A review of tonight’s The Good Place coming up just as soon as I stand around while Baz Luhrmann throws glitter on me…
I’d like to talk about Jake Jortles, if you don’t mind.
“Rhonda, Diana, Jake and Trent” is a particularly marvelous episode from a marvelous season of comedy. Our first stint in the Bad Place proper makes it more overloaded with background jokes and running gags — Shawn tells Michael to apply some Axe body spray, because, “It makes you smell the way Transformers movies make you feel”, leading to Eleanor asking, “How do you smell loud and confusing?” the next time she sees Michael — than any episode since the Groundhog Day-esque “Dance Dance Resolution.” It’s so relentlessly sharp that it can afford to treat Jason’s rant about why oranges don’t make sense compared to apples (“Apples, you eat their clothes”) — which would be by far the funniest thing in many a recent sitcom episode — as a throwaway joke because a few dozen more of similar caliber are zooming their way towards you, from Chidi’s panic over having to lie (even to obnoxious Bad Place bros like Dax Shepard’s Chet) to the way that all the food is wrong (soul food from Maine, bagels from Arkansas, and, of course, Hawaiian pizza). And the closing scene, where Michael finally figures out how to solve the Trolley Problem — in the same way that Mr. Spock once solved the Kobayashi Maru test — and truly embraces the humanity he had no idea he had, left my office very very dusty by the time it was finished.
So why do I want to talk primarily about Jake Jortles? For a couple of reasons, really. First, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ improbable playoff run continues, and anytime TV’s best doofus can reference the underwhelming quarterback of this team whose ongoing success makes a liar out of the very show on which he appears is a delight. More importantly, though, the set-up for the moment at which Jason saves the day was nearly at Back to the Future levels in terms of careful construction of plot and comedy. Consider all that has to come first:
1) Jason has to suggest ditching Michael’s plan in favor of throwing a Molotov cocktail, because that’s always worked well for his problems, even though it always gives him new ones, with the scene presented in such a way that it’s just the idiot being an idiot. (Eleanor, sarcastic: “He makes a strong case.”)
2) Eleanor has to dismiss Jason’s attempt to use Blake Bortles as his cover name, forcing him to switch to the even more ridiculous-sounding “Jake Jortles.”
3) The fashion style in the Bad Place has to be (as we’ve seen in previous glimpses of Michael’s old job) 1940s, which, aside from putting Kristen Bell in victory rolls, meant that Jason had to wear an old-school business suit, complete with fedora and pocket square, the latter of which confused him even more than oranges do.
4) Their museum hideout had to instead turn into the busiest spot in the whole Bad Place, thanks to Shawn’s bogus exhibit of how successful the neighborhood was, complete with automaton versions of the humans, who’d be easily identifiable by Chet and the other Bad Place bros.
5) The party would have a fully-stocked bar, allowing Jason — thinking much more quickly than usual, but in a way that felt character-appropriate — to rapidly turn his hated pocket square into a fuse for one of his patented Molotov cocktails, which he hurls while yelling “JORTLES!” (And I checked with Mike Schur that he screams that, and not “BORTLES.”)
That, my friends, is some Swiss watch precision.
A spectacular moment, in a spectacular episode, so overflowing with wonderfulness that I haven’t even yet mentioned Tahani’s note-perfect American accent, or Janet’s intense difficulty at impersonating a Bad Janet (which led into a spiritual sequel to the season one scene where she kept giving cacti to Michael), or Eleanor impressing Chidi by revealing that she started reading unassigned philosophy books for pleasure. (For that matter, Chidi’s solution to the lying dilemma — telling Kirk to assign books to his torture subject (a guy who got kicked off Rob Gronkowski’s party cruise for throwing lobster at a stripper), then ball-tapping Kirk to convince him to do it — was pretty elegant, too, showing creativity and self-awareness, and not allowing Chidi to shed his moral rigidity too easily, even in a situation where the stakes involve eternal damnation. There will come a point where he’s able to bend, even slightly, but it’s such a fundamental part of who he is that the show is really going to have to earn it.
Really, my only complaint at all about this one is that we didn’t get to spend more time with the humans in the Bad Place, just because the level of incidental detail was so much fun. But that’s also a hard juggling act — the longer they’re able to stay there undetected, the less dangerous the place seems, which undercuts the overall stakes of the piece — and I’m sure the creative team can find a way back here if necessary.
Mainly, though… JORTLES.
What did everybody else think?