A review of this week’s The Good Place, “The Ballad of Donkey Doug,” coming up just as soon as I pay to have my calf implants moved back up from my feet…
The Good Place has shed status quos like a snake sheds its skin, but “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” is the first time it’s emerged looking and feeling like a completely different show. We’ve been back on Earth for almost half a season now, but recent episodes were still about the group learning ethics, Michael and Janet manipulating them behind the scenes, other characters from the afterlife trying to interfere, etc. It was The Good Place, just in a different place.
“The Ballad of Donkey Doug,” on the other hand, was the first reboot to seem like a full transformation. Yes, there are still plenty of jokes about Chidi‘s indecisiveness and more gags than ever about the horrors of Florida. The characters are still the characters. But the Soul Squad’s new quest to help their loved ones gain enough points to make it to the Good Place had the air of a spinoff — or, at least, of a show that ditched its original premise because it wasn’t working anymore. This current approach seems more likely to be a diversion than a permanent change, though. (Nothing on The Good Place lasts for very long — except maybe the Florida jokes.) And if this episode is any indication, it should be fun for however long it lasts.
The title character turns out not to be another of Jason‘s idiot friends, but his idiot father (played with full gusto by Mitch Narito), but this proves to be a distinction without a difference. Doug hits on Tahani mere moments after learning she’s his son’s new wife, appears to be high in every scene, and has a pile of awful business ideas and scams to run with Pillboi. He’s older than Jason, but much less wise — Jason having had the benefit of a year as Chidi’s student — and the episode’s payoff involves our favorite Jags fan recognizing that his dad can’t be saved. Instead, it’s Pillboi who gets put on a path to the Good Place, as his nickname is revealed to come from his job handing out medicine at a nursing home. There’s enough decency in him, and he’s pliable enough, that if told to just focus on his work and helping people, he seems likely to do it.
Meeting Doug isn’t really necessary to explain how Jason got the way that he is, as “Florida man” already does the job nicely. But it’s still an effective tale of how much he’s grown from the utterly oblivious kid we met (now he’s just mostly oblivious), and the locale allows the show to load up on the Jacksonville jokes more than ever. (My favorite: a monster truck called Cabz pulls up to Randy Macho Man Savage Non-International Airport and runs over a traditional-sized cab.)
Chidi, meanwhile, recognizes that Simone‘s immortal soul is in danger if he continues to date her and lets slip what he knows about the afterlife. So his way of helping her is to dump her — if only he can figure out how to do it without breaking his moral code. This is the series in slightly more familiar territory, as Janet has begun to use technology to take the place of her powers. (Though she has to just say her familiar “bing” sound herself, much to her own embarrassment.) The constant reboots of the virtual reality simulation evoke the many times Michael snapped his fingers up in the neighborhood to wipe Eleanor‘s memory, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste gets to have fun doing impressions of both Chidi and Eleanor as the simulations grow stranger.
The episode concludes with the set-up for next week’s installment, as Tahani prepares to confront her whole awful family, while Eleanor is shocked to learn that her mother faked her own death. In theory, that should take us through all the relevant loved ones. (Chidi has a family, but what little we’ve heard of them suggests they may not need his assistance.) It’s entirely possible that their mission could then expand to helping out anyone they’ve ever met, or even just random strangers, and the writers could get many more episodes out of this approach. Based on how The Good Place operates, though, the Soul Squad is likely to have a new mission in mind before we get to the mid-season break. So let’s enjoy this one for however long it lasts.
Some other thoughts:
* The whole season wrapped production a while back. Even if it hadn’t, there probably wouldn’t have been time to swap in a new joke for Donkey Doug making like his son and screaming out “BORTLES!” before running from the cops. Still, when Jason’s favorite quarterback got benched by the Jaguars on Sunday in favor of Browns alum Cody Kessler, all I could think of was how, after all the trouble the show went through to bring the action back up to the present, it had suddenly become a period piece again. And then the next day the Jags announced that Bortles was somehow still their starting quarterback. I blame Jeremy Bearimy.
* Last week, I hoped that this episode would pick up right where the previous one left off so we could see Larry Hemsworth’s immediate reaction to learning of Tahani and Jason’s marriage. Alas, we begin with their breakup already old enough to be tabloid magazine fodder. In hindsight, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of Donkey Doug for Larry, which about sums it up for the poor guy.
* Eleanor’s feelings for Chidi have mostly been back-burnered this season while he’s dated Simone. (Though the “three months later” montages from “The Snowplow” hinted that she still has them in this reality.) But we also know that in several reboots, she either hooked up with and/or was attracted to Tahani (or, at least, to Tahani’s head on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s body, or vice versa). Here, she’s so turned on by the virtual Simone flirting with her that she tries to extend the simulation. Hmm…
* After Eleanor got sloshed at a bar called Drinking Nemo last week, while Chidi’s break-up with Simone was held at a cafe called French Pressing Nemo, I decided to check with resident Good Place punster Megan Amram to see if there were other Finding Nemo references I had missed this season. It turns out that last week, the grocery store shirtless Chidi visited was BNG, short for Bagging Nemo Grocery, while Tahani’s bank is FNB, for Financing Nemo Bank. And she promises (threatens?) even more Nemo references to come, so keep your eyes peeled.
* Speaking of Chidi’s swole torso, I and several other TV critics expressed skepticism that a man so cripplingly indecisive could work out to the degree necessary to look like that. I read various retorts, but none as delightful as this: A Moral Defense of Chidi’s Swoleness: An Ethical Examination of Abs In The Good Place.
What did everybody else think?
Previously: Jeremy Bearimy