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The Good Place

The Good Place – A Girl From Arizona Part One (4×01)

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Ok, so The Good Place is back! Good. It is the last season. Also good, as the story seemed to be bridging to its final act in season three.

So how does this final act open up? Unlike the previous two years, this premiere doesn’t seem as immediately distinct. “A Girl From Arizona” is a straight continuation from season three, with no reboots to the humans or the show’s premise (outside of Chidi’s memory wipe). In one way, this allows the story to continue to build in a way that wasn’t quite possible with previous premieres, but there is also a lack of punch and freshness, despite the peppermint featured in the episode.

To be fair, this is only part one of an episode that was likely intended to air as a single entity. I am guessing that NBC only aired the first half of this two-parter so that The Good Place could act as a lead into Michael Schur’s new series, Sunnyside. Therefore, I feel judging this half of the episode is a bit unfair.

I’m going to do it anyway.

The bulk of the episode was spent setting up the experiment for the audience by introducing us to the new residents. John’s introduction last year was spectacular, as they showed us a character that didn’t seem terrible before revealing the awful side. It reminded me of Eleanor’s introduction in the series premiere. With the rules of the experiment stating that the new residents have to be equally as bad as the originals, John checked that box.

Brent does not check that box. He seems exceedingly worse than Jason, Tahani, Eleanor, or Chidi. Eleanor was easily the worst of the original four, but we were shown a likable side of her almost immediately (even if it was still not a “good” side of her). Brent needs some redemptive qualities, whether it’s through some genuinely positive facets of his personality or just some sort of affable demeanor.

Simone, on the other hand, needs to show us why she is as bad as the rest. The Simone we knew was awesome on Earth. I hope we are given explicit reasoning as to how she fits in with Jason and Eleanor. I can’t imagine she made people unwittingly miserable like Chidi and she isn’t as vain as Tahani, so let’s see the sin in Simone and balance these new residents out.

Outside of the exposition, season four does provide us with some new character beats, even if some are more interesting than others. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen Jason jealous, as he’s always been so comfortable in his own skin. I hope that this is an aspect of his personality we get to dive further into, and isn’t just a sitcom trope to move the plot forward.

Janet gets the best display, though, as she becomes increasingly testy as she’s put under more stress. She’s running the neighborhood, maintaining the fake residents she built, and dealing with Derek and Jason, as well as delivering on every request made of her. Janet may have finally reached a point where she’s done being of service to everyone. This is a great place to take the character and a wonderful choice as a final arc for her. Please follow up on this!

Tahani and Michael didn’t have much to display tonight, and Eleanor had the expected (and necessary) reservations about pairing Chidi with Simone. I’m glad that’s out of the way already, though I’m sure the jealously will only continue to mount for her. The effectiveness of the Chidi/Eleanor relationship has varied from reboot to reboot for me, with much of it resting on the shoulders of Kristen Bell and Willian Jackson Harper. They are able to muster a lot of believability out of limited time for the relationship to grow. It’ll be interesting to see how affecting this storyline is now that only half of the actors involved are able to display the emotions.

Lastly, Shawn cheated by planting Chris the demon in the experiment, who posed as boring resident Linda until he snapped and started throwing punches. This isn’t surprising since it’s Shawn, but it did feel a bit convenient that Chidi is now part of the experiment due to the breach. I’m calling the experiment into question a bit now. It’s turning into an experiment to see if Chidi is the greatest ethics professor in the world. If the residents only improve in Chidi’s class, is that still considered “on their own?” If they improve, will Chidi have to teach ethics to every human who dies for the rest of eternity, lest they are sent to the Bad Place without his guidance? Too many shaky questions are arising.

At the end of the episode though, we don’t end the episode. We need to see the rest before a proper evaluation can be made on where we stand here, so I’m looking forward to next week. I just hope this episode follows in the footsteps of Linda. . .maybe a little boring at first, but then starts throwing punches and just goes nuts.

