Earth! We live there, for now! And in its third season, NBC’s afterlife sitcom The Good Place has promoted our ever-heating planet from a supporting role in flashbacks to the primary setting. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason are alive again, rescued from various hilarious deaths by a mysterious silver-haired savior who looks vaguely like Karl Lagerfeld.
That savior is, of course, Michael, a demon self-improving heavenwards. The opening scene of The Good Place premiere sees Michael exploring a new liminal corner of the afterlife, a great Bridge leading to an important Door with a heavenly Doorman who loves frogs and spent six seasons on Yes, Dear. The Doorman holds a key made of the very first atoms in the universe; he hasn’t heard a joke in eight thousand years, which is about how long it’s been since Feb. 1, 2018.
Michael saves Eleanor (as we saw in the season 2 finale) and everyone else. Fresh from a near-death experience, the foursome better themselves, fixing their old personal issues, becoming the sort of people destined for a place in some transcendent Good Place. And then they backslide. Eleanor gives up on activism. Chidi can’t decide which pastry to order from the sellers at We Crumb From A Land Down Under. Tahani’s living the international sophisticate life, literally interviewed by International Sophisticate Magazine, humblebragging about texts from the Dalai Lama. And Jason is proposing marriage… to the cop arresting him, because, “If we’re married, legally, you can’t arrest me!”
Up in the Judge’s quarters, Michael proposes a possible solution to Janet. He can give their pals a little nudge-y nudge in the right direction. The Judge won’t notice; she’s watching all eight thousand years of NCIS.
So Michael nudge-y nudges Eleanor towards a fateful meeting with Chidi down in Australia. Their first/thousandth meeting carries a bit of meta-explanation; Chidi’s speaking English with an American accent, even though his native language is French, because he went to American schools. (It’s canonical now!)
Eleanor asks this professor, apropos of nada, if he’ll help her become a good person. And Chidi says yes! It seems he’s had his own nudge-nudgeys here on Earth. Paralyzed by decision making, he considers a medical explanation for his dithering. That leads him to a scientist named Simone (played by Killing Eve‘s Kirby Howell-Baptiste!) who gives him an MRI. They have an academic meet-cute: she promises that science is about the pursuit of answers, whereas moral philosophy professors just keep asking questions. (“That’s why everyone hates moral philosophy professors,” she says, which is practically a Good Place catchphrase.) And then Michael appears, with an outrageous Australian accent, suggesting that the next time someone asks Chidi for help, he should say yes.
So Eleanor begins working with Chidi on improving herself, as every iteration of Eleanor inevitably must. “Eleanor tries to be a better person” is some essential core of The Good Place, a grounding master plot that has survived multiple structural twists in the narrative. It’s interesting to see how season 3 carefully resets the characters even as it alters everything about itself: New location, a new purpose most of the main characters barely understand, new existential (as in actually still existing!) circumstances.
And a new threat from some familiar faces.
NEXT: Wherever you go, whatever you do
Meanwhile, in the Bad Place, Shawn is on a rampage. He’s furious about Michael’s breakout, his hands tied by afterlife bureaucracy that makes it impossible for his minions to hack into the Judge’s system. The four escapees have been on Earth for over a year now. Shawn cocoons every henchman he can find; he’s a demon, after all.
In Australia, Eleanor continues turning over a new leaf, matchmaking Chidi and Simone. They’re already working together on a joint philosophy department-neuroscience department study of near-death experiences.
A study which leads them, inevitably, to Tahani. In the new Michaelized timeline, Tahani wasn’t crushed by a statue of her sister Kamilah. (Predictably, everyone at the party assumes Kamilah saved Tahani — one more reason to love her, she’s perfect!) Tahani cleansed herself, giving all her worldly possessions to Goodwill (“That’s what I call Prince William since he married a commoner.” She deleted all celebrity contacts from her phone, including…
The Edge (Private Number)
She set off to a monastery on a quest for enlightenment. Then, Vice-ish outfit called Squalor News tracked her down, sending her on a quest for popular enlightenment. (Her book has blurbs from Malcolm Gladwell and Cormac McCarthy!) Tahani’s journey is the most twisted of all the once-dead Good Placers. She’s peddling a very public spirit of inspiration — which is a private disaster for her, a setback into vanity.
Then Michael appears to her as “Gordon Indigo,” an entrepreneur who painted golf balls silver to sell them as Nirvana Orbs. He insists Thani’s become just like him, someone who has “all these idiots fooled.” To prove a point against him, she sets off to Australia.
And so does Jason…eventually. Michael approaches him as “Zack Pizzazz, international talent scout!” It’s a soft sell for Jason’s somewhat soft brain: “Come on down to Australia and start a new crew!” But Jason’s not buying what he’s selling. He’s done with dancing, for reasons which are gut-bustingly hilarious. He had tried to organize a new dance crew (meeting at the Carmen Electra Auditorium in the Smith & Wesson Performing Arts Center and ATV Repair Shop!) called Dance Dance Resolution. He had them working 24/7, which means they were thinking 24 thoughts about dance for 7 minutes. They performed at the Swamp Stomp, a typical event in Good Place‘s Florida, where as usual a 1998 Toyota Turcell with golden pythons painted on both sides had just exploded in the parking lot.
Alas, Dance Dance Resolution was ill-fated. They had 30-some too many members. They kept on losing, ultimately getting into fights. So Jason fell back into crime, paying rent on his dance crew’s rehearsal space. And now he’s not interested in starting a dance crew in Atlantis, or Australia, or wherever.
Zack Pizazz can relate to him. After all, Michael used to have a single pursuit in life, and now that pursuit has shifted as much as any pursuit can shift (from literal all-encompassing evil to something like good.) He points Jason towards the antipodes and then returns to the great beyond. By now, Michael and the Doorman have a real rapport (he gets him a warm travel mug with a frog emblazoned on the front!), and he assures Janet that Jason’s still cute.
Janet, for her part, is getting a bit concerned. They narrowly avoid getting found out by the judge; Janet suggests the Judge might enjoy Mark Harmon in Stealing Home, but there are only so many Mark Harmon movies, alas. And then, something very dark and evil shows up, presumably to take part in Chidi and Simone’s experiment: Trevor, from the Bad Place!
I found the two parts of “Everything is Bonzer!” to be a fun reset for a show on what amounts to its third structural reboot (or fourth, if you count Michael’s brief early season 2 period as the apparent main antagonist.) The show struggled a bit to fit in the foursome’s separate adventures into a swooping flashback structure, and certain aspects of that flashbacking (like the narration carrying us through Tahani’s rise-and-fall, or Jason just suddenly appearing in Australia) were a bit awkward.
But I respect how quickly The Good Place got all its main characters back into the same place, continuing a journey that none of them even quite remember. The season 2 premiere suggested that these characters were on a circular journey, destined to be together and realize the falseness of their heaven. The season 3 premiere accomplished a trickier task, pushing the characters in a new direction. Howell-Baptiste is a great new part of the cast, and the addition of a neuroscientist to a show that already frequently quotes moral philosophers suggests that Michael Schur wants The Good Place to be every Ph.D. students’ favorite show.
What did you think of the season premiere? Tweet at me @DarrenFranich. And be sure to read my colleague Dan Snierson’s talk with Schur about the road ahead in The Good Place season 3.