The Good Place, on NBC, Thursdays 9:30pm
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The series begins with a woman named Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finding herself sitting on a couch in a waiting room. She's greeted by a man named Michael (Ted Danson), who tells her that she's dead, and begins explaining the afterlife to her. He says every religion got about 5% right (which is pretty much what I've always thought). So, there isn't a Heaven or Hell, per se, but there is a "Good Place" and a "Bad Place." Eleanor is in the Good Place. (It's divided into individual communities of 322 people each; the communities have no contact with one another. Michael is the architect of this particular community.) Also, everyone has an actual soulmate, with whom they will spend eternity. Eleanor's is a former ethics professor from Senegal, named Chidi Anagonye. When they're alone, she makes Chidi promise that he'll never betray her, and then she tells him that there's been some kind of mix-up. She is Eleanor Shellstrop, but the memories of her life that can be watched on a video screen are not from her life. She doesn't belong here, because she was not a good person. (Actually, it seems like a lot more people end up in the Bad Place than is really fair; it's not just about being bad, but about being insufficiently good. To get into the Good Place, you have to be among the very best people ever. Even so... based on Eleanor's personality and flashbacks to her life, she probably did sort of deserve to go to the Bad Place... or at least a medium place.) Anyway, she tries to convince Chidi to teach her how to be a good person, so that she can stay in the Good Place. Meanwhile, very weird things start happening in their community, which totally freaks Michael out. (It was his first time being given the responsibility of designing one of the Good Place's communities by himself, and he has no idea why things have suddenly gone wrong.)
I also need to mention a few other characters. There's Janet, a sort of all-knowing, always cheerful artificial assistant that can provide information or whatever Michael or the residents of the Good Place might need or want. (Each community has its own Janet, and her program has evolved over the millennia, whenever she gets "rebooted.") Also, Eleanor and Chidi have neighbors: Tahani Al-Jamil and her soulmate, Jianyu Li. In life, Tahani was a wealthy philanthropist, who clearly thinks very highly of herself. She's obviously a good person, but can be kind of hard to bear, especially for someone like Eleanor. Jianyu, meanwhile, was a Buddhist monk who had taken a vow of silence, and it's a vow he doesn't intend to break just because he's dead, now. So it's rather frustrating for Tahani, being unable to hold a conversation with him, so she can't really get to know her soulmate. As for the other residents of the community, we see a bit of them, but they're not really important to the story.
Well, season one has 13 episodes (or chapters), each of which ends with a shocking plot twist. Seriously, this show is amazing at that. The first two episodes aired back-to-back, and the second one ended with Eleanor receiving what appeared to be a threatening, anonymous note, that someone knows she doesn't belong in the good place. But at the end of chapter 3, she learns that it was Jianyu who wrote the note, but not for the reason she thought. He tells her that he doesn't belong in the Good Place, either. He's not a monk, and his real name is Jason Mendoza. He's basically a dim-witted wannabe DJ, who wasn't exactly a bad person, but did do a lot of stupid things in life. So, they'll have to keep each other's secret, and Eleanor gets Chidi to let Jason join in his ethics lessons. And... I don't want to spoil too many other plot twists. But I do have to mention that we eventually meet a horrible guy named Trevor (Adam Scott), an architect from the Bad Place who is basically the polar opposite of Michael. (We also meet "Bad Janet," played by the same actress as Good Janet, but with a very different look and demeanor.) And we meet "Real Eleanor," the one who was supposed to be in the Good Place, but had been sent to the Bad Place by mistake. When it's discovered that "Fake Eleanor" (the one we've known all along) didn't belong in the Good Place, Real Eleanor (Tiya Sircar) comes to trade places, but ends up helping Michael and Chidi try to prove that both Eleanors deserve to stay in the Good Place.
Chapters 12 and 13 air back to back, just like chapters 1 and 2 did. In the season finale, Eleanor comes to a realization that I won't spoil right now, but it's the biggest plot twist yet. (Something that had probably occurred to me as a possibility early on in the series, but which I didn't really expect to turn out to be true.) And that realization is a total game changer. (Which I'll have to spoil when I start talking about season two.) Meanwhile, I can just say the show is delightfully quirky, funny, ingenious, and compelling on every level. And the characters are all absolutely perfectly written and acted.
