Maybe we are in ‘The Good Place’ after all: Season 2 review

The Good Place - Season 2
NBC Universal/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

If you’re not watching “The Good Place” already, stop reading this and go watch it immediately. It’s streaming on Hulu. Go. If you have watched it, read this and then go rewatch it, because having more of it in your life certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Mike Schur, known for “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” once more reminds us of his mastery of the modern sitcom with NBC’s “The Good Place.” The show features the trademark combination of humor and heart that Schur does so well. “The Good Place” is doing something completely unique and unprecedented however — as the seasons one and two finales showed, it’ll essentially be rebooting the show at the end of each season.

Season one ended with our protagonist Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) discovering that the Good Place — think heaven, but with more frozen yogurt — was really the Bad Place all along — think hell, but with more Marc Jackson. Turns out supposed Good Place architect Michael (brilliantly portrayed by Ted Danson) was a demon allowed to try out an experimental version of the Bad Place.

Eleanor figuring out they were in the Bad Place nullified the experiment, forcing Michael to start over. Except for Michael, all of the principal characters, including the omniscient “not a robot” Janet (D’Arcy Carden), were set to start season two with absolutely no memory of season one.

The first episode of the second season is devoted to Michael’s continuous attempts — 802, in total — to show that his unconventional experiment can work. Eleanor, along with her fellow recent hell recruits, Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto), go through hundreds of iterations — each foiled by Eleanor (and once, Jason) realizing time and again that they are in the Bad Place.

Michael’s concealment of the extent of his reboots eventually leads to the humans, Janet and Michael banding together to avoid being sent to the actual Bad Place, or worse. Thus, Team Cockroach is born — and with it, the elements that make season two even better than the first, both technically and emotionally.

The heart of “The Good Place” is undoubtedly this team. Season two is improved by the fact that the alliance is now formed with, rather than against, Michael. Danson’s portrayal of an actual demon trying to learn ethics from Chidi, a moral philosophy professor, is hilarious, with a particularly memorable episode focused on the trolley problem.

Other highlights of this season are Michael and Eleanor’s budding friendship — think Ron and Leslie of “Parks and Recreation,” or even more aptly, Jake and Captain Holt of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Both find themselves having to learn how to be good through the works of classic moral philosophers, and, to their mutual, considerable surprise, wanting to.

Colleen Hayes/NBC/Courtesy

Colleen Hayes/NBC/Courtesy

Janet and Jason’s relationship is also as endearing and strange as their respective characters, as they find their way back to each other despite innumerable memory wipes. Both characters are defined by their lovable density — Jacinto as Jason manages to find that perfect balance between endearingly, and frustratingly, persistent obliviousness. Carden, similarly, carries a captivating charm and charisma unparalleled by the enormously talented ensemble cast.

Within a show premised around doubting the uncompromising judgments that culminate in the existence of a Good Place and a Bad Place, Chidi and Eleanor’s relationship can only be described as fateful. The end of season two was emphatic as to why that is — they are better together, they make each other worthy of the Good Place. The chemistry between Harper as Chidi and Bell as Eleanor is palpable. Both imbue the relationship with considerable nuance, balancing light-hearted ribbing with genuine affection, playing off and playing up the other’s comic strengths.

That is the message of this show — “the Good Place was inside the Bad Place all along.” A place is only as good as the people in it, and our lives are only as good as the people we let in. Alone we’re not super great — but together, well, that’s where the magic happens.

For a network sitcom to convey this message so flawlessly and wholeheartedly shows that while we may emphatically be in the Bad Place, the Good Place will always be there for us on our screens — reminding us of what we can achieve together, if we only try.

Contact Danielle Hilborn at [email protected].