The Good Place is back for a second season. I offered the vaguest possible review of the new season yesterday, and I have specific thoughts — with spoilers — for the premiere coming up just as soon as I fire up the old penis flattener…
When the season one finale revealed that Eleanor and friends were really trapped in the Bad Place, and that Michael was going to wipe their memories, reboot Janet, and start over, it seemed at once a brilliant twist and a dangerous one. Yes, Michael and all the other neighbors being evil drastically raised the comic potential and gave the show more focus than it had for much of an amiable but at times lightweight first season, but it also ran the risk of robbing the show of stakes altogether. Were we really about to watch the same scenario play out again, and then maybe again, and again, and again, with Eleanor and Chidi never learning anything because Michael always has the ability to hit the reset button on their memories? Were we really going to spend the better part of a season, or more, on Eleanor deciphering the unnecessarily cryptic note she scribbled to herself in the moments before Michael wiped her mind in the finale? Was there any endgame at all, or just a nasty narrative loop?
The two-part “Everything Is Great!” isn’t my favorite of the episodes I’ve seen, but it’s very necessary, and smart. It shows Michael’s new master plan unraveling in less than a day, rather than the centuries he had hoped, and it makes clear that the show isn’t going to run in (The Bad) place while the audience grows bored waiting for the characters to catch up to where we at home are in the story.
In this case, things fall apart for Michael not only because of the note, but because he and his minions are too inexperienced at this improv-as-torture game. Eleanor’s new soulmate keeps telling her that he has to go to the gym because he assumed Michael meant that should be his excuse every single time she tries to tell him her true identity. Vicky (you might remember her going by Real Eleanor last season) is obsessed with having another memorable character, and keeps adding distracting physical tics and backstory to her performance. And while Michael’s plan to separate the foursome at first to keep them from working together makes sense on paper, he winds up making the new circumstances for Chidi (stuck with the soulmate from the quadrangle with whom he has no sparks), Tahani (matched with a much shorter man, in a tiny house, with shabby plumberess clothes), and Jason (never granted a moment’s peace from his fellow “monk”) so instantly miserable that it only accelerates the discovery, while also forcing them off script. (A smugger Tahani wouldn’t have gotten drunk at the party, for instance.)
There are moments where it feels the show is backsliding a bit: this version of Eleanor, for instance, hasn’t had the benefit of Chidi’s ethics lessons, which means Kristen Bell is back to playing against her strengths as the shallow mean girl. And the puzzle box structure of the episode — following one character at a time so we don’t learn until later what the metal object was that Jason gave Eleanor — doesn’t have big enough comic payoffs to always justify itself. But it feels satisfying just to see how quickly both Eleanor and the show are able to move through what could have been a much more belabored part of the story, and the setup at the end — Michael is rebooting everything again, but keeping it a secret from Shawn to avoid having the whole operation shut down, not to mention the eternal agony of “retirement” — feels even more promising than where we left things at the end of last season.
And without spoiling what happens next, I will say that the best is yet to come.
What did everybody else think?