A review of tonight’s The Good Place coming up just as soon as my hot sauce is actually the concept of envy…
As befits the spartan decor of the Judge’s chambers, “The Burrito” is a more stripped down affair than the wildness of last week’s visit to the Bad Place. Once the Judge appears in the form of Maya Rudolph, we quickly get into the humans’ appeal, which leads to four (though it initially appears to be three) tests of everyone’s biggest flaw: Can Eleanor put others above herself? Can Jason demonstrate impulse control? Can Tahani resist finding out what people think of her? And can Chidi quickly make a choice on something as simple as two differently-colored but otherwise identical hats?
In a way, the whole episode is a stall, since it seems likely throughout that Michael and Janet will somehow make their way to the Judge, as well, and help advocate for the humans better than they can for themselves, and that seems to be where the episode leaves us heading into next week’s finale(*). But it’s an interesting glimpse at how far the four of them have come (Eleanor, the only one who passes) or not (Jason and Chidi resoundingly fail), but also at how capricious and cruel the whole system is. Yes, Tahani goes against the judge’s instructions, but her encounter with her parents demonstrates genuine personal growth in her ability to accept that they’re terrible people who would never love her no matter how hard she tried. And for that, she’s condemned to eternal torture?
(*) Because I keep forgetting that the hour-long sason premiere counts as two episodes, the fact that the finale is almost here snuck up on me.
The finale could take us in a lot of directions, from the group somehow getting approved for the Good Place, to them being forced to work (whether in the afterlife or back on Earth somehow) more to earn passage, to an idea I surely haven’t thought of yet, because this show is very good at surprising me. But given how rapidly season two has burned through plot — devoting only two episodes to the first reboot, only one episode to the concept of hundreds of reboots, only one to the group’s time in the Bad Place, etc. — we’re reaching a point where another massive narrative game-changer may be required, and the idea of Eleanor Shellstrop and friends arguing against the rules and structure of the afterlife itself might just be the thing to keep the trolley moving along.
I’ll also be curious to see if the show has any intention of addressing the passage of time in the real world versus in the Good/Bad/Medium Places. Hundreds of years passed during all the reboots, yet Chet and his buddies were anticipating the arrival of Joe Francis to the Bad Place in last week’s episode, while the Judge is very much an early 21st century woman, between her speech patterns and her pop cultural interests (Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War, being reluctant to start Bloodline because she can’t picture Kyle Chandler as anyone other than Coach Taylor), and Shawn’s plan to eternally torture Michael with an otherwise empty room constantly filling up with new issues of The New Yorker that Michael knows he’ll never read is also a very contemporary idea. It’s one thing when Jason is still fixated on Blake Bortles (if he only knew how the AFC Championship Game went, he’d be very sad), or Michael is learning how to say “Ya basic!” from a woman who died in 2016, but everyone up there seems to have modeled their behavior and references on the culture we know. If there’s never an explanation, I won’t care, because this stuff is funny, but Mike Schur is a guy who tends to think a lot about the rules of whatever world he’s working in, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn next week, or next season, that time moves differently in this metaphysical space than for the saps back where we are.
Some other thoughts:
* Rudolph’s sunny disposition contrasted nicely with Judge Jen’s role as a tough and perhaps wildly unfair arbiter of justice, particularly in the pleasure she took from hearing Tahani say things like “aluminum.” Given the SNL connection with Schur, I’m surprised she never turned up on Parks, and this role made better use of her than her Brooklyn Nine-Nine stint as a US Marshal.
* Janet convincingly learning how to play Bad Janet off-camera can either be read as a cheat, given how much trouble she had with it last time, or acceptable, given what she says hear about truly understanding the danger her friends (Michael included) were in once their covers got blown at the party. Either way, Janet going all Superman on Shawn was very satisfying.
* Of course the Titans fumble the kickoff just as soon as Jason has to start playing Madden as them. Of course.
* Michael’s forged reports to Shawn stole a lot of details from Stephen King novels and Pretty Little Liars. I hope someone on the writing staff got assigned the job of mocking those up to appear online.
* Which room would you rather visit: the one with both Fergies, or the one with Quvenzhané Wallis and Stephen Hawking?
What did everybody else think?