This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 3 Episode 8
I remember reading a book that had a big impact on me in middle school. Granted, it wasn’t a big enough impact for me to actually remember the damn thing’s name. I had to Google “children’s book about a kid trying to be cool, weak tea” to discover that the book in question is Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days by Stephen Manes. But it still instilled some simple, child-like lessons that have somehow stuck with me.
The plot as I remember it (and as Amazon fills in) is that a grade school kid (apparently named Milo Crinkley) is tired of being unpopular and uninteresting so he acquires a book called Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days! written by the enigmatic Dr. K. Pinkerton Silverfish. Milo follows the books instructions as best he can but finds it difficult to do so. He’s only allowed to sip weak tea and at one point is forced to stay completely still in his room for an extended period of time. SPOILER ALERT: Milo falls asleep during his attempt, thus ruining his chance at being a perfect person.
Following the book’s instructions, Milo flips to the back page expecting Dr. K. Pinkerton Silverfish to admonish him for failing. Instead Dr. Silverfish’s closing message to the reader is to congratulate them for failing. Because being a perfect person sucks. All it means is sipping weak tea and sitting motionless for hours.
“Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” is essentially Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days for grown-ups. The “celebrity” that Michael and Janet were going to see in rural Canada is actually an adult Doug Forcett. You know Doug from his smiling headshot that adorns Michael’s office in the fake good place. He’s the only human being in history who correctly guessed the nature of the point system to get into heaven. He did so while tripping on ‘shrooms in Calgary in 1972.
Doug, as played brilliantly by Better Call Saul’s should-be-an-Emmy-winner Michael McKean, lives what could fairly be described as a perfect life. He is unfailingly generous. Everything he eats he grows for himself. He grows radishes because they were already there when he moved into his house and lentils because they consume little water or other resources. He only drinks water recycled from his own waste. He adopts every single stray dog or wolf that wanders onto his property and has the scars to prove it. The neighborhood kids come to his property and demand that he do them favors because he’s incapable of saying no.
“Don’t mind Raymond,” Doug tells Michael and Janet. “He’s just a local sociopath who wanders onto my property to take advantage of me.”
Doug lives the perfect life based on celestial point system set for him. He is also completely miserable.
This is a truly wonderful episode of The Good Place because it does that wonderful Good Place thing of putting philosophical theory into action. Doug is a “happiness pump,” as Michael later concludes. A “happiness pump” is a criticism of utilitarian theory that argues that the natural conclusion of a utilitarian philosophy is that it creates a bunch of weird, ultra selfless goobers incapable of doing anything that makes themselves happy.
On the page that sounds so boring. In practice though, with the help of Michael McKean, it’s hilarious, riveting stuff. McKean isn’t so much playing against his Better Call Saul Chuck type as he is returning to his natural type. McKean is good at playing comedic characters who should have no dignity whatsoever but still somehow act as though they have some and that’s exactly who poor Doug Forcett is*
*Side note: does it feel like there are a lot of tertiary Good Place characters named Doug? There’s Douglas Shellstrop, Donkey Doug, and Doug Forcett
In telling the story it also helps that obscure children’s literature isn’t the only tool that The Good Place brought to the table for “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By.” Beginning with Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days (which was probably unintentional unless someone else in The Good Place writer’s room attended Dodge Intermediate School in Twinsburg, Ohio), this episode features at least two other pop culture reference points that are so very much “my shit” that I don’t know if I can even fairly assess it.
“Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By” might as well have taken its opening montage directly from my dreams. Doug wakes up and immediately puts on a Mama Cass record on to begin his morning routine before he is interrupted by an unwelcome interloper. Sound familiar?
It’s almost a shot-for-shot remake of Lost Season 2’s brilliant cold open, right down to the excellent choice in Mama Cass song. Michael Schur has been open about The Good Place’s Lost inspirations and it’s nice to see the show deliver a surprisingly direct visual homage to Lost while not just borrowing its philosophical playbook.
The Good Place looks a little further back in time for its next inspiration (further back than 2005??? Impossible, I know). Eleanor, Tahani, Jason, and Chidi are all gathered together at a rural Canadian bar waiting for Michael and Janet to return from their trip to meet Doug. To pass the time while they wait, Jason teaches Chidi how to play pool Jacksonville style. This involves doing whatever you want with the balls and awarding yourself how ever many points you want. Chidi is a natural as it turns out.
While the boys play, Eleanor approaches Tahani with a problem.
“Tahani, can I ask your advice about something?” she asks.
“It is about your grating speaking voice because I’m so glad you brought it up.”
It’s not about her voice but rather the burden of the truth that Eleanor learned about her life in the Good Place with Chidi. Tahani advises Eleanor to simply tell Chidi what she knows. It’s advice that Eleanor is willing to follow until she realizes that the bar they’re hanging out in is populated almost entirely by demons.
The Good Place is so adept at out-thinking and out-plotting every problem that pops up for its characters that it’s truly fun and refreshing to see the show get out of this jam simply by opening up a can of whoop ass.
Shortly after the demons do the unthinkable and stop Jason from launching a Molotov cocktail and yelling “Bortles!” (“How did you make that so fast?” Chidi muses, astonished), Michael and Janet return to Sean and his demons having captured the humans just so Sean can see the look on Michael’s face when he drags them to hell. There will be no hell-dragging, however, thanks to the martial artistry of Janet. In a scene that must have taken days and countless stunt professionals to shoot, Janet quite simply owns the demons – albeit with a little help from Eleanor and the gang.
It’s all very, very reminiscent of Dogma’s demon bar fight back in 1999 with Janet serving as a stand in for Salma Hayek’s Muse. Ultimately Michael and Janet are able to repel the demons back to whence they came but in the process Eleanor decides to just come out and tell Chidi that they used to be in love and she may very well still be in love with him now.
It’s…a lot. But it’s also executed at a very high level and in very fun fashion. The same could be said for “Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By.” We’re halfway through season 3 now, and per usual the show will be taking a short hiatus (though if Wikipedia is to be believed this will be a very short one, with the show returning prior to Christmas as opposed to in January as in seasons’ past). It’s hard to say where The Good Place Season 3 stands in comparison to its brilliant previous two seasons.
I would argue, however, that the show is clearly having more fun than ever. The big emotional moments have come and will continue to do so. In-between them, however, is a fun narrative that has no issues with wearing its influences on its sleeves. The Good Place isn’t a perfect show but as Doug Forcett and Be a Perfect Person in Three Days teach us: perfection is overrated. This is fun and this is good.