A review of this week’s The Good Place, “Mondays, Am I Right?”, just as soon as I’m back in my toilet library…
On last week’s Good Place, Team Cockroach (with an assist from Raylan Givens) triumphed over the literal forces of evil (and institutional stubbornness), setting up a Happily Ever After for all of humanity. But when you’re in the afterlife, the “ever” part of Happily Ever After lasts an awfully long time, which can very much complicate the “happily” part.
“Mondays, Am I Right?” deals with this problem on both a macro and micro level. On the one hand, Michael and the others have to figure out how to make their new afterlife system work, and particularly how to convince all the Bad Place demons to accept a wholly new kind of existence and purpose from the way they’ve lived for millennia. And on the other, Eleanor and Chidi both struggle with the idea that their soul mate will want to be with them for all eternity.
It’s a smart way to approach the series’ endgame. We appear to have wrapped up the larger plot — though with The Good Place, another huge twist or three could still materialize over the remaining episodes — but transforming the afterlife isn’t as easy as just telling Janet to cross her arms and blink. There are a lot of moving parts, and a lot of people/demons with complicated, rigid emotions who can’t change just everything they are and believe because of the Judge’s ruling. And it’s funny to see all the struggles to adjust.
So the Michael/Janet/Tahani half of the episode runs into two obstacles: the demons’ innate love of torture, and Michael’s innate vanity. The solution to the former winds up exacerbating the latter, as a reformed (figuratively and literally, since the last time we saw her she’d been blasted into goo) Vicky proves to be much better at training and motivating her longtime colleagues than Michael is. Michael’s envy of Vicky, and his fear of his own obsolescence if she can run the new project without him, gives Ted Danson a lot of amusing and poignant notes to play, while the demons’ struggle to appreciate and execute subtler forms of torture and manipulation led to several great visual gags involving the bear with chainsaw hands.
The Chidi/Eleanor plot, meanwhile, makes the cosmic deeply personal, as each begins to panic that they’re not worthy of the other. On paper, both should be beyond such fears, especially the newly-confident Chidi, after all they’ve been through together over so many reboots. But nearly all of the previous crises in their relationship happened when they were under threat of death and/or eternal damnation. Here, no one’s in danger and everyone believes the new afterlife system will work in time. So it’s much easier for our main couple to sit back and think about just how mismatched they are, whether Chidi will forgive Eleanor all her earthly sins, and whether Eleanor in turn will find her favorite toilet librarian exciting for an infinite number of Jeremy Bearimys.
As problems on this series go, it’s one with an obvious solution — so obvious that Jason, of course, is able to get Chidi out of his own head to fix it — but Kristen Bell and William Jackson Harper sell the messy, ridiculous emotions of it very well.
The episode concludes with all six main characters boarding a balloon for the Good Place — for real, this time, as opposed to the one Michael summoned back in Season Two. We’ve barely spent any time there, and not in any of the parts that would seem particularly heavenly. It’s a move the show has had to put off for a long time, both for plot reasons — once Eleanor and company arrive in the real Good Place, there’s not much story left to tell — and because it’s going to be hard for any version of this place to live up to our imaginations. Will it just be like one of the neighborhoods, but perfect? (Ice cream instead of fro-yo, for instance.) Will it have to be much fancier to seem impressive enough?
We’ll find out when that balloon lands next week, but “Mondays, Am I Right?” was an effective and entertaining chance to catch our breath after the universe was saved.
Some other thoughts:
* This was the episode I was on set for over the summer. When they finished a take of the moment where Michael tells the dum-dums that they’re going to the Good Place, D’Arcy Carden marched up to me, sternly pointed a finger at my chest and said, “No. Spoilers.” I have been frightened of her wrath ever since, at least until today. Freedom!
* As is usually the case, not every scene filmed made it to air. One of the file room scenes originally revisited the question of how to select the first group of test-takers. Jason proposed a random sample, which Eleanor and Chidi both liked… until the first name the computer spit out was Pol Pot. (They also filmed some alternate takes with the names of other historical monsters, but everyone seemed most amused by the first one.)
* Also, they filmed a much longer version of Janet and Michael’s “Simply the Test” music video (spoofing Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”), with various punchlines at the end. (“Its simply the test! Better than other tests! You can test anyone! My name is Janet!”)
* Finally, among Jason’s list of the people who must have the highest point totals in human history: Evel Knievel, Kool-Aid Man, Mini-Me, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Fat Bastard, the Most Interesting Man in the World, and “the GPS lady who tells you where to drive!” Also, as the balloon ascends to the Good Place, you can hear Jason yell out “FOLES!” We’re running out of time for a Gardner Minshew joke, people, but I have faith.