character. And encouragingly, it’s an episode that indicates the series wants the chance to do better with them.

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Structurally, “The Dog Days Are Over” functions as a sequel to Diane’s arc in the season two episode “The Shot,” where she accompanied Sebastian St. Clair on his charity mission/ego trip in Cordovia. Once again we’re seeing her in a foreign country, narrating her journey and revelations through a voice-over of the notes she’s taking for a story—in this case feeding the “insatiable beast” of GirlCroosh’s content demand with a blog post of “10 Reasons To Go To Vietnam.” A lot of similar beats are covered here, starting at the high point of a new experience and dragging Diane lower and lower as harsh realities set in.

But “The Dog Days Are Over” is a substantially stronger story for Diane than “The Shot” for many reasons, managing to address both Diane’s questions about her identity and some of BoJack Horseman’s lingering regrets about the character. Her feelings of belonging are quickly eroded, as hearing her name over and over gives way to the fact that it’s the only word she understands. She’s trapped between two worlds, unable to communicate with people who look like her, and then judged by the people who don’t look like her despite sharing their language. It’s handled brilliantly, covering both Diane’s alienation and getting at the crux of one of the character’s own disconnect. For as much as Diane is a tremendously developed character whose Vietnamese heritage isn’t just a random character trait, that “one very specific and one very important” detail of her actress not sharing that heritage keeps her at one step of removal.

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Screenshot: Netflix

None of that blame belongs to the actress herself, however. Bob-Waksberg was full of nothing but praise for Alison Brie in his interview, and this is yet more evidence of BoJack Horseman’s main cast doing the best work of their careers on this show. Diane’s forcibly chipper tone gradually fades as epiphanies elude her, crashing into her own insecurities and inability to live up to the standards she’s set for herself. The later arc where Diane meets a member of a film crew shooting in Hanoi is a true highlight, letting herself go to lean into his prejudices and take the pressure off. And then when an ill-timed spotlight collapse brings her English back to the forefront, it puts Brie in her comfort zone of not-entirely righteous indignation, being less wrong instead of right. She tried to have it both ways, and in the end doesn’t have much of anything.

“The Dog Days Are Over” also succeeds on a structural level, as writer Joanna Calo begins the episode on her sobbing uncontrollably in traffic and shuffles the deck as to how we got there in the first place. Despite the early introduction of Diane’s GirlCroosh article as a framing device it’s largely unstuck in time, spending as much time on Diane’s journey through Hanoi as it does on the Hollywoo events that sent her there in the first place. It’s a smart move for the episode, doling out the details of her new life gradually and making the case as to why she’d spontaneously fly to Vietnam. We get to see the fallout of the events of “What Time Is It Right Now,” the shitty studio apartment she’s relocated to, her efforts to stay friendly with Mr. Peanutbutter, and how much support her erstwhile best friend BoJack does or doesn’t offer.

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As expected, there’s plenty of tension there. BoJack viewers were introduced to this relationship in the first episode, have become invested in its ups and downs, and understand the full course of its deterioration. To see the two forcing friendliness to be the most “mature” divorced couple is watching a shift from fourth to first gear without the clutch pedal of time apart, and it’s agonizing. It’s even worse to see Mr. Peanutbutter strike up a rapport with overenthusiastic waitress Pickles (Hong Chau of Treme and Big Little Lies), not to hurt her but simply because he’s easily distracted by the next shiny thing.

Screenshot: Netflix

Running to BoJack in the aftermath doesn’t produce any better results. The oft-problematic friendship of the two was largely absent last year, give or take a drunken subterranean reconciliation, and it was keenly missed to watch them spar with and support each other. As fun as it is for viewers to see them reconnect, and watch Brie and Will Arnett fall back into their easy patterns, it becomes even more worrisome as they tiptoe back to the depressive cocoon territory of “Yes And.” And this time there’s a new complication, as the end of Diane’s marriage means a key boundary between the two has fallen: “We could totally make out. I mean, I’m not saying we should. I mean we could, and that’s weird.”

