Tuesday, September 19, 2017

TV REVIEW: NBC's 'The Good Place' - Season 2

NBC's The Good Place will return for its second season with an hourlong premiere on Wednesday, September 20 at 10/9c. following the season finale of America's Got Talent. The new season stars Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D'Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson.

Read on for my thoughts on the new season after screening its first four episodes.

The Good Place was one of the best new shows that debuted last year. And now, I can safely say that it continues to be a stellar and inventive show in its second season. That's perhaps all that I should say about these new episodes. It's weird to be in this predicament where anything I say about the new season would be giving away crucial plot twists. That's a strange association for a comedy. And yet, it's absolutely the case with The Good Place because it's such a twist-heavy show. Every episode ends with a shocking moment that has the potential to change everything that will happen next. That was true of the first season and continues to be the case in the second. Of course, I'm going to say a few more things about these first four episodes back. The first two are smartly being aired together on Wednesday, September 20 at 10/9c. following the America's Got Talent season finale. That's a great strategy because those two episodes flow well together. It's a little curious why that wasn't the plan to begin with. At first, NBC was going to just debut the new season with one episode on September 28 along with the rest of the Thursday night comedy lineup. But the way the show is actually airing is much smarter. So, there will be two episodes airing back-to-back this week with the third episode airing on September 28 in its regular time slot on Thursday - sandwiched in between Superstore and the return of Will & Grace.

The first season of The Good Place ended with one of the best executed twists I've seen on television in awhile. It's the kind of twist that people shouldn't know going in because the reveal is excellent. Plus, it then rewards repeat viewing of the season. This is a show that plays so well in multiple viewings. I know that not everyone has the time to go back and watch seasons again. This is the era of Peak TV after all. There are so many scripted shows out there right now. There are so many great ones as well. So if you didn't re-watch the first season to see how things will play fully knowing what's actually going on, then you should know that it holds up. The creative team led by Mike Schur (from Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine) put a ton of thought into the story and made sure it all lined up. Of course, I'm still being cagey with that grand twist in the end. I shouldn't be because this is a review of the second season. If you're reading this, you should already know what the twist is. I'm just being overly cautious. It's just my natural instinct to protect the twists of this show because they work best when the audience doesn't know what will happen next. But it's still one of the funniest shows too. So even knowing the twists, it's still enjoyable and delightful.

So, the finale changed everything in this world. It revealed that the Good Place that Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason were in was actually the Bad Place in an elaborate ruse created by Michael to get the four of them to psychologically torture each other. It was a jaw-dropping twist that only added to the nuances of this world. Ted Danson was already great and having a ton of fun in this world. The first season running joke about him being overly enthusiastic about his creation and spending time in a new human body was terrific. But now, this completely new side to the character has been revealed. As such, Danson only becomes more impressive in the new season. That shouldn't be surprising. It's Emmy winner Ted Danson after all! He excels in both comedy and drama. But this has become one of the best roles for him. He still gets to play that optimistic and excited angel whom the humans interact with. But the new season also shows the behind-the-scenes world where he is this devious devil putting in all of this hard work to torture these four humans in a new way while dealing with new complications as they arise.

Of course, the pressure is on for Michael in order to make this grand experiment work. The first season ended with Eleanor figuring it out and Michael deciding to reset the experiment by wiping their memories. That created the fear that this new season would simply be repeating the plots and situations of the first season. But now, the audience is aware while Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are simply guinea pigs to our amusement. It certainly set up a narrative complication for the show to deal with. The way that the show addresses that - along with the note that Eleanor left behind for herself to find - is actually quite great. The first two episodes are largely just setting up this new reality and how things are familiar but slightly different at the same time. It has a nice structure to it though that is really quite amusing to watch. Meanwhile, the third and fourth episodes are amazingly strong. I'd probably go so far as to say they are some of the best comedic episodes this show has produced so far. And yet, I can't say anything about them because that would be giving too much away. That's the problem with doing a pre-air review of this show. It's so thrilling to see and experience the narrative as it's happening. I want to discuss it with people. I can't wait for everyone to see these episodes. They continue to prove just how terrific and clever The Good Place is while incorporating one of the best ensembles of any show out there right now.