Thursday, October 26, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - Janet is Experiencing Glitches and Michael Tries to Stop Them in 'Janet and Michael'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 2.07 "Janet and Michael"

When the Neighborhood experiences a small glitch, Michael has to resolve the issue with Janet before it gets out of control.

Every single person in the ensemble of The Good Place is terrific. The casting on this show is one of the best on all of television at the moment. Everyone stands out and is funny. There are no weak links in this cast. And yet, this is also the season of Ted Danson. His performance as Michael was fantastic in the first season. But with awareness of the big twist, it could be limiting as well because it was a character only seen by the humans in this world. And now, this season has opened things up for Michael and allowed the audience to see him in every corner of his life. He could be deceptive of the humans. He could be sinister with his fellow demons. More importantly, he can show the complexity of the character. Now, his position in the neighborhood is at risk because of the numerous mistakes that have happened over the years. It's been so fantastic to see him on this journey of self-discovery. He hit rock bottom after failing 800 times. He found a new team after his demons rose up to challenge his leadership. He's had to take Chidi's lessons and learn how to become a better person. That's been an ongoing struggle for him. He's tried to be better. But he's only learned the lesson when the four humans are around him. They are the ones forcing him to evolve and see the error of his ways. That's why "Janet and Michael" is so brilliant. It spends the majority of its running time with Michael and Janet in his office. The moral conflict that comes up is only believable if the audience trusts that Michael has this connection with Janet. And in the end, it works tremendously because of the strong work of Danson and D'Arcy Carden.

And of course, Danson isn't the only actor worthy of praise in this episode. Carden is phenomenal as well. She has always been a scene-stealer in this role. Playing Janet can't be easy. She's not a human or a demon. She's just this vessel of knowledge that can do whatever the humans ask of her. She's this source of stability and guidance. But the show has gotten a lot of fun out of testing her limits to show how human she can become. It still allows her to be very funny with weird and specific reactions to any kind of situation. Yes, some of the humor comes out of her doing things that are physically impossible. Michael can stick his entire arm down her throat looking for any secret notes. An instruction manual is literally up her nose. She can be rebooted simply by hitting a button elsewhere in the neighborhood. The show is always aware that she isn't human but she is developing more human tendencies. That was apparent in the first season with the absurd but fantastic marriage between Janet and Jason. That plot development has seemingly been ignored throughout this season. As such, it's so thrilling to have it return in this episode as a main component of the plot. Janet is glitching and the reason why is incredibly specific and hilarious.

Janet has no memory of being married to Jason. She has been rebooted over 800 times. With each reboot, Janet gets a system upgrade. She's noted in the past that she may be the most advanced Janet in the entire universe. That was a thrilling suggestion that has allowed her to fulfill new roles this season that highlight her humanity more. She's put in the effort to be a part of the human's plan to deceive the demons and to help Tahani and Jason with their relationship problems. She's been willing to do that because of her advanced thinking. But now, there is the threat that she is possibly too advanced to continue to serve in this role for the neighborhood. She improves with each update but has lost memory of the many different times Michael has run this experiment on the four humans. That means she's never been the one to tip the humans off to what's going on. She was fooled as well. And now, she is operating with the truth too. She is deceiving the demons just like the humans and Michael are. She can't lie. It's not in her programming. But she doesn't want to betray the people she is programmed to help either.

This episode does a fantastic job in showing how Janet's glitches are because she is lying right now. It's in her subconscious that she's aware that she married Jason and isn't happy to be helping him with his relationship with Tahani. It's great that that relationship isn't a secret for too long. Their therapy sessions are what created these glitches. At the time, Janet thought it was because she was acting as a therapist when that wasn't what she was programmed for. But now, it runs so much deeper than that. Every single lie only intensifies in severity. Any single one could ultimately destroy the neighborhood. Michael is still able to keep a lid on things with Vicky. There is literally an earthquake. Vicky storms into Michael's office to demand what's going on. He is honest about the system maintenance. But he's also able to quickly distract her with thoughts of torturing Chidi. Vicky perceives herself to be this great mastermind who can adapt to changing circumstances. But she is still primarily a demon who enjoys the simple torture of humans. Michael can still use that against her without her being any wiser. He can help Janet in her time of need. But the assistance she needs right now is in self-destructing. That's the only solution to this problem. The program needs to be activated for her to break down into a ball and be shot out into the universe. It's the solution she is perfectly fine with. It's fantastic to see her continually chanting "Kill me!" But it's a much more complex issue for Michael than he initially perceived.