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At this point, BoJack Horseman has dispensed with any sense of romantic inevitability between its leads, so that statement is nothing more than the seeds of a catastrophically bad decision. Even BoJack, whose acknowledgement of his own weaknesses is clear as he skirts the truth about New Mexico, can see that for what it is. Seeing him push back on her “divorce mean” instead of her calling out his faults is the clearest sign that she’s in a bad place, and it’s as uncomfortable to watch as it has to be for either of them to witness. And it also means that she’s got nowhere to run when she sees Mr. Peanutbutter and Pickles doing more than just flirting and the real reason for her breakdown is clear.

Screenshot: Netflix

Diane’s final monologue, and the subsequent realization she comes to, is BoJack Horseman at its best. To see Diane stand still as the various sets flash behind her, realizing how little she feels like she has and how little she’s learned, is as wrenching to witness as it must be for Diane to realize. But at the same time, that glimmer of hope is still allowed to shine through, the realization that while you may be broken, putting yourself back together isn’t an impossible thing to do.

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In the press release that accompanied season five’s announcement, Bob-Waksberg said that the one detail the creative team was truly proud of was Diane’s new haircut. His comments on how much time it took to develop style and bounce and sheen, already tongue-in-cheek, become even funnier with the context of “The Dog Days Are Over” and how much time they’ve clearly spent thinking about everything else. Diane’s decisions, both within the show and without, may never feel truly right. But on both counts “The Dog Days Are Over” acknowledges that, and delivers on its promise to do better going forward.


Stray observations:

  • Achievement in Voice Acting: Plenty of great guest stars this episode from Randall Park to Issa Rae, but adding Laura Linney to the roster of self-aware BoJack Horseman cameos means everyone else automatically slides down to second tier. Someone please get Christopher McQuarrie or David Leitich on the phone and have them make this story of conspiracy theories, Dubai journeys, and “hot but also very progressive” clone incest into a real franchise stat.
  • The opening credits are tweaked again, with Philbert showing on BoJack’s TV and Diane’s new haircut visible in the underwater perspective shot.
  • Diane’s NPR ringtone library expands with Peter Sagal of Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me. “Don’t wait wait, do answer your phone!”
  • This is a darker than normal episode of BoJack Horseman when it comes to the animal kingdom relationships of this world. Between Stefani calling exterminators negotiators on the unionizing cockroaches in IT and the pig’s head in the background at Elefante (complete with sad pig at the next table over), “The Dog Days Are Over” is running up the score for black comedy points.
  • “Who are all these people?” Diane asks of Mr. Peanutbutter’s housewarming guests. Let’s find out! Guests include Todd, Princess Carolyn, J.D. Salinger, a Cabracadabra driver, the sloth lawyer, the fracking bull, the butterfly skiing instructor, one of the reporters from Mr. Peanutbutter’s campaign rally, and the security guard from the Richard Nixon museum.
  • “It’s a new, fully immersive 3D spin class. Oh, you know what? I’m just biking.”
  • “I wouldn’t ask you to have a period on your day off.”
  • “You know I love traffic! I get to get caught up on all the different license plates I haven’t read yet!”
  • “I need that listicle on five empowering roles for women over 40 that would be better played by Jennifer Lawrence.”
  • BoJack: “Do you mean like literally Vietnam or like when Old Navy told me they wanted to go with a ‘fresher face’ for their performance fleece commercials and they went with Sherman Hemsley?” Diane: “What?” BoJack: “That was my Vietnam.”
  • “And you got to have your little Miss Saigon cosplay, so why don’t we call it a draw.”
  • “Erica! What are you doing here with a child-sized coffin?”
  • “I’m sorry I’ve been so weird. I’m going through some shit.”
  • Today in Hanoiwoo signs:
Screenshot: Netflix

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