TV

‘The Good Place’ Takes The Biggest Swings On Television


NBC

There are a ton of reasons to like The Good Place. It’s funny as hell, it’s sweet and thoughtful, it has the best food-related puns in television history, it has a great cast that goes at least six deep before you start counting its already impressive list of guest stars, it turned Blake Bortles into a borderline inspirational figure, etc. I could go on and on, and I will if you want to meet for coffee at Biscotti Pippen this weekend and talk about it. But for now I want to focus on my favorite part of the show: This sucker takes some big swings, man.

Just look at some of the things that have happened so far:

  • At the end of season one, the show revealed — via Ted Danson evil laugh — that the characters had been in the Bad Place all along, and that everything they had seen and experienced had been part of a customized torture program to make them miserable.
  • At the beginning of the second season, the show threw things into the wood chipper again by rebooting the failed experiment hundreds of times before creating an Us Against The World scenario in which Ted Danson’s evil immortal demon character, Michael, was now on their side.
  • Before any of this even started, Michael Schur had to walk into someone’s office at NBC and pitch an extremely high-concept sitcom about philosophy and self-improvement set in a theoretical afterlife.

All of that is incredibly ambitious and bordering on audacious, especially for a show that airs on network television at 8:30 pm, and it brings us to the latest development, from the season two finale: In a last-ditch attempt to help the formerly-alive humans make it to the real Good Place, Michael and the Eternal Judge (Maya Rudolph) concoct a plan to send them back to the real world to give them a chance to cheat their deaths and improve themselves, with no memory of anything that happened in the afterlife to guide them.

(There’s an open question here about whether Eleanor and the crew were actually sent back to life — as in, reversing their deaths — or if it’s all a simulation created by Michael. I was Team IRL on this until I saw Michael standing behind the bar, in what one can only assume was a Cheers shout-out by Cheers superfan Mike Schur. I don’t know all the rules about immortal demons and jumping through dimensions, but it seems more logical and less troublesome that he would just hop into his own simulation without bending real-life events. But what do I know?)

NBC

The result of the world-hopping is that the show appears to have hit the reset button for something like the third time in 25 episodes. And not because things weren’t working. Things were working. They were working great, actually. Season two of The Good Place was awesome and the people who make it could have easily strung out this scenario for another season or two, if they really wanted to. Lord knows lesser shows have tried to get more from half as much. But no. They chose to blow it up again, at least temporarily, in an attempt to move onward and upward, continuing their apparent commitment to nuke their entire show every eight episodes and build it back up again. I have a great deal of respect for that.

I worry, though, mostly because I’m a worrier by nature. When you take a big swing like this and connect, everyone cheers. But big swings can also lead to big misses, and every time the show does it there’s the chance it will alter the formula too much. For example, this latest move took our four main characters and separated them again, blasting them all over the world. Getting Eleanor to Chidi was workable with a nudge from Michael, but getting them in contact with a high-status London socialite and a firebomb-throwing amateur DJ from Florida could prove tricky. If that’s even the plan. Which brings us to this dilemma:

  • If everyone did indeed get sent back to the real world and is living the continued version of their lives, does that mean Michael and Janet have to sit around and wait for them all to die again? Because that could take decades. Not a huge deal for non-human beings that have already lived for millions of years, but definitely an issue for a TV show about all of them hanging out in the afterlife.
  • If this is all a simulation, I guess that means that, if it works and everyone improves enough to make it to the Good Place, at some point Michael is going to pull them out and explain it to them and that is gonna be a weeeeeiiiird conversation. He’ll basically be killing them, again. Tough hill to climb from there to “But I’m your friend, though!”
  • If the plan works and everyone gets into the real Good Place, then a) it means the show is rebooting itself a fourth time, and b) what does a show inside a perfect magical problem-free world look like?

All of which would be very concerning to me if I didn’t have complete faith in Schur and the people at the show. It’s the same thing I felt when Better Call Saul was announced. Yeah, I was a little nervous about the idea of a Breaking Bad spin-off diminishing the show’s legacy, but more importantly, Vince Gilligan and company have earned the leeway to give it a shot. Between pulling off the twists this show has already thrown us, and literally everything that happened on Parks and Recreation, Schur is in the same boat. I love that the show keeps doing this. It’s totally fearless and creatively inspiring. One day it might all blow up in their faces, or it might mean the show just has a shorter natural shelf life than other sitcoms, but for right now, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Swing away, you maniacs.

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