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The Good Place

The Good Place – Everything Is Great (2×01 and 2×02)

Credit: The Good Place/NBC

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Alright everyone, take two.

The second season kicked off right after the season finale, with Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jianjyu arriving at The Good Place, for what they thought was the first time ever.

But this time, we – the fans, were in on a lot more than they were. After the first season finale, Eleanor figured out that the “Good Place” was actually a cover for the “bad place” aka hell and Michael was their worst nightmare, making it his lifelong mission to torment them. And still, I don’t know what’s worse getting spiders stuffed up your butt (?) or having an existential experience from hell where everyone is in on the truth except you.

When Michael hit that reset button though, it was dangerous. The first season, up until the finale episode, was light. Only after that dark twist did we realize that under the comical surface, there was an emotional intelligence that only an evil mastermind could conjure up. But still, with this starting anew, there was the possibility of falling into a lull – would we see this same scenario play out over and over and over again? Now that we were in on the big secret, we needed and expected more.

In that regard, this episode delivered. It wasn’t overly exciting but it was necessary. For starters, it raised the stakes. Michael may be an evil mastermind of his “world” but when it comes to his higher-ups, he’s just trying to meet a quota, which automatically removes his villainous persona. How can we be scared of someone who is literally talking himself up and then crumbling when push comes to shove?

He also underestimated the nasty humans, specifically Eleanor. In the second phase rollout, he believed it would take years, at least 80 as he told “real Eleanor” now playing Denise with a limp. His plan was foiled within the hour thanks to the note fake Eleanor left herself. Immediately upon her arrival, she knew to look for someone or something named Chidi. He was played even before the game began.

Then, he quickly began picking up on the oddities of the neighborhood. The people were all too nice and persuasive, Michael had too much of an interest in her, her soulmate (whose name I don’t remember) kept making an exit when she tried to confess her truth by going to the gym, and of course, everyone wanted to get her drunk. Something just wasn’t adding up. But it wasn’t just for Eleanor either – Michael tried to ruin Chidi, Tahani and Jianjyu’s life in such major ways that they were immediately forced to crack.

Chidi, the man who is unable to make decisions, was given 3 soulmates and was forced to choose. When he finally made a decision, Michael interrupted him by pairing him with the other woman, who was a complete dud. Tahani, a self-absorbed socialite was paired with Tomas, a man half her height that was very frugal and who forced her to switch out her couture clothing for cargo pants. Then Jianyu was paired with another monk who was described as his “best friend,” but he was nowhere near the dope homies he used to hang out with on Earth.

It seems Michael was so focused on succeeding this second time around for his own sake, he didn’t pay attention to how they figured it out in the first place. Before you know it, they were all being drawn to each other because of the suffering. And there’s that major flaw: if only the 4 humans are going to be inadvertently suffering, they’ll catch on eventually.

Michael also thought his memory eraser was foolproof. And while Eleanor didn’t exactly remember what happened the first time around, she had a vague memory of a few things and the sense that she’d been here before. Truthfully, I’m quite surprised that the shrimp didn’t trigger her memory in some way.

And all of this was proof that these people were not the same gullible humans that they were when they arrived to the “good place” the first time. They had more questions, they spoke up more, and they weren’t going to settle. Heck, if I was in paradise, I’d fight for a bigger house too. Something tells me that with each reboot, they’ll only get smarter and more determined to beat the system. The reason the first attempt failed is because Michael didn’t foresee that selfish Eleanor would gain a conscience and try to save Eleanor. But she did. And this time around, when Tahani had a breakdown, she didn’t act out in jealousy. Instead, she was understanding and thoughtful and well, an improved Eleanor. So just because they were bad people on Earth doesn’t mean they are stupid or incapable of change.

After Michael’s second attempt at devious torture blew up in his face, he withheld it from his superiors and reset the timer himself to avoid having it all shutdown and eternal agony of early retirement.  And what really happens if he doesn’t succeed…besides the aforementioned penis flattener? Shudders.  Shawn warned that there would not be a third time so what happens if he finds out that there was? Can Michael actually make it work this third time around with his desperation, haste, and panic being a constant motivator? Or will that ensure he doesn’t “have it under control” again. The stakes are much higher for him this season than they were before.

There’s something enjoyable about knowing what Eleanor and the rest don’t and seeing Michael gloat in his diabolical torture for just a few seconds before seeing it all crumble. And seriously, could “the bad place” not afford better minions to improv? There’s such a distaste for humans but as real Eleanor, now Denise, proves, there’s an inherent need for them to feel appreciated and useful in the subplots. Something tells me, they’ll flat out foil it in the next attempt. And if they aren’t humans, what are they?

As Eleanor would say, what the fork.

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The Good Place Final Season Sneak Peek: Everything is Fine

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The Good Place Final Season

All good things must come to an end, yes, even in the Good Place.

NBC’s comedic gem is preparing for its fourth and final season, and it’s bittersweet.

