TV Series Review

The Good Place Is Doing What Lost Never Could

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After three seasons, if a show presses the reset button, it’s usually a red flag— something has gone seriously awry, and a reset is a last ditch effort to save the show. But for The Good Place, it’s practically habit. At the end of Season Two, Ted Danson’s Michael unleashed the second official reset in the show’s season two-season run. After the core four characters made their way out of The Bad Place, they arrived in front of The Judge for the biggest twist yet: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason returned to Earth to survive their near-death experiences, and have a second chance at becoming better. The only catch? They had no previous memory from their time in The Good Place.
It’s a crazy notion, right? But it’s the next logical step for a show that has made it a point to transcend logic. The Season Three opener is a masterclass in what The Good Place has managed to cultivate: four anti-heroes who are learning to be good people in an era of television when people need something good to root for. As the season begins, we get to see a little bit of what’s going on in their redemption tour, but it’s a firm reminder of what the show has become about. Eleanor and company can’t improve their situation alone.

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The Good Place, Season 3 DVD

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It’s a notion that fueled Lost, a show that creator Michael Schur has referenced when creating The Good Place. The difference is that Lost hit you with that big thesis statement in the finale. The long-awaited conclusion to one of the most viewer-studied shows in recent history hinged on this idea of needing people. Instead of that approach, The Good Place leads with it. Where the themes of morality and faith and ethics were half-baked into smoke monsters and hatches, The Good Place addresses these lofty ideas head on in a way that somehow still feels like a comedy. We’re not being beaten over the head with prestige television (a phrase coined along with Lost). We’re just getting a funny show that happens to have some of the most nuanced musings on philosophy found on television today.
In the season premiere, everyone’s attempt to make good on their lives takes a bad turn. What started with good intentions goes awry, so demon-turned-good-guy Michael heads to Earth via a door protected only by Mike O’Malley, who is the perfect doorman between Earth and the afterlife. Posing as four different men, Michael is able to nudge Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason into reuniting. The result? A quick trip to Australia to meet Professor Chidi so that they can study what a near-death experience does to their behavior. Thankfully, Michael pulled off this meddling in the lives of their subjects without The Judge finding out. But in the final seconds, Trevor (Adam Scott) reemerges from the literal pits of Hell The Bad Place (if you’ve forgotten, he’s essentially a mega-demon) as a human whose ready to blow up this big Australian party.
If Australia rings a bell, you’re not alone. It’s the same place where Oceanic Flight 815 took off from when it crashed on Lost. The comparison to Lost isn’t a crazy one, either, according to Schur. “It’s likely Australia was floating around in my brain because of Lost and The Leftovers,” he told me during an interview for this piece. I will say eagle-eyed viewers of [both shows] will undoubtedly see little references to those shows.” Schur has taken the formula of Lost, however, and made it easier to digest.

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With every season finale—every episode, really—Lost introduced a new twist to mess with the audience. Whether it’s “We have to take the boy,” “We have to go back,” or “We have to move the island” (?)—the challenge of Lost for the viewer was following the writers through these logical hurdles. It was fun, but maybe not always the most responsible storytelling. In The Good Place, these resets to the mechanics and structure of the show seem logical—they don’t require a drastic leap of faith for the audience to follow. As such, it makes The Good Place feel like a fully-realized narrative that the writers aren’t making up as they go along.

As he’s noted in previous interviews, Schur’s most constructive piece of advice he took from Lost creator, Damon Lindelof, was to develop a clear direction. That seems to be what works best for The Good Place. Even when a second reset should spell doom for a series three seasons deep, it works for Schur and friends because it feels so clearly planned. In a television landscape that is riddled with spoilers and theories, The Good Place is a strange exception to the rule because the liberty of resetting the story for the benefit of its characters feels so purposeful.
If you’re in the minority and signed up for The Good Place looking to piece together a big mystery, let me be the one to spoil it for you. The Good Place’s greatest favor to its fanbase is establishing that this has always been a show about being a good person, and if the season three start is any indication, the answer to how to be a good person relies in those around you.By finding each other from the jump, viewers have already seen what these misfits are capable of. There’s no debate over theories or loose ends. Michael Schur has a story and a direction, and with a clear path ahead, there’s even a little bit of time for good jokes (literally go back and listen to Michael’s aliases—Zack Pizzazz forever).

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