This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 5
Sometimes the lure of figuring out where The Good Place is going is so intoxicating that it can be easy to forget that this is truly a very funny show.
“Existential Crisis” helps to rectify that. This episode is such a remarkable showcase for the cast’s comedic talents that the high-concept Groundhog Day-esque narrative masterpiece of “Dance Dance Resolution” feels a lot further removed than just two weeks ago.
And that’s a good thing! Because for as thrilling as it can be for us to anticipate what twists, turns, and paradigm shifts are coming down the line The Good Place still has time to fill. Even the relatively paltry sum of 13 22-minute episodes (for network at least) has to feel far longer than the 802 reboots Eleanor and company suffered through for writers facing a page for a show this dense and conceptual. Episodes like this, that fit neatly within the show’s existing construct, and are still wall-to-wall with jokes certainly help.
First, however, a bit about that format before we get to the yuks because I’m just the absolutely fucking worst.
I don’t know if I would be viewing The Good Place with such an analytical eye if I weren’t reviewing it but in a way I don’t mind. After the mind-bending twist of season 1 and the aggressive rebooting of early season 2, it’s actually fun to try to suss out what “form” this show wants to take.
From the events in “Existential Crisis,” it seems as though season 2 has chosen a formula that it can stick with for awhile. I always wondered why Michael Schur mentioned he reached out to Lost creator Damon Lindelof when developing The Good Place. On the surface it makes some sense. Both shows deal with big psychological questions and even incorporated flashbacks. But by the time we got closer to the end of season 1 and particularly at the beginning of season 2, The Good Place seemed far different – more experimental even.
The version of the show presented in “Existential Crisis,” however, is fairly Lost-ian. Not only do the flashbacks come back for the first time this season but they are tied more closely to the events of the afterlife episode than they were in season 1. This episode is all about mortality. Michael’s recognition of his own mortality is matched in flashback by Eleanor’s same realization in a Bed Bath & Beyond* as triggered by a family of toothbrushes.
*Being the good AP Style-loving boy that I am, I looked up how Bed Bath & Beyond spells out its brand name. The fact that there is no comma between “Bed” and “Bath” is astonishing to me. It’s like they’re referring to only two entities: one “bed bath” and one “beyond.”
It seems likely to me that this is the conceptual ground that The Good Place wants to cover for a bit. At the same time, however: shut up, nerd. This episode features a demon learning the concept of mortality and responding with a midlife crisis.
“Existential Crisis” is wonderfully funny thanks in large part to a wonderfully funny human being. After playing a full season having to hide his character’s true intentions, Ted Danson has had more room to work with in season two and in this episode he is finally, fully unleashed. The results are predictably glorious.
Michael reveals to the crew that Vicki and her demon bros plan to torment Tahani by having her plan a party and then throwing a far superior party to make her jealous. So Michael and Eleanor task Tahani with dutifully suffering through Vicki’s plan while Chidi begins ethics lessons with Michael and Eleanor.
Things don’t go very well as Michael is dismissive of this whole human ethical spectrum thing. Hell, he’s dismissive of this whole human thing in general.
“My arms end in stupid little sticks,” he says mockingly to get in the “human mood.”
Ever the teacher, however, Chidi figures out exactly how to reach his pupil. He asks if demons are capable of dying. Michael says they are not but there is that whole business of retirement.
“Pretty standard,” Michael says. “My essence will be scooped out of my body with a flaming ladle and every molecule of my body will be placed on a different sun.”
Chidi points out that that means one day there will be “no Michael” and Michael, finally realizing his own potential mortality completely and utterly breaks down.
The Good Place on the October 2017 Sci Fi Fidelity podcast (at 34:19):
The rest of “Existential Crisis” finds Michael vacillating between “nothing matters” and “everything matters” to such extremes that he somehow goes through a midlife crisis even though he’s technically eternal. He droves a beautiful car to Vicki’s party (which despite Tahani’s best efforts is far superior to her own. Build an actual bear!!), with earrings in his ears and a dolled up Janet on his arm.*
*Ok, I try to keep my perving in reviews to a minimum because: ew. Just know that blonde bimbo Janet (or Jannette as Michael calls her) can. Get. It.
Michael tries to be the life of the party, even getting up to give a stirring speech that begins with “I know what you’re thinking: Birth is a curse and life is a prison.” Nothing gold can stay though and Michael crashes hard. He learns that being a human means juggling the impossible task of being aware that your life is finite and enjoying it anyway. It’s a heavy lesson for any half-hour comedy but The Good Place absolutely knows how to walk this line at this point.
Only one episode into Team Cockroaches master plan and things seem to be going pretty well. Chidi basically taught a demon empathy in an afternoon. Stunningly, however, Vicki may even unwittingly be a better teacher. After her party thoroughly defeats Tahani’s affair, Tahani is despondent.
She realizes how absurd it is that “the way to torture me is through event planning mishaps.” Jason, lovable goof that he is steps in to tell her that he can sense she is a fundamentally good person. So they bang.*
*For my thoughts on Tahani in this episode please refer again to above footnote vis a vis Janet and blonde and I’m a monster.
Now that I think about it, perhaps another metaphorical reboot is on the horizon in which it’s revealed that Vicki is really hel…no, leave it alone, Alec. This is a funny episode of The Good Place and it’s perfectly ok to appreciate it on that level alone.