The first season of The Good Place was a refreshing slice of brilliance that actually managed to pull a switcheroo. That’s nearly an impossible ambition in the world of television. The first season review of The Good Place only had the benefit of the first few episodes, which is obviously the norm of television criticism, and if I’d had the full season it would have managed an even higher rating.
First Season Spoiler Alert – Stop Reading Instantly – If you don’t know what happens in the first season, the long con is going to be spoiled, as is the fact that there is a long con… oops.
As the first season wraps, we learn that Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) are in fact the only humans in “The Good Place,” and that it is really a new kind of hell that Michael (Ted Danson), who is actually a demon, came up with as a prototype torture experiment. With the close of the first season, Eleanor figures it out and Michael reboots the whole thing.
The entire season was a hilarious thrill ride and the occasional reveals kept audiences from getting too close to the truth. The problem with a show that takes such a drastic turn when it reveals everything is that most fans probably watched the final moments assuming that the show must end altogether. What else can you do? What could a second season possibly be about? It’s exactly like a magician who reveals the secret after performing a trick and then tells you to sit back and relax because he’s going to do the trick again. What?
It isn’t entirely different from the flustered attempts we all made in trying to figure out where the first season was going to go, because despite having some great actors on board and a somewhat amusing premise, it was a gag that didn’t seem to be made for a lot of mileage. How many, “I’m not supposed to be here,” setups can we sit through?
That’s the genius that will make you hope that someone will sign up Michael Schur to develop another ten shows on the spot, because as we all thought we were surely watching something that must close the show off, the second season quickly reveals that we were actually finally watching the beginning of the show.
The first season was solid, though certain early moments were a little tough to get through, mostly due to the demands of the complicated establishment, but the second season has a different feel to it. I’m not going to reveal anything significant that happens, but the dialog and the plot development are tighter. The first season moved us along and managed to give audiences a lot of laughs, but this is where we were going.
Not only is that alone a huge sell, but it’s also quickly clear that this is simply an impossible show to create. You can almost see the black-and-white film from the ’40s about a meek dreamer who pitches his idea to a room full of fat suits smoking cigars and is constantly interrupted by a stream of, “It can’t be done!” and, “You’re crazy!” Thus, the show becomes sort of meta, with Michael (whose name is conveniently Michael) as the stand in who has a dream of doing things in a completely different way. Once embedded into the second season, you start to see that the first season was something like the concession. Perhaps there were no suits actually involved, and it all happened in Schur’s mind, but you can see the maddening struggle involved that resulted in the first season as the necessary introduction. It ended up giving us a fantastic reveal, so it’s all good, but as the fourth episode of the second season closes, we’re clearly into the real meat of things.
While things feel different, and it’s clearly a very different show, where the second season really takes off is in the commitment to the characters. Ted Danson is now at a whole new level and with all the asides and off-the-cuff-seeming commentary, you wouldn’t be that surprised if his entire role was just improv now. The rest of the cast is similarly upping their game, and it was a good game to begin with.
Michael has to kick things up a notch now, but that isn’t exactly going according to plan either and no show has ever delivered chaos so perfectly. It was a great idea for a little corner of hell, in theory, but it seems like we’re only proving that it’s impossible to get right, and that idea drives the amazing ride that is the show, because you have to know that in the back of Schur’s mind he was thinking that maybe all we’ll accomplish is proving that you can’t do it. But, it looks like putting these characters into a world that now keeps reinventing itself is just what we didn’t know we were looking for.
The Good Place Season Two First Look