A moral philosophy professor, name-dropping philanthropist, amateur DJ/backup dancer, and a self-proclaimed Arizona trashbag all walk into an MRI lab. Oh, and they were all brought back from the dead.
Only Michael Schur, series creator and executive producer, could pull together a punchline for that joke, and he does, returning with the Season Three premiere for “The Good Place” this past Thursday. Picking up where Season Two left off, we see Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) back on Earth, each coping with the aftermath of their near-death experience by resolving to change their lifestyle, and then, inevitably, returning to old tendencies. With the help of a misbehaving Michael (Ted Danson) and a frog-loving doorman, the gang is nudged back onto the right track, their only hope for becoming good people once again: finding each other.
The Season Three premiere is heavily reminiscent of the pilot. The staggered chronology that jumps from present-day Eleanor to three-months-ago Chidi back to present-day Chidi then to three-months later Tahani and Jason and then to three-months-later Eleanor is engaging, allowing us to follow these four separate mini-storylines without losing interest in any one of them. And, as in Season One, we are treated to the show’s signature brand of humor, one that’s grounded in and dependent upon its characters.
Schur is not new to this. As executive producer on “The Office,” creator of “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” as well as president of as a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine, his comedy-writing legacy is legendary. It makes sense that “The Good Place” continues this legacy.
Eleanor’s perfect score on a Buzzfeed quiz on slang words invented by the Kardashians, Chidi’s inability to ask a girl on a date until he is literally inside an MRI machine, Tahani’s best-selling book on how to avoid the spotlight, Jason admitting to robbery by trying to propose to a police officer—we know these characters, and these are exactly the kinds of things we expect from each one of them. Yet the show manages to find new wild predicaments or timely references (“[Arizona’s] top exports are racist sheriffs and HPV”) to make us laugh at and love the characters even more.
Amid the jokes and jabs and pop culture references, the show still manages to carry a plot with high stakes (literally, heaven or hell). Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) and his team of demon hackers (under the constant threat of being turned into a giant cocoon) works to foil Michael’s attempt to give the gang a second chance. At the heart of the show, however, remains Eleanor and Chidi. They say opposites attract, and there’s something about a moral philosophy professor and a fake pharmaceutical salesperson that makes for a wonderful friendship. Their personalities clash in the best of ways, Chidi keeping Eleanor from doing unethical things and Eleanor calling him a dork every time he does. Whether it can be more than a friendship, however, seems less likely, what with what seems to be Chidi’s actual soulmate Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a neuroscience professor, joining the team.
“The Good Place” seems to be, much like Schur’s previous work, a comedic masterpiece. It manages to combine moral philosophy with cognitive neuroscience, sadistic demons with semi-sentient androids, and, most importantly, humor with story. I look forward to the rest of the season to find out not only whether Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason can actually get to the real Good Place or whether Michael and Janet (D'Arcy Carden) will get caught by the judge, but also whether will.i.am will show up on the book cruise, whether the doorman will use his new antimatter thermos, and whether Eleanor will ever learn how to pronounce Chipotle.
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