By Darren Franich
October 04, 2018 at 09:05 PM EDT
Justin Lubin/NBC
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Trevor! A malevolent demon who might just be the single most dangerous creature in the universe! The fact that Trevor is played by Adam Scott could be reverse typecasting, given that Scott defined a sweetly humane brand of alpha wimpery in Parks & Recreation and Big Little Lies. But never forget Step Brothers; never forget Torque. Scott can play bad, and Trevor’s return to The Good Place is the spark that lights a fiery, funny episode of television.

Trevor joins the study that Chidi and Simone are running, pretending to be everyone’s new best, somewhat fratty friend. He sends dank memes to Eleanor. He prints everyone cool matching sweatshirts, proclaiming that their squad is the Brainy Bunch. (Blink and you miss the text on the back of the sweatshirts: “I Went to Australia and All I Got Was This Lousy Cross-Disciplinary Study and a Ton of New Best Friends!”) Secretly, he’s plotting to tear this group apart, pull Eleanor away from Chidi, push Chidi into confusion, and parent-trap Jason and Tahani into bad decisions. It’s psychological warfare, the same pattern-recognition afterlife game theory that Trevor and his Bad Place cohorts used back in season 1 to make everyone’s life literally hellish. Trevor’s arrival, then, is nothing less than Hell on Earth.

Which leads, naturally, to Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet, a pastiche Americana restaurant that looks like Australia’s answer to Shamroxx. You can sit at state-themed tables (Florida absolutely nails the swamp stench!) or you can purchase the Manifest Destiny package. A painting of Mount Rushmore sits in the restaurant, with the presidents replaced by Hulk Hogan, David Hasselhoff, Judge Judy, and Paris Hilton. They sell one drink (or is it food?) that’s half an Apple Pie blended with Southern Comfort and Coca-Cola, served in a Chevy Hubcap. “This was America!” Australians of the future will tell their grandchildren after the waves come.

Trevor tries various gambits to shake up the group. He suggests everyone get an apartment. He does a Jamaican accent. Eleanor’s not buying what he’s selling, but maybe that’s part of Trevor’s plan. Eleanor felt good about the study when she was working one-on-one with Chidi. Now it’s a team effort, and she’s not so sure about anyone, really.

Michael and Janet prepare an opposition. Michael has to lurk in the shadows, modeling a Dick Tracy look that prompts an episode-long runner about Dick Tracy jokes. (I think he looks more like Sam Spade, but at this point, moral philosophy jokes probably get a bigger demographic than Maltese Falcon jokes.) That means Janet has to be an operative on the ground, playing waitress as she keeps an eye on Trevor. Janet doesn’t react well to her Earthbound existence. Her knowledge has stopped updating. She can’t conjure anything out of thin air. What’s an omniscient omni-powerful beingless being to do?

Meanwhile, one bit of Trevor’s psychological warfare really gets through to Chidi. He casually notes how unusual it is for someone running a study to befriend the people in the study — a bit of reverse brainwashing that leaves Chidi concerned about hanging out with everyone at the table, including Eleanor.

Brief pause to note that Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet has a truly ludicrous amount of sight gags and throwaway jokes, the complete contents of which would require an American Studies class to unravel. But important to point out that there’s a trivia game at the restaurant, and tonight’s theme is Logan Paul.

NEXT: The Librarian Returns

I had a vague concern going into The Good Place season 3. Over its first two seasons, the show pinpointed a very particular comedic style, clashing joke-a-minute whiplash dialogue with supernatural absurdity and upper-level sign-in-a-Simpsons-freezeframe punnery. The characters are rich and the acting is fabulous, but its a tone that you could call aggressively synthetic and anti-realistic. In NBC comedy terms, it’s closer in structure to something like Community than it is to creator Michael Schur’s Parks & Recreation. (And season 3’s overall mission statement to KEEP THE GROUP TOGETHER feels very Community.)

