Netflix Review – The Good Place: Season 2

Already reviewed one episode of this season, but since they finally put it on Netflix, I’m going to go ahead and do the whole thing. Spoilers, I’m trying to do this so you can watch Season 3 when it comes up, even if you don’t want to catch up on the last two.

SUMMARY

Michael (Ted Danson) commences the reboot from the end of the last season, trying a new version of the original strategy to get Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) to torture each other for thousands of years. However, Eleanor placed a note in the mouth of Janet (D’Arcy Carden) at the end of last season, telling her to find Chidi, which quickly leads her to realize that she’s already been in this situation before. This leads to her figuring out that they’re in the Bad Place in a few days, rather than the months in the original run. Michael decides to just reboot them yet again, without the note, but has to conceal this from his boss, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), who told him he only had two chances. Unfortunately for Michael, it turns out that his plan is inherently flawed. Every time he reboots them, Eleanor still realizes that they’re in the Bad Place somehow (although, once, Jason realizes it, something that Michael admits “hurts”).

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Granted, Michael was stupid for trying to put a 3 hour Jazz Opera in. 

Over 800 attempts later, the other demons in the fake Good Place finally go on strike, led by Vicky, the “real Eleanor” from the first attempt (Tiya Sircar). She blackmails Michael to take over, but Chidi and Eleanor see a demon out of his human suit and realize they’re in the bad place. They flee to the Medium Place, where Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe) reveals that they’ve been over a dozen times before, but each time they return to the fake Good Place and get rebooted. She also reveals that Chidi and Eleanor almost always are together and once even said they loved each other, something neither of them has ever really done. However, in this timeline, they barely know each other.

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And Mindy has the illegal voyeur porn to prove it!

Michael talks with Jason, who accidentally convinces him to join the human team. As a condition of working with him, Eleanor insists that Michael also take ethics classes, something that doesn’t come naturally to a demon. Eventually, he starts to understand the concept and bond with them. Janet begins to malfunction, and it’s revealed that she’s still in love with Jason from the first reboot, when they got married. She attempts to get over him by creating a rebound guy named Derek (Jason “How did this get made” Mantzoukas), but eventually is forced to realize that she has to deal with her feelings, something no previous Janet has ever really had (Janets become smarter every time they’re rebooted, and she’s been rebooted the most by a lot).

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Derek doesn’t quite have a “working” brain.

Shawn returns and ends the fake Good Place, believing that it was a massive success and promises Michael a promotion. Michael betrays Shawn, however, and sides with the humans and helps them avoid going to the real Bad Place. Instead, they sneak through the Bad Place and head to meet the inter-dimensional judge who rules over all the matters of good and evil, Judge “Gen” Hydrogen (Maya F*CKING Rudolph). The Judge gives each of the four a test of their growth, but only Eleanor passes. She tells the others that she failed because they’d agreed to all go to the Bad Place if anyone failed.

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She’s so wonderful.

At the last minute, Michael arrives and intervenes, convincing Gen that, since people can become better by working at it, they should give each of the four another shot on Earth and see if they get better. Eleanor goes back to the moment of her death, is saved by Michael, and resolves to become a better person. However, after it proves difficult, she starts to backslide. Michael pretends to be a bartender (because he’s Ted Danson) and asks her a question: “What do we owe each other?” She Googles this question and finds a lecture series by Chidi, leading her to fly to Australia to meet with him, ending the season.

END SUMMARY

Okay, do you see how long that summary was? That’s me condensing the hell out of this season. So much happens that I had to double check that each episode, aside from the first one, is only 22 minutes long. Granted, there are less actual discussions about philosophy in this season, because most of it is just so packed, but they still have several episodes dedicated to it, including an episode called “The Trolley Problem” which is about… well, the Trolley Problem. If you want to find out about that, my Grouchy counterpart wrote some crap on it. The season addresses the concept of moral absolutes and moral relativism, existential crises, whether utilitarianism or deontology is better for deciding a course of action, and whether or not throwing a Molotov cocktail is actually a solution to anything. If you didn’t understand any of those things, this show will explain them to you better than I can, and will do them in hilariously entertaining ways that don’t even feel like you’re learning (that way it doesn’t hurt).

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The Trolley Problem: Now with squishy balloons of organs and blood and bone! 

The structure of good and evil within the show is also elaborated upon and it is so interesting and yet relatable. Is it wrong for a person to innocuously start a really annoying trend, like a waiter seeing an empty plate and saying “I see you hated it?” Is it okay to murder someone if your intent is solely to make someone else’s life better? Are burritos better when coated with a dash of envy? I didn’t even know I needed the answer to some of these.

