A review of tonight’s The Good Place coming up just as soon as I say “I love you” to a guy in a dark club I mistake for Stone Cold Steve Austin…
If anyone had any doubts about whether Mike Schur and company (here represented by a great script from Megan Amram) had full command of the crazy twist they introduced in the season one finale, “Dance Dance Resolution” should put those to bed for a very long time. In the space of a half-hour — really, in the space of its opening act — it blew up what seemed to be the new premise by blitzing through one reboot after another, Groundhog Day-style, offering just a taste of each (including restaurants featuring gnocchi, hot dogs, and knishes, which Brian ranked) before showing Eleanor and the others figuring things out again and again and again and again. Among the iterations we got a brief glimpse of:
* A La La Land parody where Eleanor’s soulmate is a jazz bro named Sebastian;
* One where Eleanor and Tahani are soulmates (which will lead to much fanfic, if that slash category didn’t exist already);
* Eleanor is a cowgirl;
* Eleanor is the monk;
* Chidi is running from bees;
* Janet has Hamilton tickets, and Daveed Diggs may be coming back! (Okay, not really, but for each reboot, she has a new excuse she uses as part of her default programming to keep Michael from pressing the button.)
This was a brilliant way to both get maximum comic value from the “Michael just resets things whenever he fails” premise — most of those flashes seemed too silly to sustain a full episode, let alone multiple ones — and make clear that The Good Place is going to keep evolving and surprising us. In the season one finale, it was a twist almost no one saw coming. In the season two premiere, it was Eleanor solving the mystery in less than a day; here, it’s Michael failing again and again and again until he is facing revolt from all of his underlings, and Vicky in particular, until he has to turn to these four stupid humans to help him.
The episode achieves full Danson almost from the beginning, allowing him to simultaneously play the evil Michael, who was so much fun in the finale, and the exasperated Michael who doesn’t understand why things are going awry, who was fun for so much of the series pre-twist. Here, he’s not faking it, and it plays to so many of Danson’s abundant strengths, particularly the scene where Michael again puts on his hoodie and starts stress eating while whining, “And I’m really fat right now!”
The trip to Mindy St. Clair’s house, meanwhile, pulls off a neat trick: even though Attempt 802’s Eleanor and Chidi barely know each other, Mindy gets to fill them in on a lot of their shared history, including the fact that had sex in multiple reboots (with Mindy making a porn tape each time). It would be a shame if the series completely lost the versions of the characters we knew by the end of last season, but Eleanor and Mindy’s conversation not only fills Eleanor in on things she didn’t know about her “soulmate” (including the fact that they’ve gone a lot further than when we last saw them together), it makes clear that, just as Eleanor will always figure out Michael’s plan, she will also inevitably develop feelings for Chidi. There are constants to this universe, and these characters, that endure regardless of how many times their memories have been wiped, and if the versions Michael tries to cut a deal with in the closing moments aren’t exactly like the ones we saw last year, they should wind up being close enough for it not to matter too much.
Fabulous all around, and there will be so much more to talk about next week.
Some other thoughts:
* The ubiquitous clam chowder of Attempt 802 was definitely more of a giveaway than some others. As Eleanor puts it, “It’s just hot ocean milk with dead animals on top!”
* Mindy’s list of Eleanor and Chidi’s failed plans to defeat Michael looks a lot like the walls of many sitcom writers rooms I’ve visited. If Michael is a frustrated showrunner who can’t corral actors like Vicky who want more screen time, then maybe Eleanor’s meant to be a staff writer whose ideas keep being overridden by the boss?
* In Attempt 3, Eleanor can’t remember Janet’s name at first, and refers to her as “Busty Alexa.” That is the sort of nickname that tends to stick with fans.
* One of Michael’s negotiating attempts with Vicky involves offering her “the Jared from Subway account.” Too soon?
* While Jason manages to figure out that it’s the Bad Place during Attempt 549 (“a real low point,” laments Michael), he’s still dumb enough in Attempt 802 to assume he’s in the Good Place even after Michael has told him otherwise.
What did everybody else think?