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‘The Good Place’ Starts Back in a Whole New Place
September 20, 2017  | By David Hinckley

NBC’s The Good Place did something pretty cool to end its first season last spring. It blew up its whole premise.

That creates challenges as the second season launches at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday. But quirky charm, Ted Danson (top), and the delightful Kristen Bell (top) keep The Good Place humming along as one of television’s great escapes.

For those tuning in late, Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop who, as the first season started, had just died. That may sound bad, but an authoritative and empathetic man named Michael (Danson) told her she had arrived in the Good Place, the happy afterlife for people who had been exemplary in their time on Earth.

Only Eleanor had not. She’d been selfish and nasty and she really should have gone to the Bad Place.

But wait, Michael told her. Perhaps she could redeem herself and stay in the Good Place with the help of her designated soulmate, Chidi (William Jackson Harper, top), and two friends, Tahini (Jameela Jamil, left) and Jianyu (Manny Jacinto, below).

Good plan. But it turned out they all had issues, and suddenly the Good Place didn’t seem so good any more.  

Tough for the characters, good for us viewers, because the charm of the show was watching Michael’s seeming befuddlement and the straight-faced dry wit of Eleanor, who was trying hard to be good but couldn’t always shake the attitude from her years being awful.

Making it even better, The Good Place wasn’t written, as so many sitcoms are, to set up jokes. There was a mysterious long game in play, and at the end of the season it was finally resolved.

The Good Place, it turned out, wasn’t the Good Place at all. It was the Bad Place, and the badness was that these people would keep irritating each other for eternity. In the final episode, Eleanor figured that out and blew Michael’s whole sordid scheme.

Great twist. It does, however, mean the second season must rebuild.

That starts with Michael, whose original benevolence got a little frayed in the first season and totally unraveled at the end. That makes sense, since he’s really the architect of the Bad Place, and it enables Danson to remind us why he’s such a great sitcom actor.

He shifts Michael’s gears without so much as a bump.

The problem for Eleanor, Chidi, Tahini, and Jianyu is that Michael has erased their memories so he can start their stay in the Bad Place all over, fine-tuning his approach so this time they won’t know what’s happening.

At the same time, Michael finds himself under pressure from supreme judge Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson) to stop toying with these people and go back to torturing them in traditional ways, like smashing them with hammers.

It may not sound like the classic formula for comedy, but the deft hands of Danson, Bell, and the others keep it consistently funny even as the writers create some tricky plot contortions to set up the second season’s new long game. It launches with a double episode and it needs that extra time to reposition all the players.

Viewers need to pay some attention. They will be rewarded by a tale that, like a glass of good wine or a handful of M&Ms, can make a tough day feel better.

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