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Respect. The. Burrito.

The main thing about this season is that it feels like a very different show, while still being almost the same at its emotional core. The characters still relate to each other much the same ways they did during the last season, even if the background behind their connections has changed. They’re going through different challenges, however, and those struggles don’t feel at all like the things they were dealing with in the last season. Then, several episodes even change the setting and the stakes, making a lot of the actions feel more urgent than they were before. It’s a great ramp-up to the finale, which, itself, changes the show’s framework. This isn’t a show where the characters stay the same, they grow and change and the show changes so that it continues to make sense. Brilliant storytelling.

The acting and writing in this season is just as good, if not better, than the last one, so see yesterday’s review if you want to know my opinions on that (hint: GREAT!). Some notable additions are Jason Mantzoukas as Derek, the fake rebound guy that Janet builds, Dax Shepard as Chet, the demon who tortures people with toxic masculinity, and Maya Rudolph as Judge Gen. Mantzoukas plays a character who literally doesn’t follow any laws of human development, since he was spontaneously created, which he somehow pulls off, never seeming even close to a regular person in the funniest way possible. Shepard doesn’t get a huge role, but, like Adam Scott in season 1, he portrays a hilariously douchey take on the traditional demon idea, being not an old-school evil figure, but a more modern version of dickish evil. And Maya Rudolph is Maya f*cking Rudolph, if you need more than that, I advise you to go watch anything Maya Rudolph is in, particularly Idiocracy. She’s amazing and you should pay respect to her.

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Also, Carden as “Bad Janet” and “Bad Good Janet” are amazing.

Overall, when this season ended I was just pissed off that I was going to have to wait a year to watch the next one. If that’s not a sign of quality television, I don’t know what is. The next season starts this month on NBC, so get caught up and watch, people.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Netflix Review – The Good Place: Season 1

This is one of the best shows that anyone ever asked me to review. When I got a request for an episode of the second season of this show, I naturally had to watch through the first season, and it was nothing short of brilliant, even though I think the second ended up far surpassing it. Since the third season starts this month and they just put the second season on Netflix, I’ve decided to give a quick review of the seasons and why I love this show.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS!!!!)

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I mean… not the worst message to see after death?

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) awakens in the afterlife to be greeted by Michael (Ted Danson), the architect of “The Good Place.” It’s revealed that, generally, when you die you either go to the Good Place or the Bad Place, according to how much good and bad you put into the world, with Eleanor ending up in the Good Place. Michael shows her clips of her life, showing how she earned her place before she’s introduced to her soul-mate Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), a moral philosophy professor. She then reveals to him a shocking truth: The memories Michael showed weren’t hers and she doesn’t actually belong in the Good Place. In fact, as we are shown flashbacks of Eleanor’s life, she’s basically spent the whole time putting everyone else’s needs below her own. Way below.

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Ted Danson is always a treasure.

She decides that she needs to learn how to be a good person and Chidi agrees to teach her ethics, using his own knowledge and help from the Artificial Intelligence that runs the neighborhood, Janet (D’Arcy Carden). Meanwhile, her bad impulses start causing crazy things to happen in the Good Place, like giant frogs and rains of garbage, which confuses and disturbs Michael. Eleanor also becomes annoyed by her neighbor Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil), a rich socialite who constantly seems to be helpful and upbeat. Eleanor finds out that Tahani’s soul-mate, a  silent monk named Jianyu, is actually Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), a drug-dealing DJ from Jacksonville, Florida, who also isn’t supposed to be in the Good Place.

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As the season goes on, Jason and Eleanor try to learn ethics from Chidi so they can deserve to be in the Good Place, but are forced to do more bad things to keep from being exposed, including sabotaging someone’s one true heavenly purpose and killing Janet (she gets better). At the same time, Eleanor and Chidi start to fall for each other. When Michael finally admits to everyone in the neighborhood that he doesn’t know what the problem is with the Good Place, Eleanor admits that she doesn’t belong there.

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Horrible outfits abound.

It’s revealed that Eleanor got there because another woman named Eleanor Shellstrop, who was a human-rights lawyer and activist died trying to save Eleanor’s life. That Eleanor is currently in the Bad Place and is brought to the Good Place by the demons, who want to take Eleanor (Bell) back with them. On urging from Chidi and Tahani, Michael tries to prove that Eleanor doesn’t deserve to be in the Bad Place. At the same time, Tahani finds out about Jason and also falls for Chidi. Jason and Janet, of all not-people, become an item and end up married. Eleanor finds out from Janet that there is a “Medium Place” and she flees there with Janet and Jason.

