Last season, Mike Schur’s The Good Place debuted with a phenomenal concept — Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself wrongly sent to “The Good Place” after her death — and we, as viewers, spent most of the season wondering how long that premise could possibly be sustained. It seemed like the end of the runway was always two or three episodes into the future, tops. Yet, Mike Schur managed to find news and exciting wrinkles, and not only did he extend the life of the premise, the show improved as it moved on.
Then that killer season finale twist arrived: Eleanor was never in “The Good Place,” she was in the “Bad Place” all along, and making her think otherwise was Michael’s (Ted Danson) torturous form of hell.
Well, that’s it, right? That should have been the end of the show.
Except that Michael zapped Eleanor’s memory, and decided to reboot the exercise.
The Good Place 2.0 began last night, and hell if Mike Schur didn’t pull another rabbit out of his top hat. (How many rabbits does he have in that goddamn thing, anyway?) This time, Michael attempted to keep Eleanor away from her friends — Chidi, Tahani, and Jason — and while the first two episodes compressed an entire season into an hour, it also offered a fresh perspective because now the audience is in on the joke. Now that we know it’s the Bad Place, we get to experience the show from the perspective of Michael and the rest of the demon actors, who are trying to pull one over on Eleanor. Eleanor remains the focus of The Good Place, but we’re looking at her from an entirely different perspective.
Last season, it was Eleanor trying to outsmart the clueless Michael, but now it’s Michael trying to fiendishly outsmart Eleanor. We understand from the outset that Chidi, Jason, and Tahini belong in the Bad Place, and now we know why, but even as they wear their sins on their sleeve, so to speak, we also know of the heart underneath. There’s an unbreakable bond between them that clearly mind erasure cannot break.
The trick now is to rewire our brains to view Michael as the villain. From Michael’s perspective, we also learn about the unspeakable conventional horrors of the Bad Place, like penis flattening and enormous butthole spiders. But here’s the twist: If Michael doesn’t pull off his Good Place 2.0 gambit, he’ll be shot into the sun, so even though he’s the bad guy, we find ourselves pulling for him in way similar to the way we sympathized with Eleanor last season.
If Schur had simply decided to reverse the point of view, my guess is that he could have pulled it off for an entire season with a minor wrinkle here and there to keep it fresh — the hilarious joke writing alone could sustain most of the season. But hell if that motherfucker didn’t exhaust 2.0 in the first hour and reboot again. Is that how this season is going to work? Is he just going to reboot every few episodes and try again? How long can that last before it gets old? How could Mike Schur possibly sustain that?
In other words, here we are again, right back to believing that the end of the runway is two or three episodes into the future, at best. By now, however, I think we’ve learned never to underestimate Mike Schur.