Review: On ‘The Good Place,’ Eleanor tries to avoid going to The Bad Place

A review of tonight's The Good Place coming up just as soon as I ask if you're going to give me another cactus…

There's a moment midway through “Most Improved Player” where Janet, still restoring her pre-murder memories, promises Michael that she has finally located Eleanor's file. Michael asks if what she is actually holding behind her back is another cactus. He knows it's a cactus. We know it's a cactus. Even Janet, on some deep level of her coding, probably knows that it's a cactus. But she promises that it's the file and not a cactus, and then hands Michael a cactus anyway. It is the most predictable punchline possible, but it's also delightful, because the joke isn't in the surprise, but in Michael's growing exasperation with the inevitability of the cactus.

The rest of “Most Improved Player” toggles back and forth between what's inevitable and what's surprising, as Eleanor comes clean while trying to protect Chidi and Jason from also being sent to the Bad Place. We can assume, for instance, that Eleanor won't actually be banished, or that, if she is, it will only be for an episode or two so we can get a better idea of what the Bad Place is like, so her temporary reprieve wasn't too shocking. But the arrival of Trevor (Adam Scott in full, hilarious, Stepbrothers d-bag mode) began offering signs that the Bad Place is very different from what we've come to think of as Hell: not a place of fire and excruciating physical torment, but an eternity of being annoyed to the point of madness, whether by the train's temperature rising one degree every time she thinks about how hot it is, or being hungry on a train where the only meal option is room temperature Manhattan clam chowder (monstrous on every possible level), and even that's not available because the dining car is closed.  (It's the show's point system, inverted.)

And while I assumed that we would eventually meet the person whose Good Place spot Eleanor was mistakenly given, I didn't expect it to happen this soon. The presence of Good Eleanor (played by Tiya Sircar) is sure to complicate many things, from Michael and Chidi's desire to keep Bad Eleanor in the Good Place, to the matter of Chidi's growing attraction to Tahani, given that the universe seemed to think Good Eleanor would be his soulmate.

“Most Improved Player” also surprised me by offering an Eleanor flashback I wasn't checking my watch during. Rather than try to function as a thematic parallel to her problems in the afterlife, this glimpse of her past was instead merely evidence in Michael's interrogation of her, and livened up by his dismayed response to the story. I'm not sure Kristen Bell is ever going to seem wholly natural as Eleanor at her worst, but the context of this one helped enormously.

Throw in the overall joy of watching Janet at her most childlike, and my desire for an Adam Scott-fronted Bad Place spin-off, and this may have been my favorite episode yet.

What did everybody else think?