NBC’s The Good Place returns tonight with a double episode premiere, and while network television has certainly fallen by the wayside in the hearts and minds of many viewers, there is still some exceptional content to be found on the big four. With that said, this year’s fall slate is filled with “hard pass” material, outside of a few new efforts and several returning shows that need more eyeballs.
Michael Schur’s inventive comedy series, which enters its sophomore season this evening, might be my favorite of all of them. And it definitely needs an audience worthy of its imagination. It’s time to pay attention to this show. It’s actually past time, but I’ll give you a reprieve. It won’t look good on your “Good Place” resume, however.
The concept is unique and original, and what’s impressed me most about the show is its willingness to find new ways to tell its story. At its center is a tale of one woman, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who wakes up in the afterlife. She’s in “The Good Place,” which is basically heaven, but isn’t described as such or portrayed in a religious context. I’ve had to tell fellow Christian friends of mine that the show is by no means blasphemous, if that’s something you’re concerned about. It absolutely isn’t.
What was special about this show last year was its surprising rush to extricate and expose its own secrets. So many shows spend years hiding identities, delaying romance, or allowing the villain to escape through the eye of a needle. Think of how long it took before Red John was revealed on The Mentalist, just as one example, or consider your favorite show and how many obstacles got in the way of something you thought you wanted from very early in the series.
The Good Place took the opposite approach, with Eleanor not only immediately realizing she lucked out and actually arrived in the “clouds” by mistake, but also with her announcing to every resident in the neighborhood that she was indeed an awful person and a clerical error had put her there. When she arrived, the perfect life was altered, and strange things began happening in the supposed utopia. But there was far more than met the eye to be found in this world.
The idea that the lead character would confess, potentially setting herself up for eternal torture, because she realized what she was doing to everyone else’s second life, was an astonishing and extremely bold creative choice. But it worked. Once it happened, the series hit its stride, and since that point, what was a fun romp became an indispensable part of my viewing week.
That was just the first of many small twists and shifts in the plot that led to the true Eureka moment in the finale, which I hesitate to spoil because everybody should watch and experience the story for themselves. Netflix has the first season in its entirety just waiting to be binged, and it’s not a long exercise. Regardless of whether you’ve seen it yet or even read about it, the key question entering Season 2 is how exactly Schur and his team would choose to pull themselves out of what appeared to be quite the corner predicament.
The answer, thankfully, is that again, these folks went in an unexpected fashion and by the fourth episode of the season, the show becomes something almost entirely different than it was previously. It still maintains the quirky, sarcastic, sometimes diabolically black humor of the first season, mixed with great jokes and some hilarious Jacksonville Jaguars digs, but it has added yet another layer of depth.
The Good Place would have been an entertaining show without its reveals, but the openness with which it places Eleanor, Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jianyu/Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) as its episodes unfold remains both entertaining and welcome. Back for round two is Alexa-like assistant Janet (D’Arcy Carden) and of course, the wonderful Ted Danson as Michael. Is that laugh back? You’ll have to watch to get the answer to that question.
This is a show with an interesting premise, but one that if in the wrong hands could have been utterly forgettable. Michael Schur just doesn’t get anything wrong these days, from Parks and Recreation to Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Master of None, he’s the King Midas of half hour television these days. His shows are varied, but always bring together talented ensemble casts filled with a few stars and several others that become names as a result of the project. His are the perfect hands.
Straight out of the gates in tonight’s special one hour premiere, it’s clear The Good Place is firing on all cylinders. The double episode is well-done, builds off last year’s climax effectively, and actually makes sense within the construct of the series. I liked it tremendously. However, as much as I enjoyed it, it’s episodes three and four that sold me all over again on the brilliance behind the show.
You’re really going to like the premiere. But, you’re going to adore next week’s installment, and then you’re REALLY going to love the following week’s episode. By the end of the fourth half hour, I was sad there were no more for me to watch. That’s how much I enjoyed my time in The Good Place.
It’s now, without question, one of the best comedies on television. It made my year end list last year, but it’s on another level as it returns. Season 2 only grows the momentum we found as Season 1 came to a close, and I simply cannot wait to see what Schur, this staff, and this crew have in store for us next. This is a stellar start to year two for The Good Place.
It’s a can’t miss series, for anyone with creativity (with a dose of sarcasm and cynicism) in their souls. I dig this show. I’m so happy it’s back. It was very good in 2016. But it’s forking outstanding in 2017.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Go fork yourselves.