This The Good Place review contains spoilers
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 5
The Good Place for all of its technical brilliance and upending of traditional network sitcom structure is still a network sitcom. This is a half-hour comedy that receives a 13-episode order each year. At some point each season, The Good Place has adopted something resembling a status quo.
In season one, the return to the status quo meant Eleanor discovering the truth about Jianyu/Jason and inviting him to philosophy lessons with Chidi week after week. In season two the status quo saw Tahani and Michael joining the philosophy lessons while the whole gang tried to avoid discovery by Sean and the demons.
In season three we have now arrived at a tenuous status quo. For at least a few weeks now, it would seem as though the Soul Squad will be embarking on their divinely ordained journey to save souls. This is absolutely a good use of the show’s limited time. These characters can’t sit around and contemplate their own morality week after week. We need some action, at least before the next big change up that is certain to come by season’s end or sooner.
Having said that, however, maybe The Good Place shouldn’t have started its new status quo with a Jason episode.
Jason is a tremendously appealing character and as we all know, Manny Jacinto is an angel sent from heaven to save the Earth with his winsome smile. “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” just might be too much Jason too soon.
Following the episode’s cold open and “Chapter 32” title card (worth mentioning here that the show’s chaptering format is pretty appealing), Jason, Tahani, and Michael all arrive at Randy “Macho Man” Savage International Airport in Jacksonville, Florida. Right off the bat we’re entreated to a cornucopia of Florida-related humor. Jason’s dad is actually “Donkey Doug,” the same man who once invented a sport that was a cross between horseshoes and dodgeball (there were fatalities). The taxis in Jacksonville are monster trucks that crush everything in their path indiscriminately.
It’s amazing that even after three years, The Good Place writing staff has this many Florida Man jokes in the tank. These are the kind of regionally-specific off-the-wall jokes that Michael Schur and his co-horts excel at. Well, that and food puns – “French Pressing Nemo Cafe” is the site of Chidi’s b-story storyline later. They’re so good at these jokes and draw such clear enthusiasm from them that one can’t blame them for letting loose once they finally have close to a full episode set in Jacksonville. Rather than being infectious and endearing this time around, however, a lot of the plot comes across as exhausting.
Part of the problem is Donkey Doug, himself. Mitch Narito as the Donkster does such a convincing Jason impression that I had to look up whether he is related to Manny Jacinto. He is not as far as I can tell. I do know though that two Jasons is probably one Jason too many.
It’s particularly frustrating to watch Jason fall back into the nonsense schemes of Jacksonville like Double Trouble (the world’s first energy drink and body spray) when arguably he’s made the most moral progress of anyone in the Soul Squad. Perhaps that’s the point though. Jason is like Huckleberry Finn at the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finnw hen Tom Sawyer comes to town and Huck goes right back to being an obnoxious little shit.
Thankfully, Jason is still focused enough to know that Donkey Doug and Pill Boi’s plan to rob three factories (body spray, energy drink, and bottles) is a bad idea. Not only that, but he’s morally sophisticated enough now to make the astonishingly hard decision to give up on Donkey Doug’s soul in favor of saving Pill Boi’s. This is remarkably heady stuff that is somewhat undercut by the silliness of it all. The Good Place’s depth and silliness almost always complement each other. This happens to be the rare instance in which they clash.
Jason leaves Jacksonville having accomplished something truly impressive. The show, even with the steadying presences of Michael and Tahani, has a hard time communicating the emotional and philosophical implications of just how impressive it is. That’s to be expected when the souls of people named “Donkey Doug” and “Pillboi” are at stake.
“The Ballad of Donkey Doug’s” b-story with Eleanor and Janet helping Chidi break up with Simone is a much more effective balancing act. Like Jason, Chidi also has to do something pretty emotionally and philosophically heavy. He knows he must break up with Simone because should he accidentally spill the secrets of the universe to her, he’d be damning her to eternity in the Bad Place. Unlike Jason’s story, however, Chidi’s quirks make the proceedings funnier and more poignant.
It certainly helps that Janet and Eleanor are involved. The two are responsible for “The Ballad of Donkey Doug’s” best moments. First when Eleanor enters into Janet’s simulation to try to break up with Simone, only to fall in love with her and come close to kissing her. Eleanor’s burgeoning attraction to women is one of my favorite recurring gags on this show – and not just because I’m a pitiful, disgusting pig. Kristen Bell just clearly has a good time. Janet has the episode’s best line when Eleanor asks to go back into the simulation.
“Just a heads up, when you enter the system you might find yourself in a steam room with Jason in an old-timey wrestler onesie. It’s a glitch in the system,” she says.
Ultimately Chidi is able to break up with Simone, but not painlessly. “The Ballad of Donkey Doug” ends in a strong place as episodes of The Good Place usually do. The Soul Squad plans to go visit Tahani’s sister before Michael and Janet reveals that Eleanor’s mom is actually alive, having faked her own death.
The mere fact that we’ll get to further delve into these characters’ lives on Earth makes this return to a status quo satisfying. Jason just might not have been the status quo to lead off with.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!