This The Good Place review contains spoilers.
The Good Place Season 4 Episode 5
The goal of The Good Place season 4 is a modest one: just merely prove that human beings are fundamentally good when not compromised by their environment and therefore worthy of eternal bliss. No big deal!
Obviously, this is an impossible task for anyone, let alone a half hour sitcom. But at this point, five episodes into the final season’s run, it can seem like the show isn’t even trying yet. Sure, the characters have presumably been hard at work offscreen to make this newest neighborhood experiment work. Every time we catch up with Eleanor at the beginning of a new episode, she is either just coming from or on her way to another scheme to get the “test subjects,” Brent, John, Chidi, and Simone, to their next assignment.
The show, however, hasn’t let many of these attempts come to fruition onscreen. We haven’t gotten much of a look at redemption – only the nuts and bolts that go into an experiment that will eventually lead to redemption. Perhaps that’s part of the point The Good Place is trying to make: experiments are hard work and also maybe not the best avenue to prove man’s inherent goodness. The fact that we’ve not spent much time inside that experiment though has made The Good Place season 4 feel a touch slower than it probably intended. Time is of the essence here. The show is ending as is humanity’s last opportunity to stave off eternal hellfire.
And more oft than not it seems as though The Good Place’s best strategy is just to make Professor Chidi do everything. Episode 5, “Employee of the Bearimy,” is another step in that regard. Witness Tahani’s panic when it seems as though she must deal with the lake house crew herself.
Yes, while Michael and Jason are off on a side mission to rescue Janet and Eleanor and Tahani must hold things down at the neighborhood before Derek completely collapses from the stress of holding the neighborhood together (after he enjoys a fine glass of Scrabble tiles of course). These are more diversions from the nuts and bolts of experiment management and not the exploration of the human soul we were somewhat reasonably led to expect.
Still, “Employee of the Bearimy” is quite different from its season 4 peers in one important aspect: this might be the funniest episode of the season thus far. And when you’re spinning your wheels on how best to save all of humanity, a strong sense of humor is not a bad way to kill some time.
The writers on The Good Place are some of the best highly verbal joke-tellers on television since 30 Rock and they outdo themselves here. It all stars early with a cold open that finds Vicki working on her Michael impression in front of Janet. This gives Ted Danson the opportunity to workshop some new demonic laughs and also allows D’Arcy Carden to deliver the line “You know what? It really feels more like torture when you discuss your acting process.”
Jason and Michael arrive to The Bad Place (Population: Your mom), where Michael is once again eager to prove that he’s not the demon he once was. Michael used to not only be a demon, he was once even the “Employee of the Bearimy.” With Michael still confronting that old version of himself, “Employee of the Bearimy” operates as a little double feature with last week’s “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy.” Michaels’ journey to self actualization is just as important as the humans around him and it seems like he has finally fully accepted himself after this latest mission.
Michael’s brilliant idea is to act as though he’s Vicki wearing a Michael suit and Jason is Glenn wearing a Jason suit. “Spin around for us, will you, hon?” Shawn says patting Michael’s butt. It all goes quite well until Vicki herself turns up, and Shawn then utters the best line ever delivered on The Good Place, and maybe on television, itself.
“What in the name of Kevin Spacey’s self-made Christmas Eve video message to try to get back on House of Cards is going on here?”
If you’re unfamiliar with what Shawn is referencing, do not under any circumstances Google it. It is among our species’ most cursed artifacts. Thankfully despite Shawn’s invocation of the Video-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named Michael, Jason, and Janet are all able to make their escape. Like much of The Good Place season 4, its’ all a little too busy and doesn’t fully confront the question central to the show’s mission, but damn it all if it isn’t a completely hilarious side story.
Jason even must go through the motions of learning about Blake Bortles departure once again, then getting excited about replacement Nick Foles, then getting sad again upon learning that Foles fractured his clavicle. The last bit about Foles’ clavicle is clearly a bit of ADR’ed dialogue, given that this was likely filmed well before the NFL season started. It also raises the hope that Jason Mendoza really will get to hear the name “Gardner Minshew” uttered one day.
Eleanor and Tahani’s exploits back at the neighborhood largely mirror the Jason and Michael adventures. Again, the theme of the day is self doubt with Tahani wondering why Eleanor does all the heavy lifting while she is confined to mere dinner party and lake house party hosting.
“I would never serve finger sandwiches at a lake house. What am I, Welsh?” Tahani can’t help but saying.
“Are you? I seriously don’t know,” Eleanor responds.
This is again a weird time for personal jealousies and insecurities to come out, you know with the fate of humanity at stake. Though that’s a very human thing indeed: being one of three human beings charged with saving 7 billion and still worrying about your role within those three.
Eleanor and Tahani’s eventual heart to heart rings mostly true, with Eleanor saying they have different talents due to their different upbringing. And maybe one day when this is all over Tahani can learn to weld or something. It’s a bit of a basic lesson, but that’s what The Good Place seems to be concerned with now as it continues to build the neighborhood experiment.
Thankfully, though the emotional beats of Eleanor and Tahani’s storyline may be basic, they’re just as hilarious thanks to the unique comedic stylings of William Jackson Harper. When Harper is really able to lean into Chidi’s nerdy weirdness, the show and the world are really better places for it. His Ron Swanson-style infectious joy for scavenger hunts is a delight.
“I love puzzles. They’re so much fun but they’re also like homework. Win-win!” he says, in-between excited “Oooooooooos!”
Chidi is such a perfectly lovable goober, which in turn only makes it more painful when Eleanor succeeds in getting him out of his shell only to have to watch him share a kiss with “soulmate” Simone.
Truly no good deed goes unpunished on The Good Place. So far season 4 has opted against truly big swings in favor of consolidating and clarifying the relationships of the central characters most important to us. Like setting up a neighborhood experiment, this is necessary, hard work. It’s just not spectacular work yet. At least while we want for complete moral enlightenment, we have all these stellar jokes to keep us company.
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