This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 1
It really is amazing what this show can do.
I sometimes get hung up on where a TV show comes from. I know we are careening towards a future where everything is just content whether it comes from a streaming service, cable network, or phonograph, or wherever. Still for the time being, it’s hard to argue that networks tend to serve different audiences from cable channels, which serve different audiences from streaming services.
Given this reality, I really can’t believe The Good Place exists on the same platform as NCIS starring that absolute DILF Mark Harmon.
Yes, The Good Place Season 3 is finally here and wouldn’t you know it, it’s still hilarious, bold, and thought-provoking! We knew going into this season thanks to the marketing material and even the release of episode 1’s first four minutes that we would be heading back to Earth. It’s not until “Everything is Bonzer!” makes it past its “previously on” segment and Michael at the gate cold open, that one fully realizes: oh shit, Earth is a big place.
“Everything is Bonzer! (which takes its name from a delightful Aussie-ism meaning ‘excellent’ or ‘first-rate’)” takes place on an Australian university campus, a Tibetan monastery, a cruise ship off the coast of Jacksonville, and other Earthbound locations. That’s not even to mention Michael and Janet’s celestial observation room or frog-fan The Guard’s (played by an always welcome Mike O’Malley) desk at the bridge between planes.
This is a lot for any production, let alone the same kind that produces NCIS reruns. And granted, it’s not like the show actually visited any of these locations to film, that would be laughably expensive and reserved only for Netflix’s Sense8. At the same time, however, you try building all those sets just a year after building the perfect heavenly neighborhood.
“Everything is Bonzer!” gets a lot more comedic mileage out of the continent of Australia than one would expect. We open right were season 2’s finale, “What We Owe to Each Other” ends. Eleanor has booked a ticket to an Australian university to receive lessons in morals from Dr. Chidi Anagonye. Chidi, in case you were wondering, is still a nervous mess. After his near death experience, he briefly becomes the decisive, confident person he’s always wanted to be.
“I haven’t been this happy since….oh wow. I’ve never been happy!” he says to his friend, Henry. Unfortunately, Chidi falls into his old ways after telling Henry to follow his bliss and Henry’s bliss leads him into a disastrous gym accident in which he snaps both his legs like twigs and pees his pants.
So when Eleanor finds Chidi, he’s still the kind of guy who can no longer make a selection from Australian muffin stand “We Crumb From a Land Down Under.” I repeat: WE CRUMB FROM A LAND DOWN UNDER. That’s right, motherforkers, just because we’re back on Earth doesn’t mean the food puns are going to end. The Good Place writing staff has Megan Amram, the Mozart of groan-worthy food puns and it would be comedic malpractice to not take advantage of that.
Chidi almost immediately agrees to help Eleanor, something that she is surprised by since she’s just some ““some hot rando who walked in off the street.” Chidi explains that following his near death experience and Henry’s sort of near death experience, a suave-silver haired stranger with a questionable Australian accent told him that he should help the next person who asks for it, and in the process heal himself. And that’s how Eleanor, Chidi, and Chidi’s new Australian psychologist would-be girlfriend, Simone, form their own little Australian team.
Again, it’s remarkable how well The Good Place settles us in to our new life on Earth. Granted, we’re all from Earth and should know a thing or two but within the context of this show, Earth is almost foreign to us. Thankfully, the show is able to make the most of its new, expansive surroundings. The Australian jokes somehow never grow stale. Eleanor apparently has stalked Russell Crowe already despite only being in country for three weeks. The episode even finds a way to satisfyingly ret-con whey Chidi’s English is so good. Previously all we knew about Chidi is that he was a native Senegalese citizen who only spoke French. Now thanks to one throwaway interaction with a French student, Chidi reveals that he was raised at an English school and can speak multiple languages. Hey, that works well enough for me.
The Good Place’s momentum continues over into the second half of its hour long two-parter. While last year’s “Chapter 26” documented Eleanor’s return to Earth and “Chapter 27” documents Chidi, the 22-ish-minute “Chapter 28” carries an ever larger burden. Not only must it catch us up on Tahani and Jason, but also get the entire gang gathered back together by episode’s end. Not only does it succeed, it’s arguably the better half of tonight’s premiere.
Even though we know it cannot last, it’s nice to see Tahani’s attempts to become a better person following her near death experience thought undoubtedly part of the big catalyst is people believing that her sister rescued her. Tahani gives all of her clothes to Good Will (that’s what she calls Prince William, the gentleman who married a commoner) and deletes all the famous people off of her phone (goodbye The Edge’s phone number and also The Edge’s real phone number that not even Bono knows!). Tahani moves to Tibet and makes a good faith effort to lead a better, simpler life. Unfortunately, temptation has made it all the way out to Tibet in the form of Squalor News with its show “Society is Effed.”
Before long Tahani has written a book that’s drawn raves from Malcolm Gladwell and Cormac McCarthy. Only a chance meeting with the mysterious Gordon Indigo changes her mind and she seeks out Chidi’s help.
Michael and his aliases are all over this premiere and it’s not only a sound emotional move to display just how much he cares about these characters but also a strong dramatic one. Michael/Gordon Indigo/Dr. Goodbrain/The Bartender from a purely logistical standpoint is able to get these characters back together where they belong so the real fun can star as early as next week. It’s just a bonus that the show is able to humanize Michael even more when doing so. “It’s a Pizza Hut AND a Taco Bell! The mind REELS!” May Ted Danson never leave our TV sets again.
Curiously, the most bittersweet year on Earth belongs to Jason. We’ve gotten so accustomed to Jason’s inability to learn and ago that’s his sad moments on the ship with “Zack Pizzazz” carry some unusual poignance. Something about surviving being locked in that boxed followed by Dance Dance Resolution’s failure has changed Jason. Michael clearly thought all he needed to do to get Jason to Australia was to pose as a dancing agent. Instead he finds a Jason who for the first time in his life is looking for something more.
It’s extra touching because Michael can’t help but see a bit of himself in the young lad. “My goals in life used to be completely different do. I repped this crew called the Demons,” Michael says.
Television, and network television in particular has always fundamentally been about a resistance to change. The characters are who they are and we love them for it. The Good Place continues to admirably honor that aspect of television history (Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason continue to be funny in almost exactly the same consistent ways), while at the same time at least respecting their desire for change and growth. More importantly the show understands that the concept of a human being merely becoming less of a shithead is just as hard as a demon becoming an angel.
Something else The Good Place understands thankfully is the importance of a good ending. Michael, Janet, and Gen aren’t the only ones monitoring these four humans on Earth. Shawn the Demon (played by television’s current most precious resource, Marc Evan Jackson) is keeping a close eye on them as well. By episode’s end when Chidi, Eleanor, Jason, and Tahani are reunited – they have two new interlopers. Simone is around, bless her Australian spirit, as is another familiar face: Adam Scott as Trevor the Demon!
The Good Place Season 3 continues the show’s appreciation and deep knowledge of serialized storytelling in this regard. This is a series that has picked up all the best lessons from both the world’s foremost philosophers and comic book writers. Enrich your audience, sure. But also don’t forget to wow them in the end so they’ll come back for more.
I, for one, can’t wait to come back for more.