Tasked with the challenge of continuing after fall’s biggest TV shake-up, The Good Place season two exceeds expectations in the best way possible
The Show: The Good Place
The Network: NBC
The Genre: Comedy
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Set entirely in the afterlife, The Good Place follows a group of four humans as they navigate what they believe is “heaven.” As revealed in the season one finale, what we believed was The Good Place is, in fact, The Bad Place. The Good Place season two follows Eleanor (Kristin Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) as they endure various forms of torture from resident “demon” Michael, and, later, the trials and issues that come with teaming up with the bad guy.
Continuing season one’s theme of unique world building, hilarious plots, and surprisingly clever insight, The Good Place’s second season truly is must see TV
Sometimes, a TV show (especially one with a premise as unique as The Good Place) is only destined for one solid season. Sometimes, all you can really expect is one solid arc before the writers run out of fuel. Fortunately, this is not the case with NBC’s The Good Place. In a move that would destroy most writing teams, The Good Place ended their first season by revealing that everything we knew was a lie. It should be hard to continue a show called “The Good Place” after the reveal that it is actually set in The Bad Place, but the show takes this new turn and runs with it, delivering the comedy, heart, and philosophy audiences loved in the first season.
The Good Place playfully touches on philosophical concepts in an unprecedented way
What makes The Good Place so special is its unique premise. Week after week it delivers countless laughs in a way that most other shows cannot. In the first few episodes of season two, our four main characters are continuously ‘rebooted’ – that is, wiped of their memories – starting fresh from their first moments in the afterlife. The show takes viewer’s knowledge of these characters to create startlingly hilarious moments, and it just wouldn’t work so well on any other show. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason are cycled through countless orientations, introductions, and parties, each time without realizing they’ve done this exact thing over and over again for years.
I have listened to you talk about Chidi fifteen times in fifteen different ways. Let me just cut to the chase. You two? You got it bad for each other. -Mindy St. Claire
It’s a risky choice to reboot your characters like this, especially since the memory-erased trope has a history of audience rejection. To put it simply, people hate to see their favorite characters lose all the moments in which we came to love them. For The Good Place, it’s different. The show succeeds in creating hilarious scenarios with the memory wipe, because they keep these characters the same at their core. It’s one of the philosophical concepts The Good Place manages to nail – these characters are not soley shaped by their experiences and relationships in the afterlife, the core of who they are as a person shapes their experiences and relationships just as much, if not more. This is best exemplified in Eleanor and Chidi’s trip to The Medium Place. Because she has not been memory wiped, and yet has no stakes in the game, Mindy St. Claire provides and anchor for both the audience and the characters to understand the patterns present in every single reboot. According to Mindy, every visit from Eleanor and Chidi is more or less the same, and that’s extremely telling. It’s why we don’t mourn our character’s lost memories – there’s a security in the fact that Eleanor and Chidi, as well as Tahani and Jason, will continue to make the same choices regardless of how often they are rebooted.
This show is forking hilarious!
The Good Place is, at its core, a comedy, and it excels as such. For a story about people in Hell, the show is surprisingly lighthearted and totally hilarious. Some of the show’s funniest moments come from Ted Danson’s Michael (who is, surprisingly, our access point into the first few episodes of season two.) Michael is a demon, sort of. His job is torturing the terrible humans of the world once they get to The Bad Place. Michael is a creative demon – he’s the one that formulated this whole plan to present The Bad Place as The Good Place as a torture technique. The only problem is that his plan isn’t exactly working. Time after time, Eleanor (and sometimes Jason, shockingly) figures out the truth and Michael is forced to reboot the four humans yet again.
Jason: Yo, yo! Homies, check it! There’s something messed up with this place. We keep fighting with each other, none of the TVs get the NFL RedZone channel, my soulmate doesn’t even know who Blake Bortles is. I know this sounds crazy, but I think we’re in the bad place.
Michael: Jason figured it out? Jason? This is a real low point. Yeah, this one hurts.
Michael’s struggles to be good at being bad bring a giant dose of funny to the show’s first few episodes. He tries scenario after scenario to torture our main characters, each time becoming increasingly desperate. As he continues to try scenarios that work, he comes up with creative and personalized methods of torture – it’s clear that he wholly understands the humans he’s been tasked with torturing. For example, he informs the indecisive Chidi that he must choose between two soulmates – one who is his clear other half, a female version of himself, and one who is (for lack of a better word) totally boring. Once Chidi gets over his indecisiveness and settles on the first soulmate, Michael appears instantly, informing him that the latter is, in fact, his soulmate. It’s evil genius, and there’s something so satisfying about Michael’s methods. Rather than traditional torture, Michael’s choices are comedic and realistic, while still being absolutely awful for those chosen to endure them.