Okay, time for some season one spoilers. For one thing, there's an episode where Eleanor learns of the existence of a "Medium Place," which is inhabited by just one person, Mindy St. Claire. I don't want to say anything specific about that place or about Mindy, though it will play into a subplot in season two. But the major, game-changing revelation at the end of season one is that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason had been in the Bad Place all along. Michael had been a torturer, who came up with an idea for a new type of torture, as an architect. His idea was to trick people into believing they were in the Good Place, while unwittingly torturing each other through the clashing of their different personalities. (The Janet he used to construct his fake Good Place was a real Good Place Janet, whom he'd stolen and also tricked into believing she was creating a real Good Place neighborhood.) Also, the "Real Eleanor" was actually a torturer from the Bad Place (as were all other other residents of Michael's fake Good Place). Her name is actually Vicky. Anyway, when Eleanor realizes they're all in the Bad Place, Michael's boss, Shawn, is ready to call the whole idea a failure, but Michael begs for a second chance. (Incidentally, Shawn is played by Marc Evan Jackson, whom I know from a recurring role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.) Michael will erase the four torture-victims' memories of the time they spent in the fake Good Place, and start over, making tweaks to his original plan which hopefully will prevent them from realizing the truth. Shawn agrees to give him one last chance, but if Michael's plan fails a second time, he'll be "retired" (which for his kind means a very exacting kind of eternal torture that goes far beyond what former humans suffer in the Bad Place).
And now on to the season two spoilers. The new season begins where season one ended: with the entire plan rebooted. Once again, the first two episodes air back-to-back. The main change Michael made to his plan was to keep the four victims separated, this time giving each of them a new "soulmate." By the end of the second episode, Eleanor once again realizes the truth, far sooner this time than she did the first time around. (This really surprised me, because I expected the second attempt to go on throughout the season. But as I've said before, this show is amazing at plot twists.) So, once again, Michael wipes their memories and starts over... a fact that he must hide from Shawn, obviously. He also has to convince all the Bad Place employees who work for him that Shawn knows about it and is okay with it. Another major twist comes in the third episode, which consists of about 800 reboots (most of which we don't get to see, and the ones we do are necessarily brief glimpses), because one or another of the four victims always eventually figures out the truth. By this time, Vicky realizes Michael has been lying about Shawn being okay with the constant reboots, and threatens to tell him about it unless Michael allows her to take charge of devising the torture ideas for the fake Good Place. This leads to Michael seeking to form an alliance with his four victims. They agree, on the condition that Michael must join in Chidi's ethics lessons, in the hope that all of them, Michael included, might become good enough to be allowed into the real Good Place. Meanwhile, they must allow Vicky to believe her own plan is working, and that the four torture victims still believe they're in the Good Place.