Of course, Good Place accomplished all this in, well, the afterlife, a setting that seems to invite unreal antics. There were flashbacks, of course, but I worried a bit how the show would feel when the vast majority of its action took place on Earth. It’s a sitcom Earth, of course, vastly funnier and network-TV brighter than our own decaying orb. But a couple elements in the season premiere hit a tonal uncanny valley for me. Michael being able to brainwash everyone into flying down to Australia for an academic study: Sure. Jason just kinda suddenly appearing in Australia: Hm.

The second episode proof-of-concepts the resurrection twist for me. The cast is all together in a familiar dynamic under radically different circumstances. There’s a repetition of dramatic possibility: Trevor drinking-gaming Tahani and Jason towards a romance; Chidi falling into indecision while Eleanor considers abandoning everyone; without their knowledge, cosmic Michael orchestrates events around them. But the results feel new, alive with possibility. Michael appears to Chidi in his “librarian” guise and quickly tries to offer not-particularly-helpful advice. Eleanor’s unique power to see through Bad Place BS is, in a complicated way, a hindrance: She could tell Trevor was bad, but that also drives her away from the whole group. And Tahani and Jason don’t wind up hooking up, though Jason swears to Tahani that she’s the fanciest person he knows (next to his friend Ronny, who drives a limo.)

The day after the great American drink-off, Chidi is in a bad way. He hasn’t slept; he’s worried his personal friendships will spoil the study. Simone assures him he is overreacting and promises to tell him if he crosses any lines. When Eleanor doesn’t show up, Chidi makes a decision, choosing to go to her motel room. His entreaty to her is complicated. He’s not just saying Help Me Help You, he’s also begging Help Me Help You Help Me. “My whole life has been a torture chamber of indecision,” he says. “I’m finally on the path to understanding why.”

Game, set, match: Michael and Janet! Eat that, Trevor! But it’s at this moment that the Doorman appears, fascinated with Earth sinks but demanding all cosmic beings return to see the Judge. The Judge quickly casts Trevor into the void, where he belongs. But it’s Michael and Janet who get the full force of her rage. She’s not happy with all the meddling. It seems there’s a butterfly effect power whenever someone from Places beyond comes down to Earth. Bringing the foursome together has caused weird stuff, the Judge says. England left Europe. The Jacksonville Jaguars are good now. That weird circus musical made 400 million dollars. Byron Allen owns the Weather Channel!

Hard to tell, in the immediate aftermath, whether this is a massive series-altering revelation or a jokey aside. The Good Place debuted in the autumn of 2016, which means it will always be a handy cultural artifact when future generations try to explain a historical era of impossible endless social turmoil. Folding even one bit of that turmoil (Brexit!) into the Good Place‘s timeline is intriguing, insofar as it leads you to ponder whether the best timeline was the one where these four individuals stayed dead.

Which, dark, so now time for some visual humor! Janet had tried conjuring up a lot of items while she was on Earth, and when she returns to see the Judge, her queue suddenly starts processing, piling stuff between them and her eminence. That gives them an exit chance — with a little help from the Doorman, who hasn’t forgotten Michael’s gift of a frog-theme travel mug. “Good luck, Frogman,” the Doorman says, “I’m pulling for you.”

“Thanks, Jeff,” says Michael, bringing Janet with him on a mad escape to Earth.

As usual, The Good Place shows a willingness to keep resetting its own foundations. You could’ve imagined multiple episodes of Janet and Michael playing elaborate human chess against Trevor, but now they’re renegades on Earth. Presumably, they’ll join the group in some capacity…but how?

In conclusion, Eleanor was reading a magazine called AUS Weekly, which proclaimed three big headlines:

Hems-Worthless: Meet Larry, the Hemsworth Brother They Don’t Want You To Know About

Beer Pong at the Billabong: Coldies with Naomi [Watts]

Nicole [Kidman] Reckons: Fair Dinkum, I was ?ongo [couldn’t see the first letter of the word and don’t know anything about Australian slang but Lord I wish I did]

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