A review of this week’s The Good Place, “The Snowplow,” coming up just as soon as I have a free punch card at my spray tan place…
Structurally, “The Snowplow” is similar to last season’s marvelous “Dance Dance Resolution,” which blitzed through hundreds of years and reboots until Michael finally gave up the ghost and decided to recruit Team Cockroach. This one covers a lot of time for our heroes (now known as the Brainy Bunch), and in the process, it swiftly brings to an end a new status quo that seemed like it might have gone on a while. The show probably could have gotten multiple episodes out of Michael and Janet playing powerless guardian angels to Eleanor and the group. Instead, their interference does more harm than good, as Tahani‘s relationship with Larry Hemsworth(*) threatens to tear her away from the group, and from Australia. And when Michael is on the verge of initiating a sketchy new plan to return to the afterlife in an attempt to reset the timeline again, the humans happen to walk in on them as the cosmic door opens. A new phase of the story is coming, regardless of how much of the truth Michael and Janet wind up revealing.
(*) Larry, played by Ben Lawson, was first introduced as a throwaway joke in last season’s “The Trolley Problem,” where Tahani explained, “I once had a brief fling with a non-famous Hemsworth brother, but even Larry Hemsworth had more status than Jason.”
But where “Dance Dance Resolution” was a brilliant case of leaving the audience wanting more, the end of “The Snowplow” left me relieved we were moving on already. This set-up doesn’t exactly overstay its welcome, but the episode felt more strained than The Good Place has since it got past the setup phase of Season One. The episode generated a fair amount of humor from the lack of magic — or, in some cases, from Janet’s ability to use the knowledge she had stored up to their advantage. But the series has always relied on the combination of these characters’ specific quirks with the surreality of the afterlife. This installment offers only brief and semi-connected snippets of the former and a minimum of the latter. (There are attempts to compensate by having Michael and Janet buy the Brainy Bunch some super hi-tech gear, but even that can’t compete with Janet’s powers at their peak.)
It has value to the plot, as we have to actually see Michael and Janet operating without their powers for a bit. And it nudges Eleanor’s arc forward a bit, as we see her slowly dropping her defenses. (Early on, she complains that few sounds in the world annoy her as much as co-workers singing “Happy Birthday,” but in one of the “Three Months Later” montages, we see her enthusiastically singing it to Chidi.) It also largely catches the action up to present day, which allows the writers to slightly update the pop culture references going forward. But most of the episode’s comedy load gets carried by poor Larry Hemsworth, who is somehow the family disappointment in a universe where Westworld exists. It’s a simple but elastic joke, and Ben Lawson plays Larry’s self-deprecation and public shame for all it’s worth. Still, it feels off to have the regulars relatively marginalized, joke-wise.
Serialized dramas periodically have to do these kinds of piece-mover episodes. They aren’t hugely satisfying in and of themselves, but they’re necessary to the larger story being told. “The Snowplow” is more entertaining than your standard piece-mover just because it’s so riddled with jokes (“So, I shouldn’t give Blake Beartles to Jason?”) even as the plot keeps jumping forward. It’s just not up to the standards the series has set for itself the last couple of years.
What did everybody else think?
Previously: The Brainy Bunch