Season 1 of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman left us with the washed up sitcom star depressed and desperate to emerge from a decades-long slump. Despite scoring a dream job playing his idol, Secretariat, BoJack’s life is a wreck. He has always had a knack for pushing away the people closest to him, but it’s only lately he realized, through Diane, they might not keep coming back.
It’s 9-year-old, meek BoJack who opens Season 2. The flashback reminds us that long before he had drinking problems, celebrity scandals and friendship falling-outs to contend with, he had a deep sadness rooted in him by a turbulent upbringing. “You come by it honestly, the ugliness inside of you,” his hard-to-please mother will tell present-day BoJack later in the episode, after reading his memoir.
“I can change and I will change,” BoJack diligently repeats after his insufferable new audiobook. Maybe if he dons a FitBit and spews enough self-help jargon, he can be happy. Fool-proof, right? His can-do spirit quickly grates on a frazzled Princess Carolyn, who, by the way, is still in a loving relationship with three kids in a trenchcoat.
Naturally, it’s Diane who is most troubled by BoJack’s new lease on life, well before he himself even begins to realize it he can’t make it stick. She looks on, confused and concerned, during the episode’s goofiest scene: BoJack uncannily matches Mr. Peanutbutter’s happy-go-lucky disposition, passing over clear opportunities to rag on the bumbling, dim-witted dog. BoJack can’t even crack a joke about his cone of shame, for god’s sake. In a particularly disturbing part of the exchange, the two make plans to see The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in concert.
Predictably, it doesn’t take long for BoJack’s newfound optimism to backfire. On set for the Secretariat biopic, he struggles to convincingly act out a low point early in the Triple Crown winner’s career. BoJack is saved only by Diane, on hand theoretically as a character consultant, when she fails at her all-important job of stopping people from tripping over a wire. The whole shoddy set is in ruins, buying BoJack some time.
Faced with failure, the self-destructive horse we all know and love worms his way out from under tree-hugging, “namaste” BoJack. He wastes little time taking his building frustration out on Diane, to whom he still harbors bitter feelings toward for ghostwriting his unflattering book. Still, even as they argue, it’s clear she has his back, last season’s ill-advised romantic entanglements aside.
BoJack returns to work his old self, in no mood to suffer Mr. Peanutbutter — which is a shame if only because watching the frenemies skank to the Bosstones would’ve been priceless. His mother’s discouraging phone call, which parallels her disappointment in his Horsin’ Around gig, is what seems to unravel BoJack’s new attitude for good. To the director’s relief, he channels his inner darkness in his portrayal of Secretariat, nailing in one take the line he botched spectacularly just two days earlier.
Positive thinking wasn’t sustainable for BoJack in the end, but it did seem to seep into the mindset of his roommate, Todd. After sleeping in BoJack’s car and trailer to avoid confronting the unknown — a brand new couch — he looks into the mirror and gives himself an inspirational pep talk for the ages. Todd bravely marches home to get some more rest, shouting “Hooray! Happy ending for Todd!” Well, at least someone can be happy.
Season 1 hit its stride in later episodes, as it increasingly dared to take a darker, more honest look at BoJack and his companions. “Brand New Couch” follows in that vein, setting the stage for BoJack to confront not only how he handles his emotions, but how his attitude affects those around him. Take those existential crises, mixed with a couple of well-timed Belushi zingers and exceedingly silly fourth-wall breaks, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s second season is off to a promising start.
Julie Kliegman is the weekend editor for TheWeek.com and a freelance journalist based in New York. She’s written publications including BuzzFeed, Vox, Mental Floss, PolitiFact and the Tampa Bay Times. Tweet her your favorite SpongeBob GIF.