Review: Ted Danson shines on ‘The Good Place,’ but the flashbacks can go

10.13.16 2 months ago 29 Comments

NBC

A review of tonight's The Good Place coming up just as soon as I get you a painting of Frank Caliendo…

Ted Danson, national comedy treasure, has been the most consistent source of laughs so far for The Good Place, but most of the episodes so far have been structured to put him in the B-story, away from Eleanor. I can understand the thinking behind that – Danson and Kristen Bell are by far the show's best-known actors, so split them up so each can help give the newcomers some spotlight – but it's meant the show hasn't gotten as much use out of Danson as it could.

“What We Owe to Each Other” puts the two leads center stage again, and makes Eleanor the straight woman as she gets to know the many quirks of the local architect and his attempts to better understand humanity. From his obsession with Friends(*) to his delight at the silliness of karaoke and the arcade claw machine, it was a joy to watch him. And the sight gag of the depressed Michael slipping on his gray hoodie – a perfect counterpoint not only to his usually dignified look, but to Danson's exaggerated, angular features – to lie on the floor in shame was marvelous. That he's so obviously great means I have no fear that he'll actually leave for good – even if his theory that he's to blame makes sense, if it's true that architects don't usually live in their neighborhoods – but I hope we get to see a lot more of Danson going forward, maybe to the point of occasionally putting Eleanor in that week's subplot somehow.

(*) Eleanor is right that Phoebe and Ross were a relatively rare combo – Friends didn't do a ton of opposite-sex pairings outside of when people were coupled off – but they had some memorable moments, like their argument over evolution, or Ross teaching her how to ride a bike, or their kiss at the bar in the flashback episode set shortly before the start of the series.

And even when she's prominent, I think I've about had my feel of Bad Eleanor flashbacks. It's not just that Bell is a lot more convincing (and funnier) as the version we're seeing in the afterlife – ignorant and inadvertently rude, but also enthusiastic and striving to be better – than she is as the spoiled and thoughtless version who has no business being in the Good Place, but that we are rapidly nearing “How Jack got his tattoos” territory in terms of how inessential and repetitive the flashbacks are. If they want to do one for Chidi (the only human main character to not get one yet), great, and if there's a brand-new idea for one involving Eleanor, Tahani, or Jason, great. But if they're not illuminating – and this one was not in any way, even if it provided a thematic parallel to Eleanor's moral dilemma with Michael – then they're just taking away time that could be better spent on the characters as they are now, or just on letting us learn more about how the Good Place functions.

The supporting cast, meanwhile, did just fine on their own in the subplot, which set up a Chidi/Tahani/Jason love triangle, with Chidi having to play Cyrano for Jason, even though it's clear that he'd be much happier with Tahani, and vice versa. (Eleanor and Jason don't seem like they'd be a good couple, but would at least enjoy hanging out in the Bud Hole together.) It's hard to find a fresh take on a TV love triangle these days, but this one's interesting because of the tension involved by the nature of where it's happening. In theory, people shouldn't have to switch soulmates because they are exactly that(*), but what if someone wanted to? If Chidi's feelings for Tahani would progress to the point where he wanted to be open about them, and she reciprocated, would that be allowed? Would that tip off the Powers That Be that Jason and/or Eleanor don't belong? Either way, there's tension here above and beyond the usual ones about timing and courage, and that should be fun to see play out.

(*) Again, ignoring the question of attachments you made to spouses or lovers back on Earth.

What did everybody else think?

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