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Josh Reviews The Good Place Season Three

The Good Place has become my very favorite currently-airing TV show.  I am head over heels in love with Mike Schur’s brilliant and warm-hearted comedy.  (Click here for my review of season one, and click here for my review of season two.)  The third season kept the win-streak going with thirteen fantastic new episodes, including one (“Janet(s)”) which might be the series’ best episode so far.  (It’s main competition would be season 2’s “Dance Dance Resolution.”)

When The Good Place began, it was the story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a selfish person who discovered that she had died and accidentally been admitted to “the Good Place” even though she didn’t deserve it.  Of course, that’s not actually what the show was really about.  Season one was one of the most successfully-executed tricks on the audience that I have ever seen on TV, culminating in a brilliant change-up and, perhaps, Ted Danson’s single greatest moment on television ever.  (Yes, the laugh.  Good Place fans know of what I speak.)  If that one great season was all that The Good Place had to offer, dayenu!  (That would have been enough.)  But the show has proven that there’s much more to it than that initial twist.  In seasons two and three the show has richened and deepened in ways I’d never imagined.

This is a show that’s able to examine heady philosophical and moral conflicts in a very serious way, while also deeply exploring its characters in a way that many long-running dramas don’t do in twice-as-many seasons, all the while being hands-down funnier than anything else on TV right now, with jokes piled upon jokes piled upon jokes.

Is there a show currently in production with a better ensemble that The Good Place?  Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto are absolutely 100% perfect; they’ve each created wonderfully unique and memorable characters; I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing these roles.  I knew Kristen Bell’s work, of course, before watching The Good Place, but the other three were complete unknowns to me.  But now, I’ll be fans of them forevermore, as happens in those special occasions when great actors are given great TV roles.  Ted Danson is TV royalty, who has already played so many amazing TV characters (Sam Malone on Cheers is of course number one on this list, but I also adored Mr. Danson’s work on Bored to Death), and here he is again with another great character who will enter the TV pantheon.  Wow.  But of them all, for me, the stand-out is D’Arcy Carden as Janet.  The weird and wonderful Janet (“not a woman,” “not a robot”) is one of the all-time great TV creations, a perfect melding of character and performer.  Amazing.

I love this show!

If you haven’t yet seen any of The Good Place, then please, stop reading now and start watching immediately.  (You can stream season one or buy it on DVD.)

For everyone else, let’s dig into season three!

The season two finale introduced a new twist to the show: Eleanor and the gang were placed back on Earth, to see if they could learn to be good people on Earth the way they had in the Good Place.  I was worried that I’d get impatient re-watching these characters meet (again) and learn to be better people (again), but I needn’t have worried.  Mr. Schur & co. were able to 1) keep the story moving at breakneck pace, moving through plot so quickly that I never had a chance to get bored and 2) find a way to continue being as funny and clever as always so that even when set on Earth, without the crazy magic of the Good Place, the show was as fun as ever.

I enjoyed learning more about the characters’ families this year, particularly in the first half of the season.  We got to meet Eleanor’s mom, Donna (“no, mom, ya basic”), we got to better know Tahani’s sister and her parents, and, of course, I can’t forget Jason’s father figure and partner-in-stupidity, Donkey Doug.  (Boy, this show enjoys making fun of Florida!)

The first two seasons slowly developed a romantic relationship between Eleanor and Chidi.  The start of season three threw a major roadblock into that story with the introduction of Chidi’s co-worker Simone, wonderfully played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste.  Ms. Howell-Baptiste was perfectly cast — she was so funny and endearing that we, the audience, almost didn’t mind that Chidi was interested in her rather than Eleanor!  That’s well-played, and far more interesting than the usual TV way of doing things where we the audience hate the “obstacle” character who’s standing in between the characters we want to get together.  I was starting to think that the writers were moving away from the Eleanor-Chidi romance, but then mid-season they jumped tracks and brought that relationship back in a big way, as the two finally professed their love at the end of “Janet(s)” (in a moment — so perfect for this wonderfully weird show — in which D’Arcy Carden briefly played both roles).  When the end of the season finale arrived, I understood why they put so much focus on this relationship in the back half of the season, as the year-ending cliffhanger focused on Chidi’s having to agree to have his memory wiped.  I enjoyed seeing Eleanor and Chidi together as a happy couple, so I hope it doesn’t take us too long in season four to get back to that place.

