Wednesday night’s Season 2 premiere of The Good Place took the show’s sadistic Groundhog’s Day conceit to the extreme in the best and shrewdest way, for a premise that should be tired by now and yet continues to be witty and gratifying.
Not many TV shows leave me as cynical and fuzzy inside as the first season of The Good Place, which introduced us to its charming jerk of a protagonist, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell). Eleanor, as an accomplished Bad Person, immediately realized she wasn’t supposed to be in the delightful heaven in which she landed and found herself bonding with a group of friends who were outsiders, too. It took much longer for her to recognize the larger scheme, but in the Season 1 finale, the Hell Architect Michael (your father Ted Danson) and his maniacal laugh confirmed Eleanor’s suspicion that The Good Place was actually The Bad Place. The entire season was part of an elaborate experiment designed to force her group to torment each other. Like many others, I was pleasantly stunned by this twist.
Season 2 is Michael’s second stab at ruining these people’s afterlives and creating an even badder scheme around Eleanor, with the viewing audience and Eleanor (somewhat) wiser. The premiere restarts each player’s timeline, as we see Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani try to adapt to a new, seemingly good world. The first time around, they were made to be each other’s soulmates. This time, they’re matched with outside soulmates intended to cause them mental and emotional distress. While Eleanor’s personal torture is a dumb gym rat (“I gotta stay jacked. It’s who I am,” he says), the notoriously indecisive (and thus strongly relatable) Chidi has multiple soulmates, much to his dismay.
Michael has added other annoying elements to The Good/Bad Place 2.0 like, for example, he says, “All the coffee is from those little pods. Diabolical.” His plan is immediately faulty, of course. The actors he’s counting on to pull off building a terrible world around Eleanor and company appear more confused and asinine than ever. The fabricated storylines also aren’t as smoothly orchestrated as the first time Eleanor entered, in what I think is a smart nod to the sophomore jinx that befalls so many great sitcoms.
The Good Place is different. There’s a commitment to bitterness that makes the show an odd, endearing force. Plus, it’s easy to attach yourself to the group dynamic, namely the sweet, contentious friendship between Eleanor and Chidi, who I believe is my soulmate. Though I still wonder how much longer the show’s conceit can go on, the writers have made us believe they can pull off the improbable and make a funny show about a simple idea: what it means to be good or bad. The point is that Eleanor is destined to mess with Michael’s chaotic algorithm and to ruin his sad attempt to be an evil genius. So, even quicker than Season 1, Eleanor figures out Michael’s scheme and the show resets yet again in a way that will draw us in even further, while playing on the idea that people are in turn cosmically drawn to each other, no matter the circumstance.