A review of “Jeremy Bearimy,” this week’s The Good Place, coming up just as soon as I flout the one lollipop per customer rule…
“How do we get out of this?” Michael asks Janet in this episode’s opening scene. In that moment, he is a stand-in for every TV character who’s ever been backed into a narrative corner by his or her writers, and for those same writers as they search desperately for a way out of those traps they’ve created. On most shows that move at a sensible pace, Michael’s ridiculous solution — to claim that he and Janet are FBI paranormal investigators Rick Justice and Lisa “Frenchy” Fuqua, assigned to protect the group from ghouls — would have filled up an entire episode, maybe several, as he and the writers worked on a better long-term plan.
The Good Place, though, throws caution to the wind, and the FBI gambit is over within minutes. Instead, “Jeremy Bearimy” jumps right into the next major phase of our story, as Eleanor and company once again get filled in on everything we already know. Only this time, the news is far more depressing, because their newfound knowledge of how the afterlife works automatically cuts off their ability to earn future points.
At some point, possibly very soon, I’m sure a loophole will be discovered that makes everyone Good Place-eligible again. But “Jeremy Bearimy,” this season’s best episode so far, instead recognizes that this particular corner is worth spending a bit of time in. This is a ridiculous show, but one that can only function if we believe on some level in Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and even Jason as human beings with real emotions and a real capacity to change and improve. Discovering that they’re on the way to eternal damnation, and nothing they can do can change that, is the sort of nightmare that we need to see them absorb and grapple with.
The episode does an alternately melancholy and hilarious journey through the five stages of grief of it all. Eleanor immediately opts to go back to her old dirtbag ways, but she can’t really go through with it. She gets free drinks at Drinking Nemo (a nod to so much of Finding Nemo taking place at 42 Wallaby Way in Sydney), but she doesn’t even bother trying to convince the bartender that it’s really her birthday. And when she finds a missing wallet, she goes out of her way playing Good Samaritan for its owner. Overjoyed and relieved at finding his good luck charm (a “Good Luck Daddy!” drawing from his little girl) inside, he cracks open Eleanor’s facade by telling her that she’s a good person. It’s a suggestion that should be meaningless now that Eleanor knows how her story ends, but instead means the world to her because of all she’s learned from Chidi.
Where Eleanor is living in denial, and Tahani and Jason are bargaining by opting to give away as much of her fortune as possible, Chidi zooms straight to anger and then acceptance. Shirtless, nihilist Chidi is a comic delight, as he freaks out drug dealers by quoting Nietschze, alarms grocery clerks by giving away his car and credit card, and disturbs his philosophy students by cooking chili with peeps in the middle of class. Yet in the midst of all of this, he’s still able to articulate to his students the three main ways in which to live an ethical life, and the rest of the episode shows that he has somehow imparted this knowledge to a selfish con woman, a smug narcissist and a man from Florida. He still has his skills, and a re-inspired Eleanor comes up with a plan to put them to good use: take advantage of whatever time they have left in their rebooted lives to help other people get into the Good Place, even if they can’t make it there themselves.
This is a promising new direction for the Soul Squad (formerly the Brainy Bunch, formerly Team Cockroach), albeit one I don’t expect either them or the show to stick with for very long. Prior to “Jeremy Bearimy,” this season felt like a bit of a step down. As many of us feared, relocating the action to earth full-time has robbed the show of a lot of its surrealist humor, and we’ve also reached the point of diminishing return on the group getting to know and like each other yet again after the latest reset. (We’ve largely glossed over Eleanor falling for Chidi again because it’s now a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation with repeating those story points yet again.) Now they know, though, and they’re preparing to take action, and The Good Place is always at its best in that mode, however long this version of it lasts.
Some other thoughts:
* Poor Larry Hemsworth. Like Tahani, I had utterly forgotten about his existence until he popped up at the end, still expecting to move away with her because he hadn’t spent the previous 24 hours being told the secrets of the eternal universe. I look forward to his reaction to learning that Tahani went and married Jason — even if it was just so she could legally give him half her money — while he was off packing.
* We’ve long wondered why most of the afterlife’s pop cultural references are taken from mid-2010s Earth when centuries passed during the events of last season’s “Dance Dance Resolution.” This episode’s title finally provides the (non) explanation: time in the afterlife doesn’t move forward in a straight line, but rather loops around and around in a shape resembling the cursive writing of the name Jeremy Bearimy. (No relation to Blake Beartles.) Like Chidi, my brain was a bit broken by this explanation, and I wonder if the dot over the lowercase i (representing Tuesdays, but also July, but also never) somehow provides a temporal loophole for these dum-dums down the road. More likely, it’s just a joke along with the rest of the name.
* Mike Schur has spoken often of how he pitched the idea for this show to Damon Lindelof before deciding to write the script, because it had so much overlap with both Lost and The Leftovers. This episode throws in one hell of an Easter Egg to the latter show, where Kevin Garvey Sr. once visited Sydney and “this hippie with a red headband walks right up to me and says, ‘Do you wanna talk to God?'” Which is exactly what happens to Chidi in the park before the sprinklers go off.
* Not since Ned Flanders auditioned to play Stanley Kowalski has a nerdy TV character’s swole torso been quite as shocking as Chidi’s. Most actors are gym rats these days, but I was still unprepared for just how jacked William Jackson Harper looked when Chidi took off his sprinkler-soaked shirt. And Chidi does not seem like the type of guy who would even know where the gym was, let alone be decisive enough to have a workout routine that would leave him looking like… that. I’m also sure large swaths of the audience were not thinking about character consistency during those bare-chested scenes. To you, I say, “Enjoy.”
* Hey, that’s this episode’s writer and future Emmy winner Megan Amram (#JusticeForMegan) as the violinist Jason gives cash to. She previously demonstrated her violin skills An Emmy for Megan‘s fifth episode, which is probably best-remembered for her vocal performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
* Tahani keeps her cash in a vault made by the Swanson Safe Company. I’d be more willing to believe that’s another direct link between this show and Parks and Rec if it was a safe designed to keep her gold hidden in the ground.
* Two perfect D’Arcy Carden moments tonight: Janet barely containing her impatience at watching Michael hunt-and-peck his way through his manifesto, and Janet barely containing her dismay at learning that Jason and Tahani got married.
What did everybody else think?
Previously: The Snowplow