The Good Place returns for a third season, September 27th on NBC.
[Ed. note: Being that TV and City is on a bit of a hiatus, this article has not been edited.]
By Ryan O’Connell
Is there more to life than competitive street dancing? I don’t know. No one knows. But thanks to season three of The Good Place, we are hopefully going to find out.
What is easily the smartest show on television returned for its third season Thursday night, picking up where season two left off.
The gang is getting a second chance!
In a last-ditch attempt to save The Good Place Four (Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason,) Michael had pitched another wild idea to a superior, this time to the all-powerful Judge (played by Maya Rudolph.) Basically, when the four main characters died, they were bad people. However, while ensnared in Michael’s experiment, they started to become good people, or at the very least, good versions of themselves. So maybe, just maybe, if they had more time on Earth, the same thing could happen. Michael’s pitch to the Judge was to send the four souls back to earth at the moment they died, allow them to narrowly escape death, and then see what happens. Do they become good people like they did in Michael’s experiment, thus saving them from the fiery clutches of the Bad Place, or do they continue on the course that they were on before they died and in that case, not be saved from the fiery clutches of the Bad Place.
The second season finale spent most of its time following Eleanor’s second chance at goodness, which started out strong, but over time started to wain. Being a good person can be hard, especially if you’re trying to do it solo, which is an idea that becomes a catalyst for the gang getting back together at the start of season three. As a result of Eleanor’s struggles, Michael took a calculated risk, flirting with disaster and intervening, steering her towards Chidi, who is in Australia, giving inspirational TED talks about the power of working together.
And that is where season three picked up, moments after the season two finale ended. From there, The Good Place continued to do what The Good Place does: makes you think more than you expected, laugh at jokes about Aristole and Chipotle and lovingly cringe at Ted Danson’s Australian accent. Seems like he can’t do everything, which is mildly reassuring at best.
It doesn’t take long for the four main characters to reunite, but before that happens, each one finds themselves in similar situations; situations in which they’ve given being good people a go, but things just aren’t working out for them. Jason can’t get his street dancing career going, Chidi is still paralyzed by indecisiveness and Tahini has left a life of simplicity behind to plug a book about living simply. They gave being good a try, but being slightly less good was just easier. Without each other, they lack the strength and resolve to continue down the path Michael had laid out for them.
And this makes sense, because of the many things The Good Place has been about over two seasons, one of the main themes it has run with is the idea that we are stronger together than we are by ourselves. It’s like a co-worker of mine says, “teamwork makes the dream work.” As individuals, the climb towards being good people was too daunting, too much to overcome. But as a unit, it was more manageable because they had one another to lean on. This theme of strength in numbers is explored further in the season three premiere, “Everything is Bonzer,” as the Core Four are unknowingly reunited in an attempt to right their collective ships. Thanks to Michael’s interventions, Jason and Tahini, like Eleanor, find themselves in Australia, where they are set to take part in a study led by Chidi and his new lady friend, who has a fancy brain machine that will prove useful to Chidi’s research.
Things then seem to be looking up for the group right up until the second part of the premiere ends. Shawn, still stewing from being duped by Michael, has been determined to find them and banish them to the Bad Place once and for all. Finally, he is tipped off to there whereabouts by Michael’s frequent trips to Earth, where he has been going back and forth, trying to get his people together. With everyone settled in Australia and ready to better themselves under Chidi’s guidance, the gang gets a new member, none other than Trevor (Adam Scott,) last seen trying to take Eleanor to the Bad Place in season one. It then seems like the season-long effort to escape and allude Shawn that ran for most of season two is going to continue and not everything is going to be easy sledding in Michael’s latest experiment. Much like making it in the world of competitive street dancing, saving souls from eternal damnation is a lot harder than one would think.
Since it premiered in September of 2016, The Good Place has continuously been one of the more surprising shows on television. The show is so unpredictable that one of it’s main draws is that you have no clue what is going to happen when you tune in. The false sense of security that comes with the show was really hammered in at the end of the first season when it was revealed that the main characters had been in the Bad Place, or en route to the Bad Place, all along. In a few seconds, the show completely made you reassess everything you had watched up until that point and then suddenly, everything made so much more sense. I mean really, frozen yogurt is terrible. Why would that be featured so prominently in Heaven and not ice cream? The clues were there all along but tucked away so well that they weren’t noticeable until you made a second pass.
From that point on, The Good Place began every episode on fresh ground, with any established norms having been tossed out the window. The show’s second season was full of hard resets, soft resets, abrupt resets and frequent role reversals. Michael was the bad guy, Michael was the good guy, Michael was the bad guy again, Michael was a sympathetic figure and so on. It’s not like The Good Place is the only show on television to mess with its audience’s’ sense of place and feelings of familiarity, but they were the one show to do it at such a high level and with such ease and consistency. In general, and especially when it comes to sitcoms, part of the appeal is having an idea where things are headed. We know that for the most part, by the time 22 minutes have passed, a resolution has happened and order has been restored. The first act sets things in motion, the second act deals with the things set in motion and the third act finds a way to put everything back in its place. See ya next week! But on The Good Place, the first act may very well set things in motion, but by the time the third act rolls around those things have proven meaningless, you’re questioning your own self-worth and your shipping hard Jason and Janet.
With season three coming in as strongly as it does and once again, introducing a new playing field, The Good Place is again one of the few shows out there where a destination is damn near impossible to predict. You can try and sniff out an outcome, but it’d be foolish to do so. The show isn’t just going to veer left when you are expecting it to go right. It’s going to back the truck up, smash through trees, careen across a frozen pond, find a new path and then charge straight ahead on that new path as if the old path never existed.
Why trouble yourself with predictions and assumptions? Theories are fun, but not as much fun as simply enjoying the ride, which is what The Good Place is best suited for. Don’t waste your time wrestling with ghost stories and fairy tales and instead, spend your time valuably taking in the lessons the show doles out a regular basis. Spend your time following along and watching closely, because if The Good Place has taught us anything, it’s that the devil is in the details, but that the devil might actually be Ted (expletive deleted) Danson’s boss and if you’re not careful, you’ll be sucked into a cocoon and forced to listen to Richard Marx.
That part will make sense eventually, just like The Good Place will.
I give The Good Place Season 3 an A.