The highlight of this season was, of course, the brilliant episode “Janet(s)”, which appeared at the top of my list of my favorite episodes of TV of 2018!  Forced to hide in Janet’s “void,” the four main characters find themselves losing their sense of selves… which results in D’Arcy Carden playing Janet AND then all four of the other main human characters (Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason).  Ms. Carden has been this show’s secret weapon since the very beginning, and this jaw-dropping episode provided an extraordinary showcase for her amazingness.  (Not to mention the show’s incredible special effects team, who seamlessly created the appearance of five Janets sharing the screen and interacting with one another!!)  Watching Ms. Carden play a Janet who was really Eleanor PRETENDING to be Jason was the most amazing thing I saw on TV this whole year.  As if all of this wasn’t enough, the episode’s B story was also terrific — Michael and Janet visit the accounting office of the Good Place, where they meet head accountant Neil, played note-perfectly by terrific guest-star Stephen Merchant… not to mention yet ANOTHER version of Janet, the “Neutral,” expressionless and emotionless Janet.  All that AND Eleanor and Chidi finally kiss, a beautiful pay-off to the long-running story of their burgeoning relationship.  Every time I think I can’t love this show any more, they produce an episode like this one.

As usual, the show burned through a TON of plot at a rapid pace this year.  The initial set-up — of the characters having lost their memories, back on Earth, to see if they could become better people the way they did in the Good Place — only lasted a few episodes.  Then we switched to a scenario in which the the foursome were working to help OTHERS get into the Good Place.  Then the show shifted again, becoming about the gang’s efforts to get the Judge or anyone in the Good Place to realize that the Bad Place had sabotaged the system so that no human had been able to get into the Good Place for centuries.  The show shifted that premise too, in the finale, suggesting that the system wasn’t rigged, but rather that the complexity of human life in the twenty-first century made it impossible for anyone to be good enough to enter the Good Place, because even the most well-intentioned action had negative ripple effects.  (This is a fascinating concept, and I love that this goofy comedy can have such deep aspects to its storytelling.)  I love the way this show is constantly changing itself as the stories barrel forward.  At only thirteen episodes long, the seasons pass so quickly and the show never gets bogged down for too long in one place.  I love the pace of the show, but the downside is that after those thirteen episodes blow by, it’s a LONG wait for a new season!

The season finale set the stage for a whole NEW scenario: the gang is back in a fake Good Place created (again) by Michael and Janet, attempting to re-run the experiment with four new humans, to see if they could grow and change the way the original foursome did.  I love the idea that Eleanor — a world-class liar before she started becoming a good person — now has to masquerade as Michael because of his poorly-timed freak-out when the first subject arrived.  I was delighted to see Simone back on the show.  (And I can’t wait to learn who the other two participants in the experiment will be!  The finale only showed us Simone and the guy who used to annoy Tahani.)  The ending with Eleanor and Chidi was very emotional, though I must admit to a small bit of impatience at the thought of one of the characters having their brain wiped and starting over at zero yet AGAIN.  But I trust in Mike Schur and his writers and am eager to see where season four takes this story-line.

Other things I loved about The Good Place season three:

* Janet having to make her “bing!” sound herself when trapped on Earth without her powers (in “The Ballad of Donkey Doug”).

* The revelation of buff shirtless Chidi (in “Jeremy Bearimy”).

* Tahani had previously alluded to a fling with “Larry” Hemsworth — it was fun getting to see him in the flesh early this season, played by Ben Lawson (in “The Snowplow”).

* Chidi’s seeing the Time Knife.

* Shawn explaining why humans are bad: “Limp Bizkit.  Slavery.  I rest my case.”

* In a show that has had many memorable turns of phrase, “Jeremy Bearimy” as the embodiment of how time works in the Good Place might be my favorite.  (And it’s also a fantastic attention-to-detail explanation of how the show continues to make lots of references to today’s pop culture, even though we know hundreds of years passed during the multiple reboots back in season two.)

* I was so happy that this season gave us more of hilariously evil and smarmy Bad Place demons Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson — who is also amazing hosting the fantastic Good Place Podcast) and Trevor (Adam Scott)… and also Maya Rudolph’s Judge (best moment: her flustered reaction after visiting Earth for the first time in centuries: “Also, I guess I’m black!  And they do NOT like black ladies down there!  Crap, y’all!  This is bad!”).  We even got the (very brief) return of Mindy St. Clair and Janet’s ex-boyfriend Derek (slightly more intelligent after a thousand reboots, but still somewhat off: see the hilarious way that Jason Mantzoukas plays Derek’s attempt to drink a martini made only of olives).

* I loved seeing Andy Daly playing Eleanor’s mom Donna’s cheerful boyfriend in “A Fractured Inheritance.”  I also enjoyed Paul Scheer’s useless Good Place bureaucrat and Nicole Byer’s gregariously clueless Gwendolyn (both in “The Book of Dougs”), as well as Michael McKean as the tragic do-gooder Doug Forcett (in “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By”).

I love this show and cannot wait for season four to arrive…!!!

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