A review of tonight's The Good Place coming up just as soon as I tell you to take it sleazy…
Well, that was unexpected.
And also very, very welcome.
“The Eternal Shriek” wasn't just the most consistently funny Good Place so far, but the most surprising. With the shorter episode order (by design, 13 episodes per year, with no back 9), I figured the earliest that Eleanor's secret would come out would be the end of this season, if not sometime in season 2. Instead, she blurts it out in front of Michael, Tahani, and the entire neighborhood, in a way that may give the creative team a bit of wiggle room going forward in how much she tells, but more or less puts it out there as a thing that now has to be dealt with, and we've only gotten to this season's midpoint!
While the creative usefulness of the secret hadn't been completely exhausted, “The Eternal Shriek” illustrated why it was going to become as big a problem for the show as for Eleanor soon, since it's become an increasingly cruel burden on Chidi(*) and could threaten to render what's mostly a very sunny (visually and tonally) show too dark to function. Instead, Eleanor recognizes that she has to step forward for Chidi's sake as much as Michael's, even if it puts her at risk of an eternity in the Bad Place. That's huge emotional growth for her, and also a big development for the series.
(*) Chidi's first flashback storyline was also pretty repetitive (as most of them have been), but did a better job than the Eleanor flashbacks last week in underscoring his conflict in the present. Lying – even with much lower stakes than what was about to happen to Michael – just pains him to do. Also, the “boot brothers” joke is yet another sign that the writers are really big fans of Friends, even if Chidi didn't reply to Henry by saying, “That's what they'll call us!”
Now, the show's fundamental conflict shifts from Eleanor's secret identity to the matter of what exactly is wrong with this neighborhood – and whether there's a more fundamental issue with the Good Place itself. This allows stories to explore all kinds of things – perhaps an actual visit to the Bad Place, and/or an exploration of what happened to the people whose spots Eleanor and Jason took – that just weren't within reach so long as Eleanor was trying to hide in plain sight, and creates a lot more variance than weekly ethics lectures.
And before we get to whatever's coming next, there was lots of comedy gold to be mined from the story leading up to Eleanor's confession, most of it coming either from Janet (approximating the sound of a human crying, begging for her life because she's programmed to) or Michael (his disturbingly detailed explanation of what happens to a “retired” architect, his sour “Well, going out on a low note there” after eating his first saltine). That the two most consistently funny characters are the two non-humans is still a concern (Kristen Bell has functioned much better as straight woman than when the show's trying to generate laughs from Eleanor being awful), but all have had their moments, and William Jackson Harper was particularly good tonight as Chidi started to crumble under the weight of the lie.
What did everybody else think? Would you rather the show had kept the secret, and the basic structure, for a while more, or are you happy the story has to move on to the next phase of things?