The Good Place – Season 2

The Good Place – Season 2

This Could Be… Heaven?


Diving headlong into its high concept without ever once dropping the ball, The Good Place‘s second season cements it as one of the cleverest and most compassionate shows on television. What’s more, its constant, madcap humour proves it has just about the strongest ensemble and staff of comedy writers around.

Rating: 9/11


When you make a show about the afterlife, you tend to lose a lot of cards that you can usually play in more worldly stories. A narrative need stakes, threats and consequences to thrive, all of which are encountered by the story’s characters over the course of their lives. But in The Good Place everyone’s already dead, they’ve all been judged based on their actions on Earth and now have wound up in a cosmic paradise. With that premise, it’s hard to imagine much conflict arising, which suggests there mightn’t be any central drive to the show.

Here’s where things get complicated, though: the titular Good Place (aka Heaven) that all of the human characters believe themselves to be in is, in fact, the Bad Place (aka Hell… duh). As a revolutionary form of torture, these humans were deceived into thinking that they belonged in the Good Place, while secretly they were being pitted against one another and forced to make their own afterlives miserable. As far as thematic groundwork goes, this helps to provide an interesting commentary on how deluded our self-perceptions usually are, as well as how arbitrary the process of judging the goodness of others can be.

More importantly, though, this shake-up that ended The Good Place‘s first season paved the way for its spectacular second season, which concluded last Friday. This time around, the characters were no longer faced with the dilemmas of trying to live up to an idealised afterlife, or dealing with the fact that they were all kinda bummed out about how suspiciously flawed that afterlife turned out to be. Instead, each of them was forced to come to terms with how they were super shitty people – whether directly or passively – during their time on Earth. Eleanor (Kristen Bell) was lazy, manipulative and cruel, Chidi (William Jackson Harper) was so indecisive that he routinely ruined others’ lives, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) was vain and vindictive and Jason (Manny Jacinto) was and remains, honest to God, the dumbest human being in existence, which led him to some pretty awful decisions.

As an additional complication, this season Michael (Ted Danson) – the Bad Place overseer who initially posed as something of an angel – is struggling with his own shortcomings. His deceptive form of torture has already failed once, largely due to Eleanor’s unpredictable selflessness and, later, her shrewdness. Now, he’s backed into a position where, no matter how many times he erases the core characters’ memories and tries the whole charade again, they keep figuring out that they’re in the Bad Place. He’s tried this very move 802 times to be exact, and still no success. What’s more, as it has been made clear to Michael by his superiors that his continued failings will have eternal consequences, he now has no choice for redemption other than joining these four humans on their ill-advised attempts to escape the Bad Place.

This choice by Michael, and the necessity of it, have become the bedrock of The Good Place. To start with, because this latest season was less concerned with the show’s central mystery than the first season, it allowed more time for the characters to grow in the realised environment. Now that they know they’ve been relegated to eternal damnation, the human characters have to exhibit more self-awareness and conscientiousness in order to flourish. And, against all odds, when these stupendously bad (or, at least, thoughtless) people are brought together, they begin to improve. Instead of provoking and torturing one another in the way that Michael intended, they can’t help but bring out the best in each other.

As Chidi’s ethics student, Eleanor begins to retain many of the complex and varied approaches to moral philosophy he dishes out. In the process, she examines her past and present behaviour and is able to identify the insecurities that keep her from forming meaningful relationships. Chidi, meanwhile, is made to reconcile with the fact that his decisions impact others, mostly through Eleanor’s mocking treatment of his indecisiveness. This dynamic comes to a head as Eleanor and Chidi discover that – in several past iterations of themselves in Michael’s many different versions of the Good Place – they actually fell in love, which leads to an identity crisis for the love-averse Eleanor and an ethical one for Chidi, who isn’t sure that he feels the same way.

Tahani, for her part, forms an unlikely attachment with Jason, a man so dim-witted that the summary of his behaviour every episode could be “Jason remains oblivious.” Yet his stupidity masks a strange and unaffected kindness, as well as a total disregard for what others might think of him, which is exactly the kind of salve Tahani needs. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure that Jason in and of himself actually makes any strides towards betterment; he’s just such a freewheeling, stoner goldfish of a character that he becomes less terrible when he’s surrounded by people who will help him make better choices.

All of this functions wonderfully to fulfill one of the favoured tropes of The Good Place‘s creator Michael Schur: the wayward, unlikely family that grow into a formidable alliance. It was there on his previous show in the civil servitude of Parks and Recreation, and you can see it in the quirky police precinct of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s somehow even more impressive on The Good Place, though, because the obstacles and hardships that bond the characters require such a pristine suspension of disbelief. See, regardless of your religious or spiritual inclinations, having Heaven, Hell and Purgatory as settings in a TV show should rob it of all credibility, not to mention it undercuts the biggest consequence that could possibly befall the already-deceased characters.

Yet, even in these inflated circumstances, The Good Place finds room for relatable troubles. Whether it’s the incessant love triangles that are bound to pop up whenever a group of attractive single people are brought together, or an eternal being like Michael somehow having to wrap his head around the existential quandary of death, basically every episode of the show ekes laughter and pathos from its characters’ shortcomings. What’s more, without getting soppy or treacly, it asks us to imagine a reality in which being a better person doesn’t need to come at the expense of your own happiness. Sometimes, all it takes is a willing group of people and someone to ask the right question: What do we owe to each other?

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