The Good Place almost has too much going for it. It’s embarrassing, really. The show was created by Mike Schur, who previously created Parks and Recreation, which remains an all-time great television comedy. It has wonderful food-related puns. Its cast is a collection of well-known stars and relative newcomers, ranging from Kristen Bell to D’Arcy Carden to freaking Ted Danson. Ted Danson is on The Good Place. And he is having an absolute blast. He is giggling and emoting and releasing demonic cackles that change the course of the entire show. It’s all so much that you almost wonder why other shows even try. Bless their hearts.
But this is not about that. We’ve been over all of that, a few times, as have others, and we will probably go over it again a few more times before the show wraps up its run. No, this is about something else. This is about Jason Mendoza.
Jason Mendoza, played by Manny Jacinto, is my favorite character on The Good Place. It didn’t start out that way. For a long time, Janet was my favorite character, and she’s still in the top two. Her fall wasn’t her fault, either. She’s still great. But Jason Mendoza is on another level right now. He’s perfect. Everything about him, from his backstory on the show (Florida EDM doofus with a friend named Pillboi “mistakenly” gets into “heaven” because he is “misidentified” as a silent monk), to the sweet naiveté that has resulted in him wooing two of the show’s three main female characters (and somehow not Eleanor, even though they kind of have the most in common), to his recurring strategy of solving problems by throwing Molotov cocktails at them (while shouting the last name of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, of course, because anything is possible in this life if you believe hard enough). He is the best.
As with any great performance, you can explain it in two parts. The first is the writing, which I’m only listing first here because the writing comes first chronologically, and I’m trying to keep this simple enough that even Jason could understand it. (Sorry for using “chronologically,” buddy.) He’s an idiot from Jacksonville who loves the Jaguars and video games and eats at restaurants with names like Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump, which, all due respect to restaurant puns like Biscotti Pippen, is the best fake restaurant the show has come up with. (The fact that the show has found a way to make numerous Florida jokes funny and fresh about two years after Peak Florida Joke is almost sorcery.) I feel like I know that person, sight unseen. The fun part is the little twists they give him, and the Golden Retriever sweetness and loyalty, and the occasional burst of logic that comes tumbling out of his mouth almost by accident. The show gets a whole lot out of what looks like a one-dimensional character, on paper, and if you can find a funnier recent moment of television than him figuring out the characters are in the Bad Place during the montage from the season two premiere, congratulations. I have not. I doubt I will either. It’s wonderful.
(It’s worth noting here that Jason Mendoza is not the first lovable doofus on a Schur-created show. That would be Parks and Recreation‘s Andy Dwyer, played by Chris Pratt, who started out the series as a guest star who literally lived in a dirt pit and is now one of the biggest movie stars in the world. If this works out the same way again — and I see no reason it shouldn’t — Manny Jacinto should be fighting CGI dinosaurs on the big screen in a few years. I am extremely here for that.)
Which brings us to the second thing that makes Jason Mendoza so great: the performance. Most of the talk about the show’s performances has centered on Danson and Carden, justifiably, because they get a chance to do big fun things a lot and they do them very well. (Janet and Michael is my favorite pairing and I wouldn’t mind a spin-off about the two of them solving murders after this show ends.) But please do not overlook Manny Jacinto. Playing someone that dumb is hard. You don’t get all the big “A-HA!” moments and there’s a trap where you can kind of become an excuse for someone on the show to explain a complicated concept to the audience. Because of this, the line between charming stupidity and groan-worthy stupidity is about thisthin and I’m sure you can think of examples where things have gone awry. The fact that Jason consistently comes off as the former — especially in the more recent episodes — says a lot about the work Jacinto is doing. He does this thing where his face starts lighting up in the moments before he says something he thinks will be profound and a rush of preemptive joy floods through my veins every time I see it. It’s to the point that, sometimes, I find myself watching him even when other characters are talking. I’m just waiting for something to blow his mind. Which it will. Eventually. And it will probably be great.
You could, in fact, make an argument that my appreciation of Jason Mendoza is getting a little out of hand and is starting to have an unhealthy effect on my life at this point. I say this because I’ve found myself actually rooting — really rooting — for the Jaguars lately. This is not a sustainable situation. I’m already a Philadelphia Eagles fan. I bring enough unnecessary sports-related misery into my life. I don’t need this. And yet, here I am, actively pulling for the godforsaken Jacksonville Jaguars (who just somehow won the single worst playoff football game I’ve ever seen), almost entirely because of a fictional television character who once firebombed a speedboat owned by a DJ named Acidcat. I’m almost as upset about it all as I am about the fact that Netflix captioned this particular mid-heave declaration “[indistinct yells]” instead of the correct “Bortles!” It can’t be healthy. Part of me is worried it’s the first step in me becoming Jason Mendoza, like, in real life. If you see me running around town in warm-up pants with a guy named Pillboi, please know that it’s too late. I’m already headed to Stupid Nick’s, possibly with a Molotov cocktail on my person to avenge a perceived wrong.
So shout out to Jason Mendoza and Manny Jacinto and everyone at The Good Place. You might be ruining my life, but I love it.