In just three seasons, The Good Place has reinvented itself at an unprecedented pace. There’s a reason the series’ original concept — four extraordinarily difficult, exasperating, but entertaining people are accidentally admitted to the “Good Place,” a kind of nondenominational heaven, and have to pretend they belong there — has been long irrelevant. The first season’s plot twist, the gasp-inducing revelation that Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) weren’t in the Good Place after all — “This is the Bad Place” — spawned a thousand memes and rocketed creator Michael Schur’s latest comedy-with-a-heart-of-gold to television greatness.
**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains spoilers for The Good Place Season 3, Episode 10, “The Book of Dougs.”**
The show has put forward some of the best storytelling TV has to offer, a sustained run of excellence that continued with Thursday night's Season 3 mid-season premiere, “The Book of Dougs." The episode is a pivotal one, as it solves the great mystery that Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) have been hammering away at all season: Why is it so forking hard to get into the Good Place?
The answer is a good one, but it immediately begs another question for both the show and, concerningly enough, our own world: Where do we go from here?
For a short time, Michael and the gang were convinced Bad Place agents had somehow rigged the point system — the omniscient program used by the afterlife to determine how much “good” or “bad” a person’s done throughout their life — in the Bad Place’s favor. In the mid-Season 3 finale, “Janet(s),” Michael and Janet discovered that it’s been 521 years since a human’s been admitted to the Good Place. And while humans aren’t always great at being good, as proven by the show’s four token humans, 521 years seems excessive.
In “The Book of Dougs,” upon reaching the Good Place’s postal office (manned by episode stand-out Nicole Byer), Michael’s able to suss out a plausible and all-too-real answer. It’s not any harder to get into the Good Place than it was before; humans have just made it harder on ourselves to be fundamentally good.
“In 1534, Douglass Wynegarr of Hawkhurst, England, gave his grandmother roses for her birthday. He picked them himself, walked them over to her, she was happy — boom, 135 points,” Michael explains before diving into the twist.
“In 2009, Doug Ewing of Scaggsville, Maryland, also gave his grandmother a dozen roses, but he lost four points. Why? Because he ordered roses using a cell phone that was made in a sweatshop. The flowers were grown with toxic pesticides, picked by exploited migrant workers, delivered from thousands of miles away — which created a massive carbon footprint — and his money went to a billionaire racist CEO who sends his female employees pictures of his genitals..."
The dick pics embody the issue: “The Bad Place isn’t tampering with points. They don’t have to because every day, the world gets a little more complicated and being a good person gets a little harder.”
So, where do we go from here?
The answer to the Soul Squad’s discovery seems to have two predictable outcomes. Either the Good Place has to change how it looks at and judges humans, or humans have to figure out a way to conform again to the Good Place’s standards. No matter what, our heroes now have a long journey ahead of them, one wrought with far more complicated questions than “What does it mean to be a good person?”
Are institutions and long-held traditions meant to change with the times? What if it’s changing for the worse? If the world is getting worse, is there any way to stop it? Or do we adjust our expectations and ways to evaluate morality? Chidi is shaking.
It goes to reason that Team Cockroach’s next move is to tear the system down from the inside. How they’ll do it, whether it's another run-in with a sacred burrito, Derek-induced havoc, a Good Place union, or, most likely, a completely unpredictable case of Janet breaking the rules of reality, doesn’t necessarily matter. What matters is The Good Place’s ability to constantly keep fans on their toes.
For the past two seasons, The Good Place season finales have subverted expectations, with the show’s writers proving themselves quick on their feet and unafraid to take chances. As of Season 3, The Good Place is not the show people originally signed up for. It hasn’t been for a long time. In this case, adjusting our expectations is a good thing.
At its start, The Good Place seemed a one-season wonder; Eleanor’s accidental placement in the Good Place could only cause so many giant flying shrimp to wreak havoc on poor Michael’s neighborhood before we all got tired. Despite its killer cast and even better food puns, The Good Place seemed destined for sitcom heaven.
Eleanor’s realization that she, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason were torturing one another in a custom-designed hell of Michael’s making and Michael’s subsequent cackle changed the game at the end of Season 1. By the end of Season 2, Michael had undergone rigorous character growth, Janet had become a mainstay character rather than a teleporting prop, and everything from Seasons 1 and 2 was rendered, essentially, meaningless. The timeline was reversed, the humans were put back on Earth, and we started fresh. Again.
While Season 3 started out slow, with the core four characters — so absurd and essential in bringing out the best in one another — separated and forced to relearn everything the audience already knew, it turns out that slow burn was necessary. From here, it stands to reason Season 3 will take off at a breakneck pace. Anarchy! Tear the system down! Start over! Again.
How many other shows have lied consistently about their conceit and not only gotten away with it, but had their audiences begging for more? Yes, The Good Place makes people laugh; yes, Schur has an understanding of what brings people together; yes, the series will continue on for as long as its writers can keep finding creative ways to clear the slate and start from scratch. In this way, The Good Place seems to have inoculated itself against ever becoming boring.
The Good Place was renewed for Season 4 in December. As the series’ core question grows bigger — from “How do you be a good person?” to “How do you be a good person in a world in which you can’t, ostensibly, be a good person?” — it seems the twists will, too. Thank Doug for that.