‘The Good Place’ Is Back. Now What?

Senior Television Writer
09.19.17 2 Comments

NBC

I’m not sure how much of this preview of The Good Place season two you should be reading. Or how much I should be writing. But I’ll try to warn you along the way in case things get too dicey. And in the meantime, here’s all some of you probably want to know:

The Good Place is still excellent — even better than before, really.

If you watched the show’s first season — and it is here that I warn you to stop reading if you didn’t watch the first season but intend to at some point — you know where I’m coming from with my reluctance to say too much. This was the rare show of the Reddit era to almost entirely snow its viewers with a huge plot twist at the end of its first season, in part because it didn’t seem like the kind of show that would have a huge twist at all. What had seemed like a clever and fun comedy about a selfish woman (Kristen Bell as Eleanor) mistakenly sent to a version of Heaven, and all the mishaps that resulted from her presence there, instead revealed the whole premise to be an elaborate practical joke: Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of this particular Good Place neighborhood, was in fact working for the Bad Place, and was attempting to psychologically torture Eleanor, ethics expert Chidi (William Jackson Harper), narcissistic philanthropist Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Florida idiot Jason (Manny Jacinto) for all eternity by making them think their eternal reward was going wrong.

It was a perfect TV plot twist: it seemed to come from nowhere, then instantly made a lot of what had happened before make more sense, and it freed the show from a premise that didn’t seem particularly sustainable. That it came with no warning was an enormous part of the fun.

The challenge with huge twists, though, is what to do afterwards. If you keep deploying twist after twist, diminishing returns will set in almost instantly, because no shock can ever be as big as that first one. And if you don’t, you risk the audience getting bored again, and/or sniffing for twists where none are coming, and thus missing the point of the show to begin with. And the particular scenario introduced in the finale — Michael wipes the quartet’s memories and begins the experiment over from scratch — seemed as limited in its way as the original alleged premise. Was The Good Place about to become a very mean-spirited version of Groundhog Day where the main characters are the only ones who don’t know the same thing keeps happening over and over again?

(This is where you should probably stop reading if you want to know literally nothing about the new season — it returns Wednesday night on NBC; I’ve seen the first four chapters, including the two-episode premiere — even the quality of it.)

So, the good Good Place news: this is still a wonderful show — better, in many ways, now that creator Mike Schur has laid his cards on the table for us all to see. The new installments are livelier and funnier than before, particularly the third and fourth episodes where… well, we’ll get back to that after another warning or two.

What I can safely say at this point of the review is that getting to play both Michael as alternately nice and evil, depending on the context, has taken Danson’s performance to a delightful new level. As it was, he was carrying a huge portion of the comedy load in the show’s original incarnation. The laughs are a bit more spread out now, but Danson is basically twice as good as he used to be, because he gets to shine as both the sweetly neurotic Michael and the giggling sadist he really is.

And the dialogue remains just as sharp-edged as before, like Michael telling Chidi that a particular Good Place event is incredibly rare, “Like a double rainbow, or someone on the internet going, ‘You know what? You’ve convinced me. I was wrong.'”

At this point, you may want to stop reading altogether. I’m not going to spoil anything big, or even little, but even talking around certain events runs the risk of you doing the mental math to see something coming before it happens.

So let me just hit one more key point, and then we can reconvene on Wednesday night at 11 (the first two episodes are airing after the America’s Got Talent finale; starting September 28, it’ll be on Thursdays at 8:30 like last year) to talk about some of what went down in more detail:

Schur — who prior to this co-created Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine and has been an executive producer on The Office and Master of None — is not dumb. When I spoke with him about the twist back in the spring, he said he knew shortly after he came up with the original pre-twist premise that it probably wasn’t enough to tell years’ worth of stories about. And he already had most of this season mapped out before we spoke.

I had some questions about what he might do now that the secret was out, what the show might feel like, whether this was any more sustainable than the “Heaven’s on the fritz” incarnation, whether there could be any emotional stakes in a show where Michael — both Michaels, actually — could just hit the reset button again and again whenever things went bad. And without giving too much away, Schur has very clearly thought about that. The new episodes address these questions and many more, and I came out of the third and fourth feeling even more giddy about what the show had become than I did when Danson giggled during the season one finale. The opening night two-parter has to sweat a little at times to properly make everything work, but the payoff is very much worth it.

So stock up on froyo, and I’ll see you on Wednesday night.

Assuming any of you are still reading at this point. Which you probably shouldn’t be.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast.

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