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‘The Good Place’ Recap: A Whole New World

As the beloved philosophical comedy returns for the second half of its final season, a changed Chidi steps up to save the day

THE GOOD PLACE -- "You've Changed, Man" Episode 410 -- Pictured: (l-r) D'Arcy Carden as Janet, Maya Rudolph as Judge  -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

D'Arcy Carden and Maya Rudolph in the newest episode of 'The Good Place.'

Colleen Hayes/NBC

The Good Place is back for its final batch of episodes! A review of this week’s installment, “You’ve Changed, Man,” coming up just as soon as I fall into a swamp trying to spray the Taco Bell logo on a snapping turtle…

There is no answer.

But Raylan Givens is the answer.

Holy motherforking shirtballs! Did that just happen?!?!?

Television has given us some bizarre crossovers throughout the years. There was the time Mulder and Scully from The X-Files were followed by the camera crew from Cops. Or the episode when the St. Elsewhere senior doctors stopped by Cheers for a drink. Or when Gordon Shumway from Alf somehow guest-starred on Mr. Robot. Hell, John Munch alone has been part of at least four that would give a logical mind an aneurysm.

But even a trained, cynical TV brain such as mine was not adequately prepared for the sudden, strange, absolutely magical crossover that happened in “You’ve Changed, Man,” when the quickest-drawing, sharpest-shooting, wisest-cracking TV lawman of the 21st century somehow wound up helping to decide the fate of all human life as we know it.

Technically, what we saw here was not Raylan Givens, hero of FX’s wonderful (as in, a top-10 show of the last decade) Justified. Rather, what we got — with some help from the magic of Janet, in an attempt to sway the TV-loving Judge — was Justified star Timothy Olyphant wearing Raylan’s familiar Stetson (and plaid shirt and knit tie), but playing “Timothy Olyphant,” a slightly exaggerated version of his own extremely colorful self(*). It could have been even more surreal to have a fictional U.S. Marshal from Harlan County, Kentucky, attempt to solve this universe-shaking problem — or even just make sense of Jason Mendoza. But that might have been a layer too far for such a crucial moment in the life of The Good Place, especially since there are likely at least a few hundred thousand viewers who’ve never seen a second of Justified. (To those people, I say: It is fantastic, and all episodes are streaming on Amazon.) Still, the surprise appearance of “Timothy Olyphant” was a magnificent payoff to the running gag about the Judge’s love of 2010s pop culture. (In the Season Four premiere, she mentioned that she had just started watching Deadwood, where Olyphant first wore a cowboy hat and pistol.)

(*) All of this was done, I’m told, with the blessing of Justified boss Graham Yost.

But among the many smart choices made throughout “You’ve Changed, Man” was to make sure that Raylan Givens “Olyphant” didn’t really get to save the universe. Giddy as I was to see him in full wardrobe, it would have felt like a cheat for the series to spend four seasons building to a guy from another show fixing everything. Instead, he’s there just to hold the Judge’s attention long enough for her and Shawn to hear the plan concocted by Chidi (with inspiration from Jason). And even though this new approach to the afterlife — where everyone gets a shot at multiple reboots the way Team Cockroach did, in the hopes that others can improve to the same degree — wins over the Judge, a petulant and vengeful Shawn refuses to go along with it. Instead, it’s left to Michael to realize that his former boss and longtime nemesis really just enjoys the battle, and can be negotiated with on that level. For the most part, Shawn has existed as either a plot obstacle or a device to add a different flavor of comedy to the proceedings. But when he confesses to Michael that “Fighting you is the most fun I’ve ever had,” it feels as real and poignant as any emotional moment involving our six heroes. It’s a lovely turn, and a great reminder of why Marc Evan Jackson has been featured on all the Mike Schur shows(*).

(*) Trivia: Jackson is technically on The Office, albeit long after Schur had moved on to run Parks and Rec. In the penultimate episode, when everyone gathers around a computer to watch a trailer for the documentary that’s been filmed about Dunder-Mifflin, it’s Jackson’s voice you briefly hear as the narrator.

But even before we get to that demon detente, “You’ve Changed, Man” is a marvelous return from the series’ final hiatus. The Judge’s quest to find the clicker to erase all of humanity, for instance, allows us trips into different kinds of Janet voids, with the Bad Janet void of course a hellscape filled with Porta-Johns, monster trucks, and a literal dumpster fire.

And in picking up right where “The Answer” left off, we got to bask in this new, far more confident incarnation of Chidi. His crippling indecision cured by experiencing thousands of versions of himself all at once, he gets to still be the man Eleanor loved, but also someone even more desirable for her, in addition to being far better-equipped to work with the episode’s tight apocalyptic deadline. William Jackson Harper does wonders in making this Chidi consistent with the guy we knew, while also believably altered by the events of the previous episode. I imagine things will not be all sunshine and roses for Chidi and Eleanor between now and the end of the series, but this nonetheless feels like a great payoff for all the struggles he’s gone through since arriving in the neighborhood.

Only three weeks to go. It’s hard to imagine the show doing anything more surprising than our latest guest star, but then, it would have been hard to imagine this one. All I know is that, after we had to wait nearly two months from last episode to this…

Some other thoughts:

* Also unexpected: that we might have a new frontrunner for Best Neighborhood Store Name this late in the series, courtesy of Joanie Loves Tchotchkes. (Inspired, of course, by the TV show with the cheesiest theme song/opening credits ever.)

* Our Janet has evolved enough that she can now bring the humans back into her void without them all turning into doppelgangers of her. On the one hand, that made the explanation of Chidi’s proposed plan easier to follow, and also allowed for the cameo. On the other hand, I think I would have very much enjoyed D’Arcy Carden’s Raylan Givens impression for a few minutes.

* Finally, it’s unclear if Bad Janet, Neutral Janet, Disco Janet, et. al., will be revived now that the Judge has changed her mind. But if the other Janets have made their final appearance of the series, at least Bad Janet went out doing what she loved: making fart noises, even after being turned into a marble.

 

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