From the beginning I was a fan of Michael Schur’s The Good Place, the concept alone fascinated as Eleanor (Kristen Bell) turned up in Heaven only to find that she shouldn’t really be there and had replaced someone with the same name by accident. This caused chaos in The Good Place, and kind, warmhearted Michael (Ted Danson, in what’s turning out to be a career best) had to deal with all manner of craziness. Except nothing was what it seemed, and the final episode of the first season turned everything on it’s head. And then span it around fifty times, just for good measure.
Now we’re on the third season and so much has happened since that point, we’ve had a great glimpse of hell and those who inhabit it, visited The Medium Place, seen Ted Danson go from good to evil and then back to good again, met a superb selection of memorable characters and Chidi (William Jackson Harper) has quietly taught me more about philosophy then I could ever have imagined a sitcom doing. Oh, and everyone’s alive again, albeit with their memories wiped, and Michael and Janet are stuck on Earth looking after them. So if you’re new to show, yeah, it’s just like every other comedy series on right now.
The previous episode saw Michael and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) desperately trying to keep the group together as it looked like they were about to go their separate ways, only for it to end on a cliffhanger as the gang saw Michael open a portal to the afterlife. Michael’s proven himself to be the fastest of thinkers over the series but whilst he amusingly tries to persuade them that he’s Special Agent Rick Justice, and Janet is his colleague Frenchie, and warns the gang they’re in grave danger and that they’re present to protect them from ghouls, Eleanor’s not buying it for a second, mainly as her old workplace was regularly raided by the FBI and she knows he’s not a fed. So Michael suggests killing them which is pleasingly twisted, though he has their best intentions at heart as he hopes to grab them before they end up in The Bad Place. But before that’s explored in any depth the group demand an answer, and so he comes clean. And unfortunately for them it’s all rather a grim resolution, as it turns out that now they’ve learnt about the afterlife their motivation is corrupted and they can’t earn points any more, so are doomed to end up in The Bad Place, saying “So sorry for eternally dooming you” whilst Janet chirpily responds “And that’s our bad, guys”.
It’s an episode packed with superb jokes and moments, as Chidi crashes and burns as he realises there’s no point to life at all. Soon he’s wondering around a supermarket topless buying any old crap, and scaring drug dealers in the park with his Nietzsche inspired nihilism, uttering “God is dead, God remains dead and we have killed him, who will wipe this blood off us? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent?”, which is pretty amazing to hear on a mainstream sitcom. Whilst it might seem harsh seeing Chidi at such a low point is shockingly funny, and Jackson Harper is on great form here, with his breakdown creating many laugh out loud moments. Meanwhile Eleanor’s not coping well either, deciding to revert to her old selfish ways as there’s no point to anything. Getting drunk in a bar she demands free drinks and rants about the pointlessness of life, and all of the shitty things in it, including the fact that there’s way too many Spiderman movies. Eleanor’s always been an endearing character, but she’s at her very best when screwed up and mean, and Bell’s clearly having a great time during such scenes. She’s badly broken for a good part of the episode, but fortunately finds a wallet in the bar and realises she can’t take the money, and ends up on a journey which might just save her soul. Or at least the souls of others.
Surprisingly Tahani (Jameela Jamil) is the one who reacts the best to the situation, with the news being a weight of her shoulders (and neck, in another great name dropping joke of the type I never tire of) and wants to be virtuous for virtue’s sake, and it makes her and Jason (Manny Jacinto) better people. And as is often the case, Jason gets the best lines here, including “In Jacksonville I got a flu virus named after me as I kissed a bat on a dare” and “I could have gone to a real doctor instead of pretending I was a big dog so I could go to the vet”. The latter of which leads to their marriage, in a move I certainly didn’t predict.
The show deals with big themes in a smart yet always enjoyable way, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s seen it who hasn’t fallen in love with the series. It puts the characters in a wide variety of different situations and brings out the very best in the actors involved, all of whom turn in superb performances. Some might be put off by the fact that it involves so much discussion of philosophy but it does so in hilarious ways, and it’s so inventive and imaginative that the moment an episode ends I can’t wait to see the next one.
This episode ends on a real high note, at the beginning it looked like all of the group were about to split up but now they’re back together, complete with a new mission in life. Which suggests how the series will play out for the rest of the season, or the next few episodes at the very least, and it’s a concept I have no doubt that Schur and co will have an enormous amount of fun with. After all they have with all of the other crazy ideas they’ve come up with, so I’ve complete faith that the series will continue to be joyously funny and life affirming stuff.