A review of tonight’s The Good Place coming up just as soon as I escape on a train filled with cocaine…
I asked Michael Schur a lot of questions about where the show stands after these first four episodes. Like most exchanges I have with the guy, it’s long and thoughtful and provides ample evidence of both why his shows are usually so great, and how hard it is to execute comedy at this level. But even before he sent his answers in, I felt awfully confident in the state of The Good Place based on what’s gone down over the last two episodes.
Where “Dance Dance Resolution” was the show taking the concept of Michael rebooting the premise to conclusions both absurd and eminently logical, “Team Cockroach” had something even more difficult in mind, and handled its task with aplomb: setting up a new status quo so promising and sustainable that neither of the Michaels — whether the real-life showrunner or the one who has to massage the egos of his many unhappy performers — should have to hit the reset button again for quite some time.
By the time Team Cockroach agrees to join forces with Michael and try to fool Shawn, Vicky, and everyone else about being tortured, we are both back where we started, and somewhere very new. Once again, this is a show about people who weren’t good enough to get into Heaven secretly studying ethics and philosophy so they won’t have to spend an eternity being tortured in Hell — only now, instead of it just being Eleanor, and then Jason, all four of them know that they were bad. What’s more, they know that they’re really in the Bad Place to begin with, and have to pretend not to know, and now Michael has to take Chidi’s class right along with the rest of them (including Chidi himself). And there’s a genuine possibility — or so Michael claims, at least — that the four idiots might actually be able to make their way into the real Good Place by the time this is done.
That, ladies and germs, is a set-up that combines the best aspects of both the original premise and the one revealed in season one’s finale, that will force all six actors/characters (Janet included) to play multiple roles at once, depending on who’s watching them, and that provides a genuinely achievable goal in a way the original premise maybe did or maybe didn’t (it was never clear if Eleanor would have been allowed to stay no matter how well Chidi taught her) and in a way the reset button phase of things definitely didn’t.
That’s a lot of fun, and allows for greater possibility for everyone — even Michael, and maybe especially Janet (now the most socially advanced of all the Janets thanks to her hundreds of reboots, and much more relaxed and “human” in her interactions with Team Cockroach) — to grow and change, even as the place they’re all trapped in gets increasingly ludicrous and weird.
This probably won’t be the status quo forever, since it’s still eminently possible that Michael is lying to them, that Shawn and/or Vicky could figure out what’s up, that this whole thing could be revealed as an elaborate prank-within-a-prank, with the humans as unwitting props in someone’s attempt to torture Michael for all eternity, etc. But it feels like one the show can stick with for longer than either of its previous iterations without running out of either story or humor.
We lose some things along the way, since these versions of the characters have only known each other for a week, and thus the progress they made towards both goodness and being friends has been largely erased. But between Eleanor’s talk with Mindy St. Claire last week and Michael this week, she knows a whole lot about what a good man he is, and how they seem destined to be friends and maybe more. That helps compensate a little and may prevent any progress they make in these versions from feeling like a straight rehash of what happened before. (For that matter, making Tahani and Michael be part of the lessons from the start will automatically make them feel different.)
And before we got to that new set-up, the nerd in me deeply appreciated the scene where Michael answered many of Eleanor’s — and our — questions about both the twist (Mindy St. Claire is real, Michael has no control over Janet beside getting to wipe her memory) and all the reboots (one lasted 11 months, while “a butt reboot” lasted only 8 seconds), like a vintage internet FAQ, only with jokes delivered by Kristen Bell and Ted Danson.
Very happy right now with where things stand. Like many other shows with which Schur has been associated, it feels like The Good Place is really coming into its own in this second season.
So go read the interview, and then tell me: what did everybody else think?