This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 2 Episode 7
“Janet and Michael” is the kind of episode that any half-hour comedy should excel at. It features two characters on a adventure with stakes that simultaneously feel intensely personal and completely immense.
Problem is, The Good Place isn’t just any half-hour comedy. It’s The Good Place – one of the most structurally ambitious network comedies we have right now. And its use of the tried and true bottle episode-esque pairing of two characters and reciting their history feels more like a retreat than a victory.
After the events of “The Trolley Problem” (i.e. Janet losing a thumb and coughing up a frog), she and Michael sit down to confront exactly what is happening with her.
Michael, ever the pragmatist, asks Janet to reach inside her nose and retrieve her Janet users’ manual. Together the two flip through it to discover what Janet’s issue is.
One of the small issues with the end of “The Trolley Problem” and now the beginning of “Janet and Michael” is that the stakes of the neighborhood collapsing have been kind of overused at this point. Logically, that may be the only ways that disaster can befall the afterlife that would concern both the mortals and the demons. Still, there has to be some kind of other way to imperil our characters or cause Michael legitimate concern.
Honestly, Janet puking frogs may have been enough. Because ultimately we don’t care about this artificial “good place” neighborhood. It’s the setting of the show and is likely not going anywhere. Even if it does, we trust that our characters will find another phony universe to occupy. Janet, though? We can’t replace Janet. Even though there are literally seemingly infinite Janets.
To “Janet and Michael’s” credit, it does eventually move onto Janet-destroying stakes. When flipping through the user’s manual, Michael discovers a line that reads “glitches may be a sign that your Janet may be processing information that’s at odds with objective truth” and believes he is responsible for her glitching. After all, he’s done nothing but lie to her since he stole her from that purgatorial “Janet Warehouse.”
“Doors are unlocked. It makes sense. They’re good so they’re stupid and trusting,” Michael tells Sean about his Janet heist.
Then Tahani and Jason arrive and ask why Janet is not responding to their request for jalapeño poppers. Suddenly the four of them disappear into a black, empty void for a bit before returning. Michael rushes Tahani and Jason out of his office and realizes what’s up: Janet is still in love with Michael.
Way back during attempt 1 of Michael’s gambit, Jason fell in love with Janet and they were married. This little afterlife-robot-that-could somehow took those feelings of love and affirmation to “heart” and Michael’s continual rebooting of her only strengthened them. Janets get more refined after they are rebooted and since our Janet has been rebooted over 800 times, she is now potentially the most powerful and unusual Janet in the universe.
Michael’s suspicions are confirmed as Janet pukes a fountain of pennies all over Michael’s desk after she says she’s “so happy” for Tahani and Jason.
Janet gaining power and seeming sentience after her many reboots is the strongest aspect of “Janet and Michael.” We know our Janet is special and it’s nice to see the universe openly confirm it. Plus, the standard robot(ish) humanoid falling in love with a human is almost always a satisfyingly-done trope.
At his point, The Good Place has no fewer than two non-human entities who are slowly learning to love and appreciate humanity in Michael and Janet. The initial premise of The Good Place was learning to deal with the afterlife. Now the show has shifted to this fascinating place where it’s about immortal beings learning to appreciate us.
Make no mistake, I’m still very high on this show as evidenced by the last paragraph. It’s just that the eventual conclusion of “Janet and Michael” leaves me kind of cold.
Janet commands Michael that he must kill her. In this case, killing her means putting a paperclip into a little hole on her neck and holding her nose. She will then shrink into a marble-sized ball that can be cast out into nothingness or merely eaten. It’s a high source of fiber.
Michael struggles with this task, coming up with excuse after excuse. Vicki will notice! No she won’t. But Michael told the humans they’d all escape to the Good Place together! They can easily accomplish that with another Janet.
Finally Michael has to come clean.
“There are reasons, Janet,” he says. “The reason is FRIENDS! You’re my friend, Janet. That’s why I can’t kill you. You’re my oldest, my truest, my most loyal friend.”
This is about as openly sweet a moment we’ve seen from Michael yet and it’s clearly designed to be a big one. Everything about “Janet and Michael” screams “game-changing midseason episode” from its two-hander format, the life or death stakes placed upon Janet, and Michaels first open declaration of friendship.
The episode though just doesn’t feel like it lives up to those big moments. Michael’s realization comes across as perfunctory moreso than intended, despite Ted Danson’s continued superb acting. It seems as though something about the scale is off. “Janet and Michael” can’t fully commit to the two-hander, bringing in Tahani, Jason, Chidi, and Eleanor all for interludes that tragically shone the episode’s already short-seeming running time.
Plus, it feels like this is coming too early – like we’re missing just one or two episodes that were supposed to air before this one. Michael’s adoption of actual feelings isn’t exactly out of left field but it is close.
Of course, Michael refuses to kill Janet and after a chat with Eleanor, Janet realizes that she merely has to get her shit together and move on – like any good Earth girl. Her moving on, however, involves the creation of brand new human life. Meet Derek, everyone, played by Jason Mantzoukas, who completes his Michael Schur hat trick after having been Dennis Feinstein in Parks and Recreation and Adrian Pimento on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
I never thought I’d say this but the presence of Mantzoukas still isn’t enough to fully rescue “Janet and Michael.” Contrast “Janet and Michael” with the similarly-named Parks episode, “Leslie and Ron.” It’s not a fair comparison because Parks and Rec had more than six years of its characters’ history to draw on when crafting that standout episode of Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson coming to terms with each other in a locked parks department office. Still, “Janet and Michael” could have come closer if it had just tightened up. The stakes, the scope, and the timing are all just off enough to sour what could have been The Good Place’s “Leslie and Ron.”
That’s ultimately ok though. This isn’t Parks and Recreation because very few things are. It’s The Good Place and it’s found its own unique ways to be amazing before. “Janet and Michael” looks solid on paper – just not necessarily in practice.