The first preview is more of a montage of the cast preparing to say goodbye, and it’s breaking our hearts despite Manny Jacinto (Jason) assuring us that “everything is fine.”

Tucked away amid a montage is a sneak peek of the final season that includes the creator of the Good Place, Eleanor, showing residents Janet’s impressive abilities.

That girl can do anything.

Eleanor tells Linda, who may or may not be one of the hand-chosen four residents, that she can ask Janet for anything her heart desire. To demonstrate, she asks for a “baby elephant made of pure light that tells you true secrets about the universe.”

And behold – a glowing elephant that reveals that “Shirley Temple killed JFK.”

It’s this kind of sense of humor that we’re going to miss the most about this show.

If you recall, Ted Danson’s Michael was forced to recreate the Good Place in an attempt to prove that humans are judged unfairly.

His goal was to show that humans can change for the better, and while the Bad Place agreed to his little experiment, their one condition was that they choose the four new participants. The intention was to make it as difficult for the Good Place to succeed in proving their point to the judge.

The first arrival was Chidi’s ex-girlfriend, Simone, which caused Eleanor (Kristen Bell) to wipe her boyfriend’s memory so that he wouldn’t ruin the experiment. Catch up on all previous reviews HERE!

Will he fall in love with Simone again or will he be drawn to Eleanor proving that true love exists?

Watch the first look below:

The Good Place Season 4 is set to premiere on Thursday, September 26, 2019.

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Editorials

The Secret of The Good Place’s Biggest Twist

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The Good Place/NBC "Everything is Fine" 2016 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Spoilers for the first season of The Good Place below

The Good Place/NBC, NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Season one of NBC’s The Good Place won over many fans with its likable characters, unique premise, and impressive use of cliffhangers on a weekly basis. The ability to end each chapter with a stinger that left the audience excitedly anticipating the next installment set The Good Place apart from other sitcoms.

In the last episode of the season, Eleanor drops the biggest reveal so far.

“THIS is the Bad Place.”

The show only gets to bask in its own glory for about ten seconds though, because it immediately upstages itself with an even bigger reveal: Michael is evil.

The Good Place/NBC "Dance Dance Resolution" 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Good Place/NBC Photo by: Colleen Hayes

The cliffhanger endings throughout season one worked, but eventually the novelty of the unexpected wears off. Once it does, all you are left with is the characters. This is why Michael being evil is the most important part of the series’ heel turn.

Michael’s true nature and the “Good Place” being the “Bad Place” would seem to go hand in hand, but that isn’t necessarily true. There could have easily been a version of The Good Place where Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason go about their Good Place lives as they are without any Good Place architect guiding them. There even could have been a version where Michael is ACTUALLY a Good Place architect and is being duped as well. Revealing they are in the Bad Place in these versions would still have been effective; that’s a good reveal! But not a great one.

It’s shocking on a plot level, but it only recontextualizes the plot. Our view of the world changes but our relationship with the show only shifts. Humans are incredibly adaptive. Something is only new for a short while before it becomes accepted as the norm.

This is why the Michael reveal is so important to the sustainability of the twist. Revealing that Michael is evil not only recontextualizes the plot, but the character and all of his relationships. Not only haven’t we been watching what we thought we were watching, we weren’t even watching who we thought we were watching. The audience isn’t just hit with a shock but a betrayal. We rooted for you not to get retired, Michael!!!

The Good Place/NBC "Dance Dance Resolution" 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Good Place/NBC Photo by: Colleen Hayes

That emotional attachment and the resulting personal investment is why The Good Place twist is so transcendent. We never break with our investment of the show. It isn’t so much a question of how did the writers pull this off, but how did Michael pull this off? It forces a compulsion on you to rewatch the first season, just as we all compulsively look back over a lost relationship after a breakup, trying to spot all the red flags that we definitely should have seen the first time.

This also sets up a second season that guarantees something we haven’t seen before – the real Michael. Characters are the gift that keep on giving, because unlike a new setting (or more accurately for The Good Place, our new understanding of the setting), character novelty doesn’t wear off as quickly. There are so many new facets of the show to explore through the real Michael. How will he interact with this world? With our heroes? How much of season one was an act and how much was truthful?

Considering we all know the humans won’t be eternally damned by the end of the series (that would be the subversion of all subversions, and probably not result in too great a story), if the big twist was only that the humans are in the Bad Place then our speculation going forward is limited to “how will they escape?” Revealing Michael’s true nature and goals allows us to not just speculate about the humans’ escape, but to wonder how Michael will fail. And I want to see it! He betrayed me. I want to watch him fail and get what he deserves. We know Michael, even if we didn’t know the real Michael, we are invested in him. That investment in his character carries us much further than any plot point ever could.

