When The Good Place first premiered on our TV screens, we were introduced to a whole cast of characters who were dead and had awoken in the titular Good Place, an afterlife loosely based on the concept of heaven. As the series progressed, we found out that only four of them had ever been humans and they were actually in the Bad Place, being tortured for all eternity by demons, led by Michael (Ted Danson). From there, things only got stranger until the show decided to resurrect our main cast and give them a new chance at life. And this is where things started to go wrong. While giving your main characters a second shot at life as a way for them to actually earn their place in the Good Place isn’t a bad idea, it’s not one that can really be sustained for a long period of time when a huge part of your show has built itself on the whimsical weirdness of the afterlife. Take out a lot of that whimsical weirdness and you just have… any other comedic show with a cast of likable characters trying to do good things. That’s the problem The Good Place has found itself in these last few episodes and it’s one the show and its writers are gonna have to fix asap before the show stops feeling as special as it is. (This review/editorial covers episodes 4-6 of season 3: Jeremey Bearimy, The Ballad of Donkey Doug, and A Fractured Inheritance)
Episode 304: Jeremy Bearimy (written by Megan Amram and directed by Trent O’Donnell)
The group explores the three main branches of ethical thought.
Episode 305: The Ballad of Donkey Doug (written by Matt Murray and directed by Rebecca Asher)
Jason (Manny Jacinto) visits with some people from his past while Chidi (William Jackson Harper) gets help in resolving a problem.
Episode 306: A Fractured Inheritance (written by Kassia Miller and directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller)
Eleanor (Kristen Bell) makes a startling discovery that tests her resolve, Tahani (Jameela Jamil) looks to make amends and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) does some bonding.
Jeremy Bearimy picks up right where The Snowplow ends with Eleanor, Jason, Chidi, and Tahani discovering Michael and Janet in front of the door to the afterlife. From there, Michael and Janet (after a few different lies) come clean to the gang about what’s going on and how they all died, were sent to the Bad Place to be tortured, and are not back on Earth having been given a second chance at living a good life in order to get into the Good Place. The catch is that since they now know about the points system, they can’t get into the Good Place because their motivations will always be tainted. This, naturally, leads everyone in the group to have their own existential meltdowns, Chidi’s being the most entertaining of the bunch. By the end of the episode, the group has decided that since they can’t get into the Good Place, they should use their new shot at life to ensure that their loved ones are able to get into the Good Place. This episode is probably the best of these three episodes as it features a lot of fun stuff in regards to how time works in The Good Place universe and Chidi’s mental breakdown is a lot of fun to watch. There are a whole lot of jokes in this episode that land beautifully and it does a good job at setting up the premise for the subsequent two episodes. The problem is that that premise isn’t a super interesting one.
The Ballad of Donkey Doug focuses on Michael, Jason, and Tahani traveling to Florida so Jason can make sure his father, Donkey Doug, is able to go to the Good Place. Meanwhile, Eleanor and Janet are trying to help Chidi break up with Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste); he doesn’t want to lie to her but also doesn’t want to damn her to eternal torture by telling her the truth about everything. Both of these plotlines aren’t bad or anything and the writers are able to utilize them to extreme hilarity, but they just feel very ordinary and plain when compared to plotlines from previous seasons of The Good Place. Yes, it’s nice to finally meet the oft-mention Donkey Doug, and discover that he’s actually Jason’s dad and explore that wholly weird dynamic, and it’s fun seeing Chidi break up with Simone repeatedly through a virtual reality simulation, but it all just sort of feels wholly ordinary. There’s barely any mention of anything related to the afterlife, aside from Michael and Janet mentioning knowledge they had from when they were back in the afterlife and still had their powers. Otherwise, it’s just lots of family and relationship drama. Which is all very funny and very well done, but it’s missing a huge chunk of what made this show appeal to me.
A Fractured Inheritance follows a similar formula to the previous episode as it sees Eleanor and Michael confronting Eleanor’s mother (Leslie Grossman) who faked her own death and now lives with a nice man and his daughter in a quiet suburb while Jason, Chidi, and Tahani confront Tahani’s sister (Rebecca Hazlewood) in order to try and save her soul. This episode has a lot of the same problems for me as the previous one did. It’s got a lot of good humor and a lot of really good character moments and development, but it all just feels very ordinary. These last two episodes feel like they could have been from any other sitcom. It lacks a lot of what makes The Good Place unique Yes, the quirky, character-driven humor is still there and yes, it’s still often very over the top, but it just feels off. Watching this episode was really when I started to feel bored and exhausted with this season. I like getting to learn more about the characters and getting to see them interact with their families in a more “present” timeline is really nice, but I’m ready to move on.
For me, a huge part of what made The Good Place interesting was its afterlife mythology. I loved getting to see how the Good Place (and then the Bad Place) worked and every episode where we learned more about how it all worked was an episode that immediately shot up the list of my favorite episodes. A lot of my favorite jokes revolved around some of the more absurdist elements of the afterlife setting. So much of what made this show stand out from a whole host of other sitcoms was the fact that it was set in the afterlife and wasn’t afraid to explore that setting to all kinds of hilarious and interesting ends. Now with the show set completely on Earth, it’s lost that element. While in the afterlife, all the fantastical elements were grounded by how real the characters are but with all the action on Earth, everything is too grounded. Everything just feels a bit less interesting now. I was totally onboard with the show being about these four humans, their demon friend, and their not-a-robot robot trying to get into the Good Place and change how the system works. But given the events of the past few episodes, that plotline just seems stuck. The humans have all failed the test since they’ve discovered the existence of the afterlife and they’re all damned to the Bad Place and everything feels helpless. I’m way less interested in watching these characters trying to save other people. I’m watching this show because I care about them and I want to see them return to the afterlife and (hopefully) make it to the Good Place. I’m not interested in redemption arcs for all of their loved ones, I’m interested in redemption arcs for them.
I know that the writers rarely keep things feeling the same for too long, so I am holding out hope that they’ve got some kind of a twist planned for the midseason finale (whenever that is). This show desperately needs to get its characters back into the afterlife, whether that’s the Good Place, the Bad Place, or somewhere in between. Keeping them on Earth and on this path with them just trying to save the souls of other people is going to get boring really quickly. I’d argue that I’m already bored with it and I’m more than ready for them to get back to the afterlife and get on with that plotline. I miss seeing all the cool world building from the afterlife and I miss seeing these characters interacting with that. I love these characters and a lot of the character development that’s happened in these past three episodes has been really, really good. It’s not that these episodes have been bad or anything, but they’ve not been as good as episodes of The Good Place usually are. The lack of any elements related to the afterlife is impacting the quality of the show for me. These characters are part of what makes the show special but so is its afterlife mythology. You can’t have one without the other and still expect the show to feel as unique and special as it did. We’ve gotta get these guys back to the afterlife soon. Hopefully, the writers get them back there soon or dish out another interesting twist that moves us out of this rut of normalcy and back into some of the more fantastical elements.
Jeremy Bearimy: 4 out of 5 wands
The Ballad of Donkey Doug: 3.5 out of 5 wands
A Fractured Inheritance: 3 out of 5 wands