A review of tonight’s The Good Place coming up just as soon as I produce a 14-ounce ostrich steak impaled on a giant novelty pencil that reads “Lordy Lordy I’m Over 40″…
Of the six regular characters on The Good Place, four are humans, one is an immortal demon-like creature who would rather not be called a demon, and one is an omnipotent repository of all knowledge throughout time and space. In theory, the show is about the idiots from the first group learning and growing so that one day they can qualify for admission into Heaven, but some of the best and most interesting work the show does involves its two non-humans. In season one, Michael and Janet were carrying the bulk of the comedy load, and in season two, they’re now in on this scam with the four dum-dums, which makes them both more vulnerable and more complicated — a fact that a marvelous episode like “Janet and Michael” illustrates with grace, hilarity, and poignancy.
The episode opens with an event we’ve heard about but not seen: Michael hijacking Janet from a Good Place warehouse that’s conveniently located in “a neutral pocket dimension” with no security, because no one there assumes anyone would ever do anything bad. This might raise the question of why Bad Place people don’t sneak in more often to steal things, but it’s clear from Shaun and Vicky and others that Bad Place employees have great difficulty with out-of-the-box thinking, which is what makes Michael’s project so unusual — and also, it seems, makes him capable of the kind of emotional growth he demonstrates throughout this episode.
“Janet and Michael” isn’t quite a bottle episode — there are a lot of special effects used to create the Janet Warehouse and the various calamities in Michael’s office, and the Bad Place architecture offices are an outside location(*), so it probably wasn’t cheaper than normal — but it’s in the spirit of one. Most of it takes place inside Michael’s office, and nearly all of it involves only the two title characters. Tahani, Jason, Chidi, Vicky, and Eleanor all wander in and out at some point to either move the story along or deliver a joke (like Chidi trying very hard to be cool about all the needles in his face and feet), but the focus is entirely on Michael trying to solve Janet’s problem, then rejecting Janet’s solution of killing her to save the neighborhood.
(*) Trivia, per Mike Schur: it’s the same room, dressed differently, as the library where Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt go in Seven.
Much of this is ridiculous and delightful, pairing D’Arcy Carden’s gift for delivering any kind of line with Janet’s usual confident good cheer with Ted Danson’s gift for playing comic desperation. But then things take an unexpected turn, and we understand why it was so important to witness the first meeting between the two, and to see other notable moments along the way like Janet turning all the neighborhood’s pudding restaurants into fro-yo shops: because somewhere in the centuries that Michael has known Janet (even if, for her, it’s only been a few weeks thanks to all the reboots), Michael went from using Janet as a tool in his crazy mission to feeling genuine affection for her — more affection than he’d clearly expected to feel about anyone (or, depending on how you define Janet, anything). I was gobsmacked by the way Danson’s voice breaks when Michael barks out, “The reason is friends! You’re my friend, Janet, and that’s why I can’t kill you.” As Schur likes to say, it may be a controversial statement, but I think Danson is very good at acting.
So, too, is Carden, who is working all kinds of wonders inside a version of Janet who’s far more advanced emotionally than she or Michael or her creators could have ever expected her to become. She, too, is dealing with human-esque emotions like her jealousy over Tahani and Jason’s relationship (gold star for those of you who speculated last week that this was the reason for her glitches), and once Eleanor gives her useful advice on getting over it(*), she’s able to resume normal function and get back to work helping her pal Michael keep trying to deceive the most evil and powerful forces in the universe. It’s a philosophical comedy, but also an unexpected buddy comedy! Who knew?
(*) She deals with it by using her awesome new powers to literally create new life in the form of her boyfriend Derek, played by the ubiquitous Jason Mantzoukas, whose outsized comic persona seems a better fit here than it was on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Just fantastic from start to finish. Due to NBC’s Thursday NFL commitments, we’ve only got one more episode this calendar year. It’ll be tough once again waiting for the season’s concluding arc in 2018, but man are they on a hot streak right now.
What did everybody else think?