Other Musings:

  • Showing us Chidi’s apartment was nice, even if we know enough about him at this point to not be surprised at anything in it. The real value here was in showing us what perfect living quarters Chidi gave up to stay with Eleanor in season one. Of course, maybe this version of his apartment was different than the original, but seeing as there is frozen yogurt, I’m assuming it is the same.
  • The comparison of the motivational speeches between Michael and Shawn would have been more effective if we spent more time with the demons.
  • I wanna see Disco Janet.
  • Matt got into a verrrrrry similar obelisk as the one quickly seen in season two’s “Dance Dance Resolution.”
  • Little touches like Eleanor correctly pronouncing Chidi’s last name make this journey effective. It shows character growth and reminds us that Chidi has no idea who Eleanor used to be.

I have some hopes for season four I’m going to lay out and see how many come true:

I want the show to go nuts again like it did in season two. Season two was so fantastic because the show had such varied situations to put the characters in, and their personalities and flaws really shined. I hope season four really goes for it and gets crazier than it ever has. I have faith the characters won’t get lost in the madness, but thrive in it.

I hope this experiment fails within three or four episodes. I’d love to see where the writers take us were that the case.

I want Chidi and Simone to get together. It would make for a tragic ending but also send a message out there that maybe it can be ok anyway? We know Eleanor can’t end up completely miserable, but I’d like to see that kind of subversion and see what kind of positive spin The Good Place can place on lost love.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Help Is Other People (4×07)

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The Good Place - Help Is Other People

The experiment is over. The group split apart and the status quo was finally blown up. I have no clue where the series will head now, which is a feeling I haven’t had with The Good Place since this season began. It’s an exciting feeling, and I’m grateful for it.

But still, it is a shame we didn’t spend much time with the subjects of the experiment. It feels as though the season was treading water from its second episode onward to get to this point, and I still feel the time could have been better spent. I also find it a little convenient that Eleanor and Michael didn’t think about telling Brent he is in the Bad Place way earlier in the timeline of the experiment. Tahani and Jason didn’t improve at all in their original run until they were informed about their position in the Bad Place, so it seems like this thought would have occurred to Eleanor and Michael back in episode three or four.

However, there is a ton to like about this episode, and it is probably my favorite episode of the season thus far. Tons of character humor, a sense of tension we haven’t felt all year thanks to Simone’s compiling of information, and unexpected twists along the way. A good way to make a final season successful is to call back to the rest of the series, and Eleanor and Michael recreating moments from season one here, such as the sinkhole and the iconic laugh, work well as call backs because they also serve the plot. Their backs are against the wall, so they are just trying to recreate the circumstances the original humans improved against.

As for that laugh, nothing will ever top the first reveal, but seeing Eleanor and Michael slip right back into their old ways is a treat, and watching them use the more negative aspects of themselves to try to achieve a positive goal is a testament to their growth.

I don’t know if they succeeded, and I’m not all that concerned with whether or not they did. I’m more concerned with how this series is going to wrap itself up. The experiment was fine but the way these episodes are structured, there wasn’t much attention paid to the subjects or the consequences of failure, making the outcome less meaningful. At this point, though, with six episodes left to air, I’m almost happy about this. It almost guarantees a separate endgame; one that will hopefully have higher personal stakes for all of our characters.

And finally; Brent’s realization that he is a bad person. We actually see the conflict and denial in his face and voice before he seemingly comes to terms with who he is. It feels a bit quick, but not because his turn to good happens immediately. Tahani immediately realized her issues when she was informed she was in the Bad Place, but the difference there was that Tahani was a well explored and fleshed out character by that point. We understood the headspace she inhabited and why she would think she is a good person. We never got to learn that about Brent, so I’m left wondering why he ever thought he was a decent human being in the first place. It’s a wonderful moment that is undercut yet again by the lack of development leading up to it.

By and large though, this series isn’t about Brent. It’s about Eleanor, Michael, Chidi, Tahani, Jason, Janet, and what it means to try to be a good person. And the biggest reveal of the night was built to perfectly in regards to that last pillar. Last week, Michael told Bad Janet all a human can do is try, and that’s what makes them good. Tonight, it’s revealed that the first step in that process is actually admitting to yourself that you need to improve. Brent didn’t try to be better before because he didn’t admit to himself that he needed to be. Eleanor and Michael’s demonic taunts and Chidi’s truth bomb to him is what he needed to hear. Now he can start to try. The Good Place is still as thematically sound as ever, even if the season so far has been a little slow. That’s enough for me to feel more confidence once again that the ending is headed to a very good place indeed.

