Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Good Place Season 2 Develops Character In The Afterdeath!

The Good: Very funny, Good performances, Interesting themes, Decent character development
The Bad: Unfortunately short season, Some repetitive moments
The Basics: The Good Place Season 2 manages to reinvent itself successfully to progress its characters through a short, but wonderful, second season!

There are very few shows that I can think of that had more pressure to perform and surprise audiences in their second season than The Good Place. It was a tough thing to write a review of the first season of The Good Place (reviewed here!) without spoiling the end; it is impossible to write a review of the second season without discussing the end reversal. In my review of the first season, I worked hard not to spoil the end, but I alluded to how the first season works like a movie that if I even mentioned could spoil the first season. That film was The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!) and, like that, The Good Place Season 1 features an untrustworthy narrator. That put a huge burden on the second season of The Good Place as it forced the show to completely reinvent itself or risk simply doing the same thing a second time.

In its second season, The Good Place takes the tough road of reinvention and it manages to succeed, making an even better second season than the first.

Almost immediately, The Good Place Season 2 subverts expectations by revealing that the show will not simply be a reboot of the first season. Having revealed that Michael is actually tormenting the four protagonists of The Good Place, the rebooted experiment within Michael's Bad Place does not last the whole season . . . it does not even survive the season premiere! Over the course of the first episode, Eleanor's note from the first season finale allows her to quickly deduce the nature of the place in which she has found herself.

The Good Place Season 2 finds Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason in the afterdeath. There, they are tormented with the belief that they are in the Good Place, but the imperfections tip them off. On the 802nd attempt, Michael is extorted by Denise and Eleanor and Chidi retreat with Janet to Mindy St. Claire's. In the Medium Place, Eleanor and Chidi learn the true nature of their existence and return to the neighborhood. There, Michael confesses to his humans and works to convince them that they are all in the same boat. Reluctantly working with the coerced Michael, the group begin the 803rd attempt with their memories intact and a promise from Michael that he will try to find a way to sneak the quartet into the actual Good Place.

When Chidi begins to teach ethics to Michael, it creates in him an existential crisis. It does not take long, though, for him to revert to form. But continuing to work with Michael to force the demon to uphold his word, leads Michael to develop and grow. As he becomes invested in the group and their problems, he actually works to protect the humans from Sean and their impending doom!

The Good Place Season Two progresses wonderfully, without a sense of repetition that could have plagued the show. Instead of simply repeating the first season's plot for the entire season, The Good Place reinvents itself by smartly developing Michael. While the first season worked to evolve Eleanor to reveal a truth about the plot, the second season of The Good Place finds Michael and Janet evolving beyond their original parameters in surprisingly compelling ways. Janet and her impending self destruction forces the plot forward, but the threat to Michael blended with the menace from Vicki makes him make decisions that progress the twelve episodes forward in an intriguing and often-funny way.

For a better understanding of why The Good Place works as well as it does, it helps to understand the characters. The characters in the The Good Place Season 2 continue to be:

Eleanor Shellstrop - Dead and initially returned to Michael's experiment knowing that she doesn't belong and given the title of "Best Person" to encourage her to go off the rails, she uses the clue left from the prior loop to find Chidi. Almost constantly figuring out that the group is in the Bad Place, she always turns to Chidi for help and she begins to develop actual affection for him. She starts to develop actual romantic feelings for Chidi and actually turns to a tape she stole from Mindy St. Claire, which allows her to make a genuine appeal to the architects of the afterdeath,

Chidi Anagonye - Originally rebooted as the neighborhood's only man who has two potential soulmates, between whom he must choose, he is found by Eleanor almost immediately. It is the fact he always helps her that ultimately turns Eleanor toward Michael's plan. He acts as an ethical guide to Michael, Eleanor, Tahani and Jason, though he is tormented by Michael with the Trolly Problem. As Eleanor develops, Chidi starts to have feelings for her as well,

Tahani - Given a new identity with a tiny house and a short soulmate, she is miserable right away and gets drunk at the initial party. Tahani is a hold-out with Eleanor on Michael's plan until she has the epiphany of how truly horrible she was in life (by being shown how she died). When she is tormented by Denise with a party that is better than one she is throwing, she finds Jason's compassion surprisingly alluring and the two hook up. When Jason proposes to her, she finds herself in the surprising position of actually saying "yes,"

Jason Mendoza - Rebooted again as a silent monk, he is miserable with his platonic soul mate and works to get away from him. He turns to Janet for help and, at a low point for Michael, he figures out they are in the Bad Place! Still a complete idiot, he eagerly hooks up with Tahani. When that happens, he becomes more emotionally-complicated by feeling hurt by Tahani's shame about being in a relationship with him. When he learns that he was married to Janet in a previous incarnation, he tries to maintain his relationship with Tahani,

Janet - The interactive information system in The Good Place, she was stolen by Michael for his experiment and continues to adapt to the new stimuli she is presented with. She works around her programming by trying to keep the four humans happy (as opposed to servicing the demons in the community). Her programming begins to glitch when she acts as a therapist for Tahani and Jason. Her glitches begin to compound, which threatens the neighborhood, so she creates a mate for herself, which further complicates the neighborhood,

and Michael - The demon who is desperately trying to avoid "retirement" (in the form of eternal torment), he adopts a mindset of "if you can't beat them, join them" and teams up with his human subjects. Learning philosophy from Chidi starts to have a real effect on him and he develops compassion for the four people he has been tormenting. Working to keep his secret from Sean, constantly threatened by Vicki (Denise, the original "real" Eleanor), he starts to feel bad about how he treated Janet and how asking her to lie is affecting her program. When Sean recognizes his good work and he is promoted, he faces a genuine ethical dilemma that forces him to actually choose sides and face the consequences of his actions.

The Good Place allows Ted Danson to shine with a very different type of character than he has played before. Danson is funny and tormented as Michael and he plays that range well. When Michael is earnest and honest, Danson shines in a way that he often does not have the chance to play. Equally wonderful is William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi. Harper is instantly watchable as he plays Chidi as more than simply conflicted and indecisive. When he has to play the teacher and has hints of an alternate self when he and Eleanor were romantically involved, William Jackson Harper shows off his chops in a way he did not in the first season. As the second season of The Good Place progresses, Harper becomes a delight to watch as he makes Chidi an exceptional balance of authoritative and deeply human in the most painfully flawed ways.

Against the probabilities of what comes from most network television shows, The Good Place manages to make a smart, strong second season that improves upon the first season and whose deepest flaw might be that it leaves the viewer wishing there were more of it!

For other works from the 2017 - 2018 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"Here I Go Again" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Will You Take My Hand?" - Star Trek: Discovery
"True Colors" - The Flash
"Both Sides Now" - Supergirl
"Past Life" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Altered Carbon - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 4
"Twice Upon A Time" - Doctor Who
The End Of The F***ing World - Season 1
The Orville - Season 1
The Punisher - Season 1
Inhumans - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 2
Rick And Morty - Season 3
"Crisis On Earth-X, Part 2" - Arrow
Twin Peaks - Season 3 ("The Return")
Game Of Thrones - Season 7
The Defenders - Season 1
Friends From College - Season 1


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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