A review of this week’s The Good Place, “Employee of the Bearimy,” coming up just as soon as I’m holding a champagne glass full of Scrabble letters…
Among the funny things about a show called The Good Place is how little time we’ve spent in the eponymous location. But while we’ve spent a lot more time in the Bad Place, it doesn’t feel like it.
Technically, the majority of the first two seasons occurred in the Bad Place. But even after we found out that Michael’s neighborhood was counterfeit, it didn’t really feel like we were in the show’s version of hell. Aside from periodic glimpses of Shawn’s offices, the only time we’ve spent in something resembling the genuine article is Season Two’s “Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent,” where Team Cockroach briefly infiltrated the Bad Place proper. It’s among the series’ funniest episodes, and one of its more direct comments on the many ways that life on Earth can be terrible. But the nature of the story — plus Mike Schur’s desire to not linger in any corner of it for too long — meant that our heroes had moved on by the end of that half-hour. It was a choice that made sense, despite my wish that Schur and company could have contrived a longer visit.
“Employee of the Bearimy” isn’t exactly the sequel I’d have hoped for, even if Jason is back in his Jake Jortles suit, and there’s a discussion of the Molotov cocktail he threw last time. Dax Shepard and the other toxic masculinity bros don’t return, and a good chunk of the episode takes place back in the neighborhood, where Eleanor and Tahani are trying to keep the four test subjects from noticing that the Janet-babies are all malfunctioning in her absence. But it deftly illustrates one of the opportunities the show missed by entering and exiting Shawn’s turf so quickly the first time around.
“Rhonda, Diana, Jake, and Trent” was focused more on the comic-thriller aspects of our heroes trying to get into and out of the Bad Place undetected, and on illustrating the many different kinds of evil on display. There wasn’t any time left to dwell on Michael’s feelings about being back in this place where he’d done so many awful things for such a long time. So “Employee of the Bearimy” is largely about Michael grappling with having once earned the titular distinction, and the guilt he feels now that he’s learned to love humanity. It’s a fine showcase for Ted Danson at his most overly emotional. And it’s an effective spotlight on one of the show’s more underused duos, in the ancient and mostly wise Michael having to work alongside the dumb and impetuous Jason(*). There were still plenty of fun jokes about how terrible the Bad Place is — the sign at the entrance read, “Population: Your Mom” — but it was more of an introspective story. And like Glenn’s conflicted feelings about humanity last week, it seemed to point to a moment in the story arc where most of demonkind recognizes that most humans don’t deserve to be tortured for all eternity.
(*) I assumed that when Michael told Jason not to blow anything up on this mission, it was foreshadowing an inevitable moment where he would want Jason to do it, only for our favorite Florida man to refuse, based on earlier orders. Instead, it was less complicated than that, with Jason bringing along the demon-exploding device that Bad Janet built last week, then handing it to Michael at the appropriate moment.
In the B-story, Eleanor asks Tahani to throw a party to distract the four test subjects, and Tahani feels like she’s not contributing enough to the group. Because the more important things are happening on Michael and Jason’s mission, there’s a risk that the entire subplot could feel as extraneous as Tahani finds the party. But it works as an effective commentary on the group dynamic. Eleanor is now the leader. Chidi, even though he doesn’t know what’s really going on, is the one who’s going to make the other humans into better people. Janet keeps the neighborhood running. Michael provides wisdom and helps Eleanor. Even Jason can be counted on to stumble into solutions now and again. So it’s understandable that Tahani feels like a useless appendage to the current configuration of the Soul Squad. But Eleanor — when she’s not busy being confused by whether Tahani is Welsh — deftly points out that Tahani is among the most important members of the team right now. She’s the social mastermind, and before Chidi can start schooling the others on how to be better people, Tahani has to get the test subjects to like each other enough to want to enroll in this afterlife philosophy class. It’s a way of thinking about the problem that I, like Tahani, hadn’t thought of, and also a story that makes good use of this more benign, but still mostly bumbling, Derek. (Loved his dilemma in pushing the reset plunger, and how he just powered through it.)
Some other thoughts :
* My only significant complaint about the season so far remains the Chidi/Simone relationship, which is unfolding offscreen way too much for how important it’s meant to be for Eleanor’s arc.
* Also occurring off-camera is the restoration of Eleanor and Tahani’s memories from their many journeys through the afterlife. It’s something the show probably needed to do eventually, just so viewers would stop having to do the math on what each character did and didn’t remember from the many reboots. Jason gets all of his memories back here, and presumably Chidi will before the season’s out. (UPDATE: Turns out I’m particularly bad at math, as I forgot that Eleanor already got her memories returned to her midway through Season Three.)
* Finally, I had assumed that, because the show finished filming over the summer, there would never be an opportunity to address the constantly-shifting state of the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback position. It didn’t occur to me that the show would use postproduction dubbing to solve the problem. The episode as originally filmed ends with Janet explaining to Jason that the Jaguars really did cut Blake Bortles, and that they signed Nick Foles to replace him. Much as Jason loves Bortles, he’s a Jacksonville fan first and foremost, and is just excited to have a former Super Bowl MVP on the team, and leads a “FOOOOOLES!” chant. But then we pull to a wide shot where we can’t see anyone’s faces, and get some new dialogue where Janet explains that Foles “just” (by Jeremy Bearimy standards) broke his clavicle. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity later in the season for a similar mention of the great mustachioed one, Gardner Minshew.