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And Adam Scott is one of the best demons on film.

At the “Medium Place” they meet its sole inhabitant Mindy St. Claire (Maribeth Monroe), while Tahani, Chidi, and Michael plead Jason’s and Eleanor’s case before Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson), the Eternal Judge. Finding against the two, Shawn orders that if Eleanor and Jason don’t return, Tahani and Chidi will be sent to the Bad Place instead. They come back, but Shawn decides to let them decide who goes. In the middle of arguing over who should go, Eleanor finally realizes the truth:

They’re actually in Hell.

Michael ends up admitting that she’s right and that this was his plan to figure out how to torture humans in a new way, but Eleanor sabotaged it. It turns out that everyone in the neighborhood but Tahani, Chidi, Jason, and Eleanor is a demon and they were supposed to drive each other insane. Michael asks Shawn for a “re-do” but Eleanor secretly slips a note to herself inside Janet. After the reset, Janet gives her the note, which says “Find Chidi.”

END SUMMARY

What if we combined No Exit with the Twilight Zone episode ‘A Nice Place to Visit?’

You will never convince me this wasn’t the pitch for this show. I’d actually be surprised if Michael Schur hasn’t admitted it. This seems like it shouldn’t work, but the amount of talent they bring to the show is almost blinding. I mean, it kind of has to be, since this is a show that’s mostly about MORAL PHILOSOPHY. It’s not super deep into it, admittedly, but it’s way deeper than any other network television show would ever even consider doing. Several episodes include lectures on ethics worked into the plot and they’re not only fairly comprehensive (for 12 minutes of discussion, at least), but entertaining.

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And it takes a number of schools into account, which is great.

The writing manages to balance information and discussion with humor and drama, which is walking an extremely difficult tightrope. The editing is also impressive, managing to cut between scenes without ever losing the flow of the A and B plots and also using it to avoid having to actually tell all the parts that the audience already expects. It’s like the Rick and Morty episode “Meeseeks and Destroy,” in that it allows us to skip most of the boring parts that would normally be inherent in a show like this.

Then there’s the acting. My god, there’s the acting. I love Kristen Bell and Ted Danson and have been a huge fan of past shows of theirs, but I never for a second think of them as anything but their characters when I see them within this show. That’d be impressive enough, but Carden, Jamil, Jacinto, and Harper constantly match their performances. The supporting and guest characters are also amazing, particularly Marc Evan Jackson (who I just like in everything), Adam Scott playing against type as a demon, and Tiya Sircar as the “real” Eleanor, whose “out of character” moment made me laugh so hard I flashed back to the few times I’ve done theater and seen a Prima Donna go nuts.

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It only gets better when it’s revealed that this is how her demon self really is.

But more than the way the show is done, it’s what the show represents. This is a show whose main tenet is that it wants you to be a better person. It’s slyly telling you all the things that people have considered about ethics throughout history and why we should obey them. In a world where a lot of media, and even journalism, tells you to indulge in all your worst instincts or that there’s no point to anything, this show, which ostensibly is about the afterlife, actually creates reasons why you should care about how you treat others that don’t even require the “Good Place” to exist. It also points out other kinds of bad behavior that we wouldn’t normally consider. Sure, Jason and Eleanor did some pretty bad things, but Tahani and Chidi are also in hell for completely different reasons, namely that Tahani never did anything in her life for a reason aside from showing up her sister and Chidi was so indecisive that he made life miserable for everyone that cared about him (having a ton of different schools of thought to consider all the time). Those aren’t normally traits we think of as being worthy of damnation, but they’re actually things we should consider.

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To be fair, Tahani’s family is awful. Actually, all of their families are awful. Are we just products of our families trying to break a cycle than ends with all of us in eternal torment?

The other thing the show says is something that ABSOLUTELY needs to be shouted from every mountaintop. You can change. You can be a better person. You should try to be a better person because you owe it to everyone else around you. So often television shows, particularly sitcoms, have characters that have terrible traits and the show just writes it off as “that’s the way they are.” This show directly subverts that, even having Michael say that they believed having people become better was “supposed to be impossible.” Yes, the reboot undoes it a little, but even after that’s done, we see the characters, again, work towards being better people. Given how often people in the real world justify their behaviors by saying “that’s just the way I am,” I love the fact that there’s a show out there that responds “but you don’t have to be.” Being good is a matter of willpower and want. It’s not easy, but we owe it to each other, to our families, to our friends, to the people we love, to just be a little better every day. To learn from our mistakes and to grow.

Overall, I loved this season, which is what surprised me so much when I watched the next one and found it superior in almost every way. Obviously, that review will come soon.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.