Well, lots of things happen throughout the season. This includes a revelation from Mindy St. Claire that during one of the 800 reboots, Eleanor and Chidi had fallen in love. But in the present, of course, they don't remember that. Eleanor does end up developing feelings for Chidi again, but they're not reciprocated. I also need to mention that in season one, Janet and Jason had eventually fallen in love, which Jason now has no memory of. And this season, when Jason eventually starts a relationship with Tahani, Janet gets jealous, and ends up creating a boyfriend for herself, named Derek. (He's played by Jason Mantzoukas, who was familiar to me from a recurring role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.) His mental state is kind of "off," since it was Janet's first attempt at creating a person (or a being similar to whatever she herself is). So, he isn't around long, but he will reappear later in the season. Eventually, Shawn orders Michael to deconstruct his neighborhood, so his four victims can be sent to the real Bad Place, while Michael receives a promotion, to oversee more widespread implementation of his seemingly successful experiment. So Michael then has to try to quickly figure out a way for the humans and himself to escape to the real Good Place, but he can't figure out how. Finally, they decide to talk to a judge who mediates disputes between the Bad and Good Places, but to reach this person, they'll have to travel through the Bad Place to get to a portal that would transport them to see the judge. So... I thought we'd actually get to see what the Bad Place is like, and that might be where the show would be set from then on, at least til the end of the season, possibly longer. But as usual, the show managed to surprise me. We see very little of the Bad Place, just one episode, before they manage to get to the portal. The four humans go to meet the judge (whose name is Gen, short for Hydrogen), while Michael is detained in the Bad Place, and admits the truth of his actions throughout the season to Shawn. The penultimate episode involves the humans trying to convince Judge Gen (Maya Rudolph), that they deserve to go to the Good Place. But they fail the individual tests she gives them. (Well, some of them do; but they'd already decided that they didn't want to be separated, so if one of them fails, they all fail.) But at the end of that episode, Michael and Janet show up to help plead their case. In the season finale... well, I won't spoil that until season three begins. But once again, the show veers off in a totally unexpected direction. Which is awesome, as always.
So, in last season's final episode, history is changed so that none of the four humans had died, in order to prove that they could have become better people even without knowing what their afterlives would be like. (Of course this means that the past two seasons never actually happened to them, and they have no memory of any of it. But Michael and Janet monitor their progress.) The episode focused on Eleanor, who actually did try to live a better life for six months (because of her brush with death), but eventually got tired of it. However, she sees an online video lecture given by Chidi, who is a university professor in Australia. His lecture inspires her to travel to Australia in the hopes that he could help her become better.
At the start of season three, we see what the others have been up to since their own brushes with death. Chidi begins dating a neuroscientist named Simone Garnett. They start a study of how near-death experiences influence morality, with Eleanor as one of their subjects. Michael arranges for Tahani and Jason to go to Australia and join the study. (He's actually not allowed to interfere, and has to travel to earth without Gen finding out. And this involves traveling through a portal guarded by a Doorman, played by Mike O'Malley.) Shawn ends up sending Trevor to join the study and disrupt it from within, but that doesn't last long. Eventually, circumstances force Michael and Janet to reveal the truth to the four humans. Unfortunately, that knowledge precludes them from ever gaining more morality points, so it becomes a certainty that when they die, they will go to the Bad Place. They decide to devote the rest of their lives to trying to help others earn their way into the Good Place by leading better lives. (They now call themselves the "Soul Squad".) Meanwhile, Chidi breaks up with Simone, not wanting to complicate her life with his new knowledge of the afterlife. Later, Michael discovers that a Canadian named Doug Forcett, who lives his life according to the impossibly high standards of the point system, still isn't good enough to get into the Good Place. So Michael believes the Bad Place must have hacked the point system, so he, Janet, and the humans travel to Janet's void (which causes the humans to die on Earth). The humans wait in the void while Michael and Janet travel to the afterlife's accounting department, to find proof that the point system has been tampered with. They learn that no human has earned their way into the Good Place in over 500 years. Meanwhile, Eleanor and Chidi begin a romantic relationship. Later, everyone transports to an office adjacent to the Good Place, where Michael contacts a committee to inform them of his belief concerning the point system. However, their deliberation on the matter would take, like, thousands of years, and Michael is desperate to fix the problem sooner than that. But he finally realizes he was wrong; the point system is working as intended... but it's inherently flawed, as it was designed for a far less complicated time than humans live in, in the present. Once again, he tries presenting his case to Judge Gen, who agrees to give him one last chance to conduct an experiment similar to the original one, with a fake Good Place, this time with four unsuspecting recently-deceased humans, to be selected by Shawn.
We meet two of the four subjects of the new experiment in the season finale. Well... possibly three; there's something I don't want to spoil that might involve a third subject, or might not. I won't be sure until next season. Anyway, I've revealed far more about this season than I'm really comfortable with, but it all seemed necessary. Still, I am leaving out a few revelations for when I write about next season. For now, I'll just say season three has been as funny and brilliant and twisty and feels-filled as ever.