Okay, so, I usually don’t do this, but, since this show is relatively new, only just got put on Netflix, is worth watching, and is heavily dependent on continuity, I am going to say this:
There, that’s my warning. I usually don’t care about spoilers because I think that anything that’s worth watching should be good even if you know how it’s going to go, but I’m willing to do it just this once.
Okay, so, The Good Place is a comedy version of the “Nice Place to Visit” episode of The Twilight Zone mixed with No Exit. It features four people: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason (Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto) who spend the first season believing they are in “the Good Place” which is the heaven to which the universe sends good people. The “Good Place” is a neighborhood of ~300 people designed by Architect Michael (Ted Danson) and maintained by the AI system Janet (D’Arcy Carden).
However, Eleanor quickly realizes that she has been sent there in error: Another woman with her name died at the same time and place, so Eleanor, who was bound for “the Bad Place” took her spot. She resolves, with the help of Chidi, her assigned “soul-mate” to become a better person worthy of the “Good Place.” Meanwhile, she finds out that Jason, a DJ and moronic small-time crook, is also there in error, taking the place of a Buddhist monk. Chidi, an ethics professor, tries to teach them ethical behavior, eventually being joined by Tahani, a charity-running heiress. At the end of the first season, however, Eleanor realizes that they aren’t actually in “the Good Place.” They’re in Hell, it’s just a hell designed so that they torture each other emotionally and mentally, rather than demons torturing them physically. However, Michael, their torturer, decides to just wipe their memories and try again, which ends the season.
The first episode of the second season is Michael’s second attempt, which is defeated by Eleanor passing a note to herself from the past run-through. Michael discovers this, hides it from his boss, and decides to try a third time. This episode begins with that run-through.
As the episode begins, Michael, confident that his plan will work, runs through the exercise of trying to get the humans to torture each other again, but finds out that in each run-through, Eleanor figures out that they’re in hell (although, on one occasion Jason does, which Michael admits hurts more, because Jason’s mathematically the dumbest human…ever).
Ultimately, after 802 tries, Michael’s demon staff goes on strike, leading Chidi and Eleanor to realize the ruse almost immediately (rather than after a few months like usual), leading them to escape to the “Medium Place” which is inhabited by the one person who didn’t qualify for heaven or hell (Mindy, a coke-addicted stockbroker from the 80s who designed an amazing charity… but died before it got off the ground). It turns out that they’ve been there many times, which annoys everyone. Mindy reveals that every time they come, they form a plan to defeat Michael and leave “the Bad Place,” but each time they fail. Also, she and Chidi are usually in love by this point (this time, they barely know each other), and usually use the “Medium Place” as an opportunity to hook up.
Meanwhile, Michael’s demon workers have gone on strike, and are threatening to tell Michael’s boss that not only did the second attempt not succeed, but that there have been hundreds of failures which Michael is lying about. Michael talks about his problems to Jason, who tells him a story about how his dance crew “Dance Dance Resolution” was challenged to a dance-off, leading Jason to unite them… in slashing the tires of the other crew. Chidi and Eleanor return to the fake “Good Place” and, together with Tahani and Jason, confront Michael, pointing out that they keep winning, which means that he’s losing. Michael immediately agrees, and offers to team up with them to beat the “Bad Place,” shocking everyone.
Okay, so, first off: I love this show. It’s an expanded, hilarious version of one of my favorite tv episodes and favorite plays, but with an actual positive twist: The reason why Eleanor keeps figuring it out is because Michael has one fundamentally incorrect assumption: Michael believes that Eleanor cannot become a better person. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Eleanor, when confronted with how her behavior impacts people, actually does work on being less selfish. The show points out that none of that counts when done for a selfish reason, but she defies everything by actually becoming more selfless as a result of performing more selfless acts (for the record, this is supported by multiple philosophies which are discussed during the show). In other words, the show treats virtue as a skill which can be practiced until it becomes second nature. You can become good just by working at being good for a long enough period of time, like learning Spanish or lifting weights.
This episode starts with all of Michael’s failures, which is hilarious, given that Michael is immortal and has now effectively had centuries to work on the process (if you estimate from his graph in the following episode, it’s about 400 years over the course of this “Groundhog Day” opening montage). He even has a failure just from forgetting to lock the door and accidentally telling Eleanor she’s in Hell immediately. Not only is he failing to torture them properly, but he actually ends up consistently making them the kind of people that don’t belong in hell. He breaks the afterlife, which really calls into question something that hasn’t been answered in the show: Why wouldn’t this be a better use of the afterlife than shoving flaming spears up someone’s butt? In fact, the episode even points out that, apparently, even demonic beings like Michael and artificial beings like Janet can aspire to be greater than they were, which makes you wonder who is actually running this universe, and what the hell they are thinking.
This show manages to make a ton of philosophical discussions and comparisons interesting, by putting them inside of the framework that most makes them relevant: An actual afterlife. Also, it’s freaking hilarious, especially when Ted Danson is supposed to be an evil mastermind who’s in over his head. So, I encourage all of you to watch this show, and see how this plays out. I know I will.
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