The Good Place is back for a third season, and I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as I do a wheelie on a dirtbike through an entire waffle house…
Lord, I missed these dum-dums.
When last we left our heroes, it appeared that Michael had convinced the Judge to resurrect them in order for them to earn Good Place spots via their mortal existence. There was some question of whether this was really Earth or another simulation, but Mike Schur explained over the summer that this was real, and Season Three’s first episode — “Everything Is Bonzer!” — wastes little time confirming this for the people who are not generally inclined towards reading 2400-word showrunner interview transcripts.
If Season Two’s finale left me with any concerns about one of TV’s cleverest and most fun series, it was that the Earth-bound flashbacks were rarely a comic highlight of either season. Would abandoning the metaphysics of the afterlife for the relative mundanity of life in Jacksonville, et al. take too important a tool of humor away from Schur and his writers?
I needn’t have worried. It’s not just that “Everything Is Bonzer!” sprinkles magic in throughout, from Michael saving each dummy to Shawn and his demons frantically trying to find them. It’s that the Earth scenes are no longer the intentionally dreary tales of four losers on an unwitting collision course with eternal damnation. Instead, it’s the story of them coming together — with a lot of stealthy nudging from Michael (a.k.a. Zack Pizazz, Gordon Indigo and Charles Brainman) — to try to better themselves, just like they used to do in the Good/Bad Place. That Michael, Janet and Shawn are mostly on the sidelines takes away some easy conceptual humor, but this is still fundamentally the same show, even if Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason don’t know that yet.
Last season’s finale introduced the idea of Eleanor being inspired by her brush with death to change her life, but also that changing your life isn’t as easy as just deciding to. “Everything Is Bonzer” expands that idea out to the other three. The first half mainly deals with Chidi’s struggle to be more decisive in the wake of nearly being smushed by an air conditioner, while the second shows Tahani and Jason each going on a journey similar to the other two: briefly making huge transformations (or modest transformations, in Jason’s case) before reverting to type because it’s less effort. It’s the journey each of them went through in the Bad Place, again and again and again, only it feels more poignant and real because of where and how it’s happening this time. Watching each of them try and fail neatly illustrates the point the Judge made about why changes made in the afterlife don’t count in the points system: there’s just more resonance to this version of it, even as there’s still plenty of room for jokes about Tahani’s crippling insecurity, Jason’s doofusness and Chidi’s decision paralysis. (The anguished moan William Jackson Harper lets out when a comment about blueberries undoes all his progress is a thing of comic beauty.)
It’s fascinating to watch these characters meet each other again, under vastly different circumstances and with somewhat different personalities. Chidi, with help from Eleanor, has a charming new girlfriend in neuroscientist Simone; that relationship alone works wonders for him even though he’s primarily the same old panicked Chidi. For that matter, this may be the most generous of spirit incarnation of Eleanor that we’ve ever seen. The lessons learned from a year of being good seem to have sunk in on a deeper level than just her playing enthusiastic wingman for Chidi. Even Tahani is a bit less snooty when Eleanor realizes what a pitiful accommodation her motel pullout sofa(*) would be.
(*) How is Eleanor funding this Australian getaway? Presumably, her time as a do-gooder already ate into most of what she saved from her stint selling chalk pills to old people, yet she seems able to stay Down Under indefinitely, even before Chidi has made her presence official through his new thesis.
These transformations even extend up into the afterlife. Janet seems more human than ever in her concern for Jason’s continued well-being (and cuteness) and in her ability to lie to the Judge. Michael is giddy to be helping his friends and finally visiting Earth, and he eventually spends enough time there to be able to please the stone-faced Doorman (played in marvelous deadpan fashion by guest star Mike O’Malley). Shawn is no longer the smug jerk we’ve come to know and hate, but is instead a panicked jerk, prone to cocooning all his underlings on a whim as he tries to figure out how Michael outsmarted him and where these four stupid humans are.
And the premiere ends on a wicked cliffhanger that brings back a beloved, if hateable, character in Adam Scott’s Trevor. Scott was too busy making Ghosted to appear in Season Two, but he has some time on his hands. This offers ample potential for his special brand of comic douchebaggery, while making clear that Earth and the Bad Place will only stay so separate.
All in all, a very promising start to a phase of the series I was more than a little skeptical about.
Some other thoughts:
* The title is not only a nod to the previous two premieres (which were “Everything Is Fine” and “Everything Is Great!”), but to the new Australian setting, since “Bonzer!” is Aussie slang for “awesome.”
* Schur stays true to his promise that he would quickly explain why Chidi speaks with an American accent in the real world: Chidi tells Eleanor that he speaks French with a French accent, but learned English at American schools. Not sure I 100% agree with their policework on that, but it’s a useful enough explanation that we can stop sweating it.
* Meanwhile, Ted Danson’s Australian accent is terrible, but in an intentional and amusing way.
* Moving the story back to Earth for the moment makes it much easier to incorporate new people, where we were on the verge of Nikki and Paolo from Lost territory if somebody important popped up in Michael’s fake neighborhood. Kirby Howell-Baptiste (last seen as Sandra Oh’s sidekick on Killing Eve) is a delight as Simone, and I hope she sticks around a while, even if that means an untimely demise for poor Simone whenever Chidi and the others are ready to be dead again.
* Tahani’s celebrity phone contacts (under T) include Taika Waititi, Taylor Swift, The Edge (private number), The Queen, The Rock, Thom York, Tilda Swinton, Tiger Woods, Tim Cook and Tim Gunn.
* When the Judge introduced herself last season as Jen/Gen, I asked that episode’s writer, Megan Amram, if it was with a G (since it’s for hydrogen) or the more traditional J. She said it was J, and that was what I used. But the publicity materials and captions keep using Gen-with-a-G, so I finally asked Schur, who said it is, in fact, Gen, but that the scripts just call her “Judge.” Since I’d rather not cross someone who’s already waging a vendetta against the Emmys, I’ll just stick with Judge, rather than committing to a spelling.
What did everybody else think?