Other Musings:

  • We also finally get to see some negative Simone traits. She’s a good character; I really wish we could have spent more time with her in the neighborhood.
  • John has some killer one liners. He has a unique personality amongst the group and I wish we could have spent more time with him as well.
  • I feel like the “early successes” joke may have been a bit meta, and if so that gives me even more confidence in the end of the show.
  • Brent saying he’d put a good word in for the rest of the friends was a good touch so we could see some genuine decency in him.

I complained about reusing old music cues a few episodes back, but obviously when the show itself is recreating events like the sink hole and the Bad Place reveal, old music cues are perfect. I just wish the sink hole danger strings would have been saved for that moment.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – A Chip Driver Mystery (4×06)

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TheGoodPlace/AChipDriverMystery

“A Chip Driver Mystery” seems like a turning point episode, not because of any action or some narrative shift, but because Michael appears to have laid out his final point of view, and perhaps this point of view will carry him and the humans to the end of the series. “Try to be better today than you were yesterday.”

As we witnessed this chapter in the form of Michael telling Bad Janet (who they’ve been holding captive) a story, I began to wonder what the purpose of delivering this episode in this manner was. Most of the narrative happenings took place from the same points of view we always watch each episode, and there was no tangible benefit (nor harm) coming from this storytelling method asides from just mixing it up. However, at the end of the episode the purpose reveals itself as Michael frees Bad Janet from captivity, putting his words into action by trying to be better today than he was yesterday.

With the humans storylines focusing on improving the test subjects, and with Janet being not a person, Michael is the only character we can see put this foot forward at this time, and since he’s been the ethical voice for two seasons now, it makes the most sense from a character perspective as well. His message puts all of Bad Janet’s knowledge into a new context. Janets know everything that has ever happened; they know the good and bad things that each person has done. However, like all machines, they lack the ability to truly put this behavior into context beyond what they are taught is “good” and “bad.” Michael’s idea that humans can try to be better each day doesn’t imply “good” or “bad,” only effort, and it allows for mistakes and the loss of points in a way that the system doesn’t account for. Just because we screw up one or several days or weeks in a row doesn’t mean we aren’t trying or can’t try to be better the next day – effort counts. For Michael, that’s the most important factor and his greatest lesson.

The lesson ties in well with the guilt he felt last week over who he used to be. It seems as though Michael has come to realize that he can feel good about his attempts to get better despite his past, because trying to improve yourself really is a purely noble and honest feat. I expect this message to crop up again as the series wraps up.

The few complaints I have over this episode stem more from what hasn’t been shown previously. Michael finally states one of Simone’s flaws; she makes snap judgements about people. This is a good flaw for a character, but we have barely seen her this season so it hasn’t been built to as organically as it could have. The same goes for Michael releasing Bad Janet. This scene would have been more powerful if we saw her kept in that cage for a few episodes. We are told she’s been there for six months, which is quite an extensive amount of time we missed out on(we’ve had several large time jumps this season). Time jumps aren’t inherently bad, but I do feel we are missing out on some build up to these scenes.

Of course, with this being the final season and the series running at 22 minutes per episode, time isn’t something the show has on its side. I get it. Still, I feel some of the time in previous episodes could have been spent better to successfully lead up to our turning point here. On its own though, this episode hits a lot of the right notes for me. It brought a little faith back to me in where the series is headed, and hopefully each episode for the rest of the season will try to improve upon the one that aired the last week.

Other Musings:

  • Ok, they said Brent made some improvements, and he just still seems like the worst. This is another example where spending some more time with him would have made his so called improvement more visible and also made his egregious book all the more disappointing.
  • Jason’s joke about being nicknamed “The Defendant” is honest to goodness one of my favorite jokes I think I have ever heard. It is so dumb and wonderful and I wonder how no other series has ever made a similar joke.
  • I very much like the stance the show takes here that Simone is not the problem and Brent is, and they should not be walking on eggshells around him. This felt organic to the storyline in a way Brent’s behavior doesn’t, since they need him to improve, and putting up with his attitude is not working. Don’t allow people like Brent to get away with how they treat others! But the episode doesn’t scream it at you. It makes the lesson clear while staying completely in universe. Brent’s personality could have used some of this depth.

