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'The Good Place' is a Great Show
January 10, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Broadcast TV’s best sitcom, The Good Place, returns Thursday to finish out its third season.

Just don’t blink. The rest of the season consists of three episodes.

The Good Place, which can be seen at 9:30 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC, probably benefits creatively from only having to deliver 13 episodes a season.

But it’s also well-written in general, witness the extremely clever pivot it made at the end of its first season to escape what seemed to be the termination point for its storyline.

The story has only expanded since then, and the next three episodes explore a plotline that can send the show sailing right into Season 4 – coming probably next fall.

When we left our somewhat flawed but unfailingly engaging heroes last fall, they had finally made it to The Good Place, the afterlife location to which good people go.

Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Chidi (William Jackson Harper) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) are four good-hearted and curiously likeable but flawed humans who, after they died, thought they landed in The Good Place. Even though, in Eleanor’s case, she knew she didn’t deserve it.

It turned out they hadn’t. They were in The Bad Place, camouflaged by the insidious demon Michael (Ted Danson) to look like The Good Place. After little things kept going wrong, they realized this was Michael’s stealth means of torturing them.

Since that realization, they’ve been on a quest to get into the real Good Place, helped by a reformed Michael and his robot assistant, Janet (D’Arcy Carden).

Through an unlikely series of maneuvers that are dramatically defensible because they were so well executed, the four got to the outskirts of The Good Place, where Michael and Janet made an interesting discovery.

No one has been admitted to The Good Place for more than 500 years – not because of vetting errors, as Michael first suspected, but because it’s become almost impossible on Earth to be good.

An action that seems selfless and praiseworthy almost invariably triggers something bad somewhere down the line. Giving food to a starving person promotes the exploitative labor and dangerous environmental practices that were probably used to grow the food. Things like that.

While The Good Place is saturated with jokes and humor, creator Michael Schur is smart enough to write the jokes into the story, not to use the story to set up one-liners. All five main characters are funny for different reasons, and we buy the humor from every one of them. They also have exactly the relationships we’d expect these odds ducks to develop if they met while they were still alive.

Along the way, The Good Place throws down a moving gauntlet of dead-on observations about the annoying or rude things that people do, say or create. It zeroes in on behavior whose seeming goodness is superficial and has endless fun with self-importance, obliviousness, and even indecision.

It’s thirty minutes you will never want back. It’s a good place.

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