The Good Place keeps reinventing itself, and that's a good thing

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Jan 17, 2018, 6:00 PM EST

More than halfway into its second season, The Good Place is shaking things up again. After the big reveal at the end of season one, in which our main cast of wayward characters unearthed the truth that they were actually in the Bad Place (in other words, Hell, albeit a special Hell of a certain making), speculation abounded over how the show would manage to top itself in terms of epic twists. In terms of huge changes, however, The Good Place isn’t even close to finished. Now, the human foursome - consisting of Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Jason (Manny Jacinto) and Tahani (Jameela Jamil) - are literally saying goodbye to the Neighborhood, and there’s really no telling what’s to come next.

The success of The Good Place is as unexpected as it is entirely delightful. The show’s elevator pitch doesn’t even begin to sum up all of the ins and outs of what makes it so much fun to watch. Its half-hour installments are completely bingeable, easily digestible and tend to drop the kind of cliffhangers that would serve to drive most audiences mad with frustration waiting for the next episode. One could even argue that The Good Place’s suspense endings work more when you consider what they sort of represent: a Bad Place for the typical viewer, leaving them suspended in the limbo of anticipation unless they have several more episodes banked via Netflix or some other form of catch-up. (Because who wants to sit around waiting when there’s the potential to find out what happens?)

Part-situation comedy, part-existential humor, The Good Place manages to accomplish what few other shows have in half the time. Calling it a mere comedy would probably be doing it a disservice, actually; there are sweet and sincere moments layered in amidst the jokes about frozen yogurt and the fact that no one can say actual curse words. When we meet the main group of humans who have been dropped into the Bad Place without their knowledge, the show spends a lot of time reminding us of why they really do deserve to be there. Whether acting out of spite, jealousy, idiocy or being too indecisive to act at all, there’s a logical justification for why these four people have been chosen to inhabit this part of the afterlife rather than ascend to the real Good Place. But it’s never that black-and-white, even in Hades, and even the most worthy of an eternity of punishment for their earthly grievances begin to reveal the layers of their humanity - whether they be human or (in the case of Ted Danson’s Michael) demon.

The Good Place

Credit: NBC

In this show especially, the humans are outnumbered. As we eventually learn, Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani have been plucked specifically at the moment of their respective deaths for this demon-run experiment. They’re not just cohabitating with devils, they’re literally surrounded on all sides, so naturally, it makes sense that they’d find ways to cling to what they know. This manifests in several different ways, from Eleanor’s growing (and perhaps slightly reciprocated) feelings for Chidi to Jason and Tahani literally ending up in bed together to Jason’s initial romance with the Neighborhood’s sentient personal assistant Janet (D’Arcy Carden). What these all have in common is more than just the relied-upon device of romance to stir up potential narrative conflict - it’s the innate desire for real human connection, no matter where. On a greater scale, it’s depicted by the core group finding their way back to one another over and over again as Michael keeps hitting the reset button, re-remodeling the “Good Place” and erasing their memories of their past afterlifetimes in the process.

After rebooting the entire experiment hundreds of times, Michael’s forced to acknowledge that there are some constants that will never be denied - so he and Eleanor (who usually acts as the de facto leader of the mortals) decide to join forces. It’s an uneasy alliance at first, but eventually, even Michael begins coming to terms with his own human nature thanks to things like Chidi’s philosophy lessons and his unforeseen fondness for and reliance on Janet. One episode, in particular, appropriately titled “Janet and Michael,” grants the audience the opportunity to see their relationship from the very beginning and its evolution up to the present. Neither of them are technically human, but their link has shades of human qualities we all recognize.

Frankly, it’s pretty surprising to look back on everything the show has managed to accomplish so far in less than two seasons. Some of it is in part due to the “reset button” storyline, which allowed the characters to experience hundreds of different scenarios in a very condensed period of time. It’s not something The Good Place has used and tossed aside either, and characters are forced to reconcile with those events later on down the line. Eleanor and Chidi continue to dance around the realization that, in at least one of their begin-agains, they confessed their love for one another. There’s Janet’s repressed jealousy over Jason and Tahani’s relationship, which resembles a series of technical malfunctions rather than any emotional breakdowns. The romantic drama may not be the centerpiece of the series, but it’s never incorporated prior to a writing choice other shows sometimes make - to pretend it didn’t exist in the first place. It’s a refreshingly original way to tackle the fact that relationships in the afterlife may be somewhat futile. After all, is it possible to even date someone when both of you are past your expiration date?

As for the future stories of The Good Place, those remains uncertain - but that’s not necessarily bad. This is a show that pulled off one of the biggest and most unexpected twist endings in its first season and has so far managed to remain equally entertaining and compelling even before its second season is through. There’s a lot of time ahead for fans, too. NBC renewed the show for a third season, consisting of 13 episodes, late last year. Last week's episode, "Best Self," saw the group leaving the relative comforts of the Neighborhood behind, seemingly for good. They may be out of the frying pan of “The Good Place,” but they’re traveling ever closer to the fire of the actual Bad Place. If we thought things were terrible before, they’re about to get forking awful - and that’s even more reason to get excited.

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