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The Good Place

The Good Place – Employee of the Bearimy (4×05)

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The Good Place/Employee of the Bearimy

Janet has been rescued and she, Michael, and Jason are headed back to the neighborhood. And yet, I’m left wondering as to the purpose of this excursion. What did the story gain from this detour? As of the end of this episode, we are left with Michael and the gang trying to improve four humans in their experiment, which is exactly where we started this season.

Maybe there will be some repercussion of this adventure down the line, but as it stands now it feels inconsequential. The episode tries to paint Michael’s revisit to the Bad Place as difficult, but asides from his short personal guilt trip over his “Employee of the Bearimy” photo, we don’t see him struggle much. In fact, he and Jason execute their extraction with ease.

On top of that, Jason needed to change exactly zero because his impulse decision of blowing things up saved the day, as he and Michael blew up two demons (including Vicky) during their escape. I was hoping to see Jason learn to control himself and contribute in a less combustible manner, especially after so much of the season has implied this would be his arc. If that had been the case, the journey would have at least had a character benefit.

Back in the neighborhood, Tahani feels useless. I mean that in both interpretable ways – Tahani herself feels she isn’t able to contribute, and Tahani the character doesn’t seem to be contributing to the narrative. The conclusion of this plot gives Tahani’s party throwing abilities validity, with Tahani openly declaring that she wants to be more than a party thrower. I see no reason that this same plot couldn’t have been explored in the third episode of the season with a more focused storyline, perhaps allowing us not just to dive into Tahani’s headspace, but actually see the four test subjects interact.

We’re nearly halfway through the final season, and Chidi and Simone’s romance blossomed completely offscreen. On one hand, we have seen their romance begin before (in the start of season three), so avoiding these scenes could be seen as efficient story telling, but on the other, the context of the romance is different this time. Not only do we have Eleanor watching their romance in terror, but this relationship could be crucial to how the afterlife treats humanity for the rest of eternity. There is a lot of proposed weight on the outcome of this experiment, but with so little time actually being spent with these subjects and their relationships, the smaller the stakes feel. The show tells us what’s important by virtue of its nature – the focus of an episode is what the series tells its audience is important. “Employee of the Bearimy” spends more time focusing on Tahani’s perceived lack of use than it does on the humans improving at the lake house, so are we to believe that Tahani’s personal problems are greater than the success of the experiment?

Of course not, and I’m not trying to imply that Tahani’s feelings shouldn’t be showcased (they should), but there is a balance to be struck that isn’t quite happening right now. Episodes like season two’s “Dance Dance Resolution” excelled because not only did we see Michael’s inner turmoil and professional struggles, but because the consequence of his failing was kept prominently in the viewers mind with Shawn’s ominous threats and Vicky’s blackmail. The plot worked in tangent with the character storyline, not as a backdrop to it.

I’m a fan of character driven episodes and stories. My favorite Good Place episode is “Best Self,” where nothing happens except for a party the humans throw before they accept their fate in the Bad Place. However, it’s a culmination of a season’s worth of character work, and results in Michael’s official induction to the group as an honorary human.

“Employee of the Bearimy” has no such culmination and has no evidence of any forward momentum for the story. I hope to be proven wrong in the coming weeks, and that there is something in this episode I missed that will directly impact the coming story.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles was mentioned. A+

Other Musings:

  • Tahani, Jason, and Eleanor apparently have ALL of their memories back now. So these are the complete versions of these characters. I would have liked to see the slight personality changes in the characters when they regained these memories (season 1 Tahani and season 2 Tahani were quite different by the ends of those seasons), though I suppose it makes sense that the growth in one timeline would overcome the lack of growth in another.
  • The emblem on Shawn’s podium was a good callback to the pins from season two. Nice continuity.
  • Derek reset himself.
  • Chidi trusts Eleanor. I’m not sure if this was a hint of multidimensional connections or just Chidi trusting her like he trusted Michael in season one.
  • I hope Chidi and Simone stay together because I’d love to see Eleanor get an ending that doesn’t revolve around romance, but that potential storyline will be immensely weaker without us having seen the romance develop. Maybe that’s the point? Underplay Chidi and Simone so that Eleanor and Chidi can have a guilt free reunion?
  • 41-33

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