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'The Good Place,' Season Two, Part Two
January 4, 2018  | By David Hinckley

Watching The Good Place gets gooder and gooder.

The second half of the NBC show’s relatively short season premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET, and once again it starts by dancing out of a seemingly inescapable corner.

Which is, in fact, the show’s charm.

Well, half the show’s charm. The other half is Eleanor (Kristen Bell, top), Chidi (William Jackson Harper, top), Tahani (Jameela Jamil, top) and Jianyu (Manny Jacinto, top), four people who were sent to The Bad Place and are desperately scrambling to sneak out, plus Michael (Ted Danson, left), the guy who’s in charge of their Bad Place torture, and his charming robot Janet (D’Arcy Carden, left).

In other settings, all six of them could be as annoying as stepping on a nest of hornets in a poison ivy patch. To say they’re self-centered is like saying salmon can swim. But at this point in the saga, we’ve even gotten to like the blockhead Jianyu and his endless laments about the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It may not be a coincidence the Jags made the playoffs this year.

In any case, Thursday’s episode has Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jianyu once more on the brink of being sent to the traditional Bad Place for the remainder of eternity.

They’ve been hanging on in this sort of halfway house situation because Michael originally thought it might be fun to torture some people by making them think they were in the Good Place and then be frustrated when everything seemed to go wrong.  

At the end of the first season, they figured out his plan, so Michael erased their memories and tried another plan. They figured that one out. And so it went.  

Michael could, of course, just send them to the traditional Bad Place and be done with it. But his boss, Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson, right, with Danson), has been following Michael’s failure and threatening to fire him if he can’t make this whimsical torture plan succeed.  

So this season, Michael apparently has formed an alliance with Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jianyu to fool his bosses into thinking Michael’s plan is working.

The goal for those four is to hang on long enough to show they can change, be good people, and wind up in the real Good Place. Michael started off just wanting to keep his job, but there are signs he’s starting to like these humans and feel some empathy with their struggles. That’s not exactly the mission of the Bad Place.

Last fall’s midseason cliffhanger had Michael being summoned into Shawn’s office, with a stern expression that suggested Michael might be busted. Which, of course, would bust everybody.  

Okay, it’s all pretty convoluted. Or just plain weird. The storyline twists can be as tortured as the poor souls who will spend eternity being skewered like a roast suckling pig at a luau.

But they work, because Bell, Danson, and the others play them with a marvelous combination of self-awareness and sincerity. They find surprising little pockets of real human connections amid Eleanor’s obliviousness, Tahani’s narcissism, Chidi’s endless indecision, and Jianyu’s utter lack of a clue.

You don’t have to understand any of the plotlines, or accept them, to enjoy the conversations on The Good Place. Whether you do or not, it’s TV sitcom escapism at its modern peak.

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