Cast: Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jami, D'Arcy Carden, Ted Danson
There are few shows as willing to reinvent themselves as NBC’s The Good Place. The comedy premiered in 2017 and originally focused on a selfish woman accidentally sent to the good place after her untimely demise. The show earned critical acclaim for its hilarious characters and unique premise. Instead of settling into that premise though, the program’s first season finale redefined the program, sending it into unknown territory.
Now that the second season’s first half has aired, it seems obvious that the writers knew exactly what they were doing all along. With the winter premiere, the show continues to show a keen ability to adapt and find great laughs in its ever-changing environment.
In the second season’s early episodes, the diabolical Michael (Ted Danson) attempted to make his unique plan work. After repeating the same torture experiment again and again with the same result, he realized his own failings.
In the winter premiere, he finally made a realization: he needs the support of the very people he’s been trying to torment. This sets up a unique new world for him.
Now, he’s working alongside the selfish Eleanor (Kristen Bell), the arrogant Tahani (Jameela Jamil), the analytical Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and the undisciplined Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto). Michael has betrayed his overlords and formed an alliance with the humans. On the surface, he’s still the same maniacal Michael but on a deeper level, he now understands ethics and actually empathizes with the humans.
The ethical component of the show has never felt as fully realized. Since its beginning, the show has used ethical studies and conversations not as a convenient plot device but as a vehicle for elaborate character growth.
There are few shows that are so willing to spend time on ethical dilemmas and thought experiments as a way to grow their characters but The Good Place celebrates that distinct quality. The show features debates about moral quandaries, discussions about philosophers and even featured a whole episode about a thought experiment
But alongside those discussions, this show is still hilarious with its colorful characters.
Danson and Bell are superb in their leading roles but it’s really the supporting cast that brings this show to another level.
The self-absorbed Tahani keeps the laughs coming as she makes everything about herself and her celebrity friends. After a cruel roast by Michael, Tahani replies “That roast was the meanest thing I’ve ever seen and I once saw a waiter bring Russell Crowe the wrong tea.”
As Jason, Jacinto takes what could’ve been a one-note character and makes him into the most heartfelt individual amongst them. Despite his ignorance (on nearly everything), his exuberance and sweetness make him undeniably lovable.
The supporting cast also wouldn’t be the same without D’Arcy Carden, who plays the robotic guide Janet. At first, this character was easy to dismiss but as the show has grown and adapted, Carden has really stood out. Playing both the optimistic but naïve Janet and the flip side of the coin (known as Bad Janet), Carden captures an abundance of emotions and does it beautifully.
Like its characters, The Good Place has grown since the program premiered. It’s full of wonderful surprises, great laughs and a willingness to change.
After a show has been renewed for a second season, that program often sticks to the same format– understanding and building off its success. That’s one of the great things about The Good Place. The place may be changing but the show’s brilliant course continues unabated.
Review by: John Hanlon