The Good Place/NBC -"Dance Dance Resolution" 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

The Good Place/NBC Photo by: Colleen Hayes

The Good Place has a great plot twist, but it has a phenomenal character twist. Michael being evil is the secret weapon of the season ending cliffhanger and the key to its sustainability. Watching season one for the first time, my mind was shifting gears when Eleanor announced they were in the Bad Place, but my spine chilled and my brain exploded when Michael let out that iconic evil laugh. The series continued with a phenomenal second season, but before its airing many wondered how The Good Place could carry on after blowing up its world so completely. What could carry it forward?

The secret: Through all the twists and turns the show never lost the sight of the fact that it isn’t about what carries it, but who.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Pandemonium (3×12)

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The Good Place - Pandemonium

Eleanor returns to the spotlight in the season finale after a few weeks of giving the most active role to Michael. It’s a clever way to bring Eleanor back to the forefront, having Michael rendered incapable of doing his job by fear. The plot point also pulls double duty by finishing off another arc for Michael.

Michael started the season hustling down to Earth to tinker with the humans. Later he tried to play the “snowplow” in their lives and incessantly tried to maintain the type of control he had in his neighborhood. Now here we are at the end of season three and he has willingly stepped into the background, ceasing control to someone more fit for the current situation.

Season three (the back half especially) pushed Michael to the forefront. He was the only character capable of truly moving the plot forward, but now with the new neighborhood built and his arc seemingly complete, we return to Eleanor.

I think this is a good move for the show. This year meandered a bit in places and lacked the singular focus of the past seasons. There were three distinct phases to the season, first the brain experiment, then the quest to improve other people, and finally the last ditch attempt to change the system. I definitely felt the back half of the season was stronger than the first, but I do feel the show needs to refocus itself in the upcoming fourth season, and placing Eleanor back at the forefront is a good start.

As an episode, though, tonight was quieter and more reserved than previous season finales. It didn’t actually feel too much like a finale to me personally, as this is the first time we will be continuing a story from a previous season instead of starting with a fresh timeline. This isn’t a knock, not every season finale has to be explosive of course, but it does highlight a point I made last week about emotional stakes.

I predicted Eleanor becoming the architect and Simone being one of the new residents, as many fans probably did. What I didn’t predict was Chidi requesting his memory be wiped. This greatly upped what I discussed last week – the emotional stakes.

This makes sense on a plot level and devastates the characters on an emotional one. Michael providing Chidi and Eleanor a look at their memories – ones they don’t even still have – was touching and ironic. It felt a little bit like the show was trying to sell me on their romance, but it still provided a nice showing of Michael’s affection for them. It’s not as if I don’t buy the chemistry between the two; I do. I just don’t feel we got to see their love develop over this season. Fortunately, because of the history of the show, there is more weight to their romance than is provided just by season three, which consequentially provides the proper weight for the tragedy of Chidi losing his memories of Eleanor.

It’s a heartbreaking idea. One lover forgets and the other doesn’t? Brutal. How is Eleanor going to handle this? As interested as I am to see where the experiment goes, I am much more invested in Eleanor and the rest of the gang interacting with the memory wiped Chidi. The emotional stakes provide a strong storyline moving forward.

And yet I have to admit that emotional stakes are not everything, and a series does need to follow through on its plot. The plot went almost nowhere tonight, only telling us the kinds of people the Bad Place has picked for the experiment, which lead us into Chidi’s memory wipe. As I said, not every season finale has to be Earth-shattering, but I do feel like a little momentum was lost with such an introspective episode. The final scene of Eleanor and Janet played like a teaching moment, and while Janet’s response to Eleanor’s question about love is touching, I hope the show has more on its mind for the endgame.

Season three felt like a bridge season. Shawn mentions chess in this episode and it’s an apt callout considering how much of this season was moving pieces into place. This will be fine with me if these moves lead to a spectacular fourth.  It’ll be a long wait to find out!

Other musings:

  • Disclaimer: My television flashed a flash flood warning to me during the entire sequence Eleanor introduces herself to John, so I missed all of that. I’ll rewatch tomorrow and see if the missed info affects my views on the episode!
  • I thought John was a good start to the residents! He made me laugh and will play very well off everyone, and I hope I can see him in a conversation with Jason immediately in season four.
  • Tahani has improved so much as a person. Her improvement highlights the tragedy of Chidi’s reset even more.
  • We all knew Simone was coming back, right? I’m glad that wasn’t the big twist of the episode.
  • Janet doesn’t have all the answers. But she is a friend.
  • I love the score to The Good Place, but I really wish this season had mixed up the music with some new cues or stingers. A lot of shows get repetitive with their music going into a third season and it’s a small gripe I have with season three.

I love this show. It was tough for me to review this episode, though, because it was mostly a large set up for what will follow, and a lot of my opinion on this one will depend on how effectively season four capitalizes on what was presented here. The emotional stakes are higher than ever, as are the physical ones with humanity hanging in the balance. Hopefully those two things combined can bring out the best in the series.

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