Janet’s batteries never seem to run out
One of the most innovative concepts The Good Place has to offer is Janet, the Amazon Alexa or Siri of the afterlife. Some of the show’s most clever moments are offered through Janet, and season two does an amazing job of keeping her relevant. A concept like Janet should run out of steam. It should get tired, and annoying, and cringey. On The Good Place, though, it just works. It doesn’t feel like a gimmick – Janet is a permanent and delightful fixture in this world, and the show would suffer without her. One of the best Janet bits of the current season occurs when Michael is having to reboot ‘The Good Place’ (i.e. The Bad Place) over and over again. Janet (who will be the first to tell you that she has no real emotions) begs for her life as Michael presses her reset button. If you’ll recall, this is a necessary precaution to prevent Eleanor from leaving herself a message through Janet, like she did the first time around.
Every time a Janet is rebooted, she increases her social awareness and abilities. I might be the most advanced Janet in the universe! – Janet
So why is a woman pleading for her life so funny? Because, as Janet cleanly reminds Michael, it’s only a failsafe mechanism. Janet doesn’t care if she’s rebooted – she doesn’t care about anything! She’s a robot. But still, as D’Arcy Carden gives the performance of her life, pleading with Michael to let her live, it’s hard not to feel for her. Janet’s failsafe is an incredibly effective prevention mechanism – it plays on human emotion (and even messes with non-human Michael) in a manipulative and extremely clever way. Janet’s failsafe is only one of many inventive aspects of the character; she can be programmed to behave in any way asked of her. It’s a concept in which many of the show’s best jokes are based – including the recent instance in which Michael enlists Janet to be his arm candy during an existential mid-life crisis.
The Good Place continues to be almost uncomfortably relatable in its second season
When you strip The Good Place of its comedy, philosophy, and creativity, something special still remains. The characters on this show are relatable and endearing, and there’s something incredibly real about them. They exemplify our worst fears: Chidi spent his life in pursuit of ethical truth. His only goal was to understand and inhabit the idea of “a good person.” In his quest, he managed to alienate and annoy those around him, and his affect on others landed him in The Bad Place, despite his efforts. Tahani spent her life donating money to charity, organizing parties and gala’s, and volunteering in third world countries. She, too, ends up in The Bad Place, because her actions did not have pure motivations – she was trying to overshadow her sister.
In the words of a very wise Bed, Bath, and Beyond employee I once knew, “Go ahead and cry all you want, but you’re gonna have to pay for that toilet plunger.” – Eleanor
These ideas were present in season one, but they get fleshed out even further in The Good Place season two. It’s ideas like this that play on our deep dark fears. We worry that we aren’t good enough, despite our best efforts. We wonder if we are annoying to those around us, and worry that we are negatively impacting the lives of others. When we do good things – giving money to charity, volunteering, or just committing a random act of kindness – we wonder, deep down, if our heart is in the right place. We so badly want to be entirely selfless, but it’s impossible to ignore the idea that true selflessness is impossible. If nothing else, the warm-fuzzy feeling that comes with giving benefits us in a way that a true sacrifice shouldn’t. Chidi, Tahani, and the others reflect these anxieties, and thus become relatable to us. We are invested in their well being, despite their Bad Place fate, because we see ourselves in them.
The Good Place may be hell, but watching it is TV heaven
We’d like to thank the TV Gods for such an entertainingly clever adventure into philosophy, ethics, morality, and just plain forking fun! The Good Place is like nothing that has ever come before, and it’s second season doesn’t seem to be losing steam any time soon. The creative minds behind this show have earned our absolute trust. It seems that there is no narrative dead end that they can’t find a path through. The show continues to excel in its unique brand of comedy, with each episode getting better and better.
Although we hate to see our favorite characters without any recollection of season one, its hard to even consider it a negative. Everything we remember from season one sits squarely with what we are seeing now, even if the characters themselves cannot recall those particular events.
A The Good Place review would not be complete without a shout out to the talented team behind the scenes. Everything from special effects to set design is an absolute masterpiece on this show. Who else could make giant shrimp floating over a clown house feel like an apocalyptic disaster? With so much left to look forward to, The Good Place season two is sure to be quite a ride, and we are totally on board – but sorry, we forgot to bring cocaine again.