Last season of The Good Place turned that show into one of my absolute favorite shows currently airing on TV. It had brilliant world-building, superb characters, and genuinely funny situations. Not to mention a whole lot of genuine emotions. It’s such a well-written show that it’s always a little worrying to think about how the cast and crew could possibly live up to, or even top, all that had already happened. Would this third season be a bit of a disappointment after how last season’s finale ended? The short answer is: Nope! The longer answer requires a bit more time to get into. I’m gonna try and keep this preview/review as spoiler-free as possible, restricting any potential spoilers to things that have already been revealed (the clip of the first three minutes of the premiere revealed by NBC a few weeks ago, the official sneak peek of season three released about a week and a half ago, the Entertainment Weekly first look images, or any other public information from Comic-Con or other interviews).
From creator Michael Schur comes a unique comedy about what makes a good person. The show follows Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), an ordinary woman who enters the afterlife, and thanks to some kind of error, is sent to the Good Place instead of the Bad Place (which is definitely where she belongs). While hiding in plain sight from Good Place Architect Michael (Ted Danson), she’s determined to shed her old way of living and earn her spot.
The first two seasons featured surprise after surprise and twist after twist, including a world-upending season one finale that threw everything up in the air. At the end of season two, Michael appeared in front of the Judge (Maya Rudolph) to argue that the humans may have been judged unfairly, and deserve a second chance. With a snap of her fingers, the Judge sent the humans back to Earth, in a new timeline where they never died.
Also seeking redemption, along with Eleanor, are Senegalese philosopher Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), who is tortured by decision-making; elegant Pakistani-British socialite Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) and dance-obsessed Floridian Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto). Michael is aided by Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a human-esque repository for all of the knowledge in the universe.
My biggest concern going into season three wasn’t that the writers would keep the character separated for too long (because I knew, after the way they handled the season 1 into season 2 reset, that they wouldn’t do that), instead, I was more concerned that all of the action would, essentially, be centered on only earth, and all the cool afterlife world building would be left to the wayside. I’m happy to report that’s most definitely not the case. As shown in that sneak peek at the first few minutes of the premiere, we open up with Michael meeting the Doorman (Mike O’Malley), a being who guards the door to earth. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg that is the world building that happens in these first few episodes. The writers do a really good job at balancing stuff that’s happening on earth alongside stuff that’s happening in the various afterlife locales. There’s some really great stuff that happens in the afterlife scenes and I would be securing myself a one-way ticket to the Bad Place if I spoiled any of them. Let’s just say that it’s a lot of good things.
Since I mentioned the fact that the writers don’t keep the characters apart for very long, I figure I ought to go into a bit more detail about that. Like last season, the first episode of the third season spends a lot of time getting our four humans back together. The way they do it here makes total sense within the context of the premise set up for this season. There’s also a lot of fun scenes with Michael and Janet doing similar things to what they were doing in the season 2 finale and not exactly strictly following the Judge’s rules for the experiment. But I won’t say anything more about that! The reunion between our four humans happens pretty quickly and naturally and we get a nice glimpse at what each of them was up to during the roughly year-long timespan of last season’s finale and how each of them made it back to the others. The writers are also really smart to add in a fifth human to our group, Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), a professor at the university that Chidi teaches at. She ends up being a pretty good catalyst for the events of the first three episodes of this season and fits in quite nicely with the original four members of the group. She’s a great addition and I really hope she sticks around.
The other majorly important part of the formula that makes the Good Place work is the writing (and the jokes). The writing in these first few episodes is just as strong as ever. The jokes come hard and fast and the vast majority of them land, as always. They continue to be a lovely mixture of really smart humor and really dumb humor and I just love it. There are a whole bunch of great one-liners from each of our cast members, some more great name dropping from Tahani, and lots of stupidity from Jason. Aside from the jokes, the actual writing of the episodes is still really strong. The writers (Michael Schur and Jen Statsky for episode 1, Dan Schofield for episode 2, and Joe Mande for episode 3) do a great job at balancing all the various elements of this show. While they move the overarching plot along at a pretty fast speed, they always make sure to take time to give each of our characters moments to shine. This series has always been, and continues to be, full of emotion and genuine pathos. These first few episodes, by the very nature of their premise, are even fuller with pathos and good moments between various characters. This show is very much still one that will make you feel good. Sure, our characters are faced with a lot of challenges in these first few episodes (some of them serious, some of them silly), but at the end of the day, this show is still about a group of people coming together to persevere against the odds.
For this review, I was able to screen the first three episodes of season 3: “Everything is Bonzer!”, “The Brainy Bunch”, and “The Snowplow”. Some special effects weren’t quite done (which honestly just kind of made everything even more enjoyable, but that’s because I love getting a peek behind the curtain of how shows and films are made), but the show still looks as good as ever. There’s a lot of little things that continue to highlight the more fantastic elements of this show. It’s still very grounded in reality, but, I mean, it’s literally set in the afterlife (or, at least, partially set there now), so, there’s that. Every episode has a brilliant cliffhanger that leaves you just itching for the next episode and, let me tell you, the cliffhangers in these first three episodes are some of the best the series has had so far. The writers are really wasting no time in getting the ball moving here and it’s kind of impressive. I adore this show. I was a little worried that a few of the things I loved most about it (the world building of the afterlife) would be minimized in this season, given the way the last season ended, but that’s proven not to be the case and I’m just really happy with these episodes. There’s some really great stuff in them and I can’t wait to talk about them more fully once they’ve aired. If you haven’t checked out The Good Place yet, go binge the first two seasons so you can watch season three as it airs! Trust me, these first few episodes of season 3 are some of the best the show has made so far. Watch it. You’ll be happy you did.
(5 out of 5 wands)