A review of this week’s The Good Place, “The Funeral to End All Funerals,” coming up just as soon as I reboot Ally McBeal…
“The Funeral to End All Funerals” is a promising episode in terms of the remainder of the season, but also a bit of a frustrating one in terms of the previous episodes. With the experiment officially over after “Help Is Other People,” Simone, Brent, and John don’t even appear this week, and Chidi remains frozen and oblivious to everything happening around him. The results of the experiment inevitably focus on Brent, as the other three improved to varying degrees(*), while he actually dropped one percent while living in a virtual paradise. But even that turns out to be a largely moot point. Instead, Michael looks back to the last season for his winning evidence, as we see how much Pillboi and the other loved ones improved after being visited by the group in its Soul Squad incarnation. The episode doesn’t treat the experiment as completely pointless, but it comes closer than it probably should. If previous episodes focusing on the newbies had been utterly hilarious, it wouldn’t matter so much. But when they’re thin on comedy and plot significance, it’s not what you want.
(*) Among the problems in largely sidelining the experiment is that we have no idea how Simone and Chidi — who last week seemed indistinguishable from the versions of the characters who were dating in Australia — improved by, respectively, 12 and 26 percent better.
That said, without having to service the newcomers at all, “The Funeral to End All Funerals” is, not coincidentally, one of Season Four’s livelier and more amusing installments. While Eleanor, Jason, and Tahani await the Judge’s ruling, they opt to have the memorial services they didn’t get to witness for any of their previous deaths. To a degree, this is a rehash of Season Two’s “Best Self,” which also had the group killing time while waiting for something big to happen. (In that instance, Michael couldn’t figure out how to get them to the real Good Place.) But it’s as warm and kind as you’d hope for, while also acknowledging specific facets of the relationships among the three of them. (That Eleanor and Jason are fellow dirtbags, for instance, or that Eleanor has difficulty concealing her lust for Tahani.) We even get some poignant new insights into the characters, like the bittersweet joke about Jason’s mom dying of cancer. That Chidi’s not involved as anything but a prop is a bummer, but at least the other characters acknowledge it. And the episode’s closing moments suggest that he is about to play a huge role in the series’ endgame after being left on the margins for much of the season.
Chidi has to be woken up to save the universe because Michael’s arguments prove too effective, prompting the Judge to try to reboot the entire universe (and, by extension, Ally McBeal). As expected, Michael and Janet’s book about Team Cockroach has won Bad Janet over to their side, and we get the inspiring image of an infinite army of good and Bad Janets (plus one Roller Disco Janet) marching side-by-side to defy the Judge. Shawn remains against them, and Chuck and the rest of the Good Place committee remain as useless as when we met them in last season’s “The Book of Dougs.” So it’s our usual collection of misfits — and Chidi most of all — who will have to convince the Judge that this version of reality, however broken and stupid and complicated, deserves to remain in place. Whatever issues I’ve had with the season so far, I look forward to seeing that play out.
* A season after the world got to meet Swole Shirtless Chidi, the series finally offers an official explanation of how this happened. As Eleanor explains, a 14-year-old Chidi was told that exercising helped alleviate anxiety, “And he started doing push-ups, and basically never stopped.”
* This episode was, if IMDb can be trusted (never a safe assumption when it comes to TV credits), Kristen Bell’s directorial debut. A fine debut on that front.
* Finally, the running gag where Michael and Shawn mangle the famous “I’m rubber, you’re glue” insult was wonderful. But even funnier was the look of shame on Shawn’s face as he told the Judge the proper pronunciation of Zendaya’s name. (For that matter, the Judge having Justified Season Two in her purse may be my favorite of all the many jokes about the Judge’s love of contemporary TV, because Justified Season Two is perfect.)