The events of this episode are also guided by flashbacks to the day that Michael first stole Janet from the Good Place. A more thorough explanation is given as to why he couldn't just ask a Bad Place Janet to pretend to be good and helpful. That goes against her programming as well which forces her to melt right away. That's a fantastic visual. But these flashbacks are more poignant than that because they highlight how Janet has always been alongside Michael on this crazy journey. She has always been there to support his vision for the neighborhood. His fellow demons have always been critical of his ideas for a new way to torture humans. Meanwhile, Janet proves herself to be an asset for the team. It's her idea to have all the restaurants serve frozen yogurt. That was her idea. Michael was frustrated because pudding just wasn't deceptively devious enough. That highlights the true companionship the two of them have with each other. As such, it makes this decision incredibly difficult for Michael to do. He understands why the glitches are happening. He can ask Janet to lie and she can. Then, a giant sandwich falls into the office. It would be the easy and effective decision to kill Janet. But this story highlights how Chidi's lessons have been changing Michael. It's all there in the subtext of this story. Michael doesn't need to be pressured into doing the right thing by the humans. He's feeling all of these emotions on his own and trying to find a way to keep this Janet around for the foreseeable future.

Of course, Michael still needs to consult on the expertise of the humans. He and Janet aren't human. But right now, Janet is feeling something that resembles human emotions. Her not knowing how to handle any of that is what's causing all of these glitches that could destroy the neighborhood. Eleanor is the one he chooses to consult on all of this as well. He labels her the most problematic of the humans. He would have gone to Chidi for the most morally right solution to the problem. But that wouldn't have been an easy solution for all of this. Eleanor's advice may not be all that great either. But it is a solution that will at least keep things stable for awhile. Eleanor suggests to Janet that she just needs to stop caring about an ex. She should just find someone new to obsess over. And that leads to this episode's big final twist. Janet has actually created a human. She can produce anything in the universe. But now, she has pushed the limits of her capabilities. She has created a man for herself. He can travel to and from her void as well. So, he's better than the regular humans. But he's also incredibly naive about the world around him. So, this could be a huge complication moving forward. It's literally another person the humans and Michael will need to keep track of and hide from Vicky and the demons. And that makes it very enticing to see what will occur next. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Janet and Michael" was written by Kate Gersten and directed by Dean Holland.
  • It's crazy that it has taken this long to get Jason Mantzoukas on this show. He seems perfect as Derek because he is always playing the worst person imaginable. He's even worked with Mike Schur before on both Parks and Recreation (as perfume mogul Dennis Feinstein) and Brooklyn Nine-Nine (as Rosa's ex-fianc√© Adrian Pimento).
  • I missed some of the new restaurant names when Michael and Janet are alone in the neighborhood when the focus was on pudding. And yet, the ones that I did notice were "Custard's Last Flan" and "Boyz in the Pudd." Both of which are delightful puns that maintain the show's consistency for awesome restaurant names.
  • Michael and Eleanor become aware that Tahani and Jason are sleeping with each other. But Tahani only shares that secret with Michael. She's comfortable letting other people know about it now. That was a huge hurdle for her. But Michael is the one who tells Eleanor. He does so because he needs her help in fixing Janet. So, Chidi is the only one still in the dark amongst the humans.
  • Of course, Vicky has to be becoming a little suspicious of Michael, right? Otherwise, she is starting to get a little repetitive as a character. Right now, she questions what Michael is doing and risks telling Shawn the truth. But her fears always subside and that threat never ultimately goes anyway. That would be boring if it kept happening. I trust the show won't allow that though.
  • It's great that this episode opens on Janet opening her eyes for the very first time upon meeting Michael just like all the previous times Eleanor has opened her eyes and been welcome to "the Good Place." It's a nice directorial callback that has personal significance for the audience while highlighting the importance of this moment for the characters.
  • Janet: "I seem to be losing my ability to sustain object permanence so it's sorta a 'glass half full, glass stops existing in time and space' kind of deal."
  • Janet: "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh nuts."