Thursday, September 27, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Good Place' - A New Chance at Life Leads to Some Amusing Decisions Being Made in 'Everything Is Bonzer!'

NBC's The Good Place - Episode 3.01 "Everything Is Bonzer!, Parts 1 & 2"

Michael intervenes in the near-death accidents of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason on Earth, in hopes that a second chance at life allows them to become better versions of themselves.

The second season finale of The Good Place established that it was possible to travel from the afterlife back to Earth. It seemingly only took a snap from Judge Gen's fingers to transport Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani back to Earth in the precise moments before their deaths. "Everything Is Bonzer" establishes that it's actually a bit more difficult than that. It establishes the rules and procedures of going between the two worlds. Michael actually has to present the orders from the Judge to the Doorman between realms. It's Michael's responsibility to go back to the moments before death for the four humans. He had to ensure that they survived. He doesn't have any powers on Earth either. And so, it affords him to actually live as a genuine human for a little while. He knows exactly what's going to happen. That means he is able to rescue Eleanor from the shopping carts, Chidi from the falling air conditioner, Tahani from the statue she is pushing down and Jason from suffocation. It all presents as so easy as well. He is armed with this information and guided to intervene. It starts up a completely new timeline on Earth. Michael makes that perfectly clear to the Doorman. The Judge has already signed off on this experiment as well. Even though it is only reversing the deaths of four people to see if they were capable of becoming good if they lived on Earth longer, there is still the potential of this radically changing their lives and the lives of the people they are now interacting with. In fact, this hourlong premiere shows that each of the four humans had the same basic reaction to these near death experiences. They are changed because of this brush with death. It means that they are starting over once more in the structure of the show. They don't know each other. They have reverted back to their core identities from the moments of their deaths. However, there is also the sense that they want to become better. It doesn't come out of them knowing what's awaiting them in the afterlife. Instead, it's just the sense that they need to change their lives because of how they were living almost getting them killed.

The audience has already seen Eleanor's life back on Earth. She spent a year trying to be better. She quit her job and actually started volunteering to help the environment. After awhile though, it was no longer as invigorating or exciting for her. She reverted back to her old ways. That forced Michael to intervene once more. Here, it's seen how he was able to do that. He can just slip away without the Judge noticing because she just stays in her chambers all day long watching television. It's hilarious that even for the Judge of the entire universe she still doesn't have enough time to watch everything that is out there. She is just now getting around to the over 300 episodes of NCIS and lusting after Mark Harmon. As such, she's completely distracted while Michael and Janet are overseeing this experiment. They want their friends to succeed. They are disappointed when it becomes clear that the changes made may not be enough. However, they have the experience of knowing how the four humans will react because they ran the fake neighborhood experiment on them over 800 times. Michael is armed with the information that bringing the humans together is what will ultimately lead to them being better people. It really is the sense that the people we choose to interact with basically shape the people that we are. Michael places so much emphasis on the bond between Eleanor and Chidi. He rightfully should as well because Chidi always helped Eleanor when she asked for it in the afterlife. She would always find him. On Earth though, they are on separate corners of the planet. She is a trash bag in Arizona and he's an academic in Australia. As such, Michael makes this push to bring them back together and help the other be better people in their lives.

Of course, it's also just exciting to see what the other three humans have been doing across the past year. They all follow the same pattern of dramatically changing their lives only to wind up right back to where they started. It's the show basically making the argument that the decision to change and be better may not be enough. It's not the thing that ultimately defines who is a good person. Michael wanted to gently nudge everyone in the right direction by saving their lives. He believed that would be enough. Instead, it's the friendship amongst them that may actually save them. Those positive influences are key even though they are all struggling to improve their lives. Chidi wants to embrace the idea of being decisive because his brain is perfectly healthy. He gets the results and clarity he has long been searching for because he reaches out for help from a neuroscience professor named Simone. She is able to give him scientific data that helps him understand his brain in a way that moral philosophy does not. Of course, it still doesn't help him when an action he makes injures a friend of his. The same is also true of Tahani. Her near-death experience was still taken away from her by Kamilah stepping into the spotlight. As such, she left the material world behind to live with Buddhist monks. That's a surprising development. She is now the person devoting her life to one of silence and no reliance on worldly positions. But she is still lured back to the real world where she is able to make a profit off of writing about her experiences during her year away to find herself. And finally, Jason decides to focus all of his efforts into his dance troupe instead of signing up for community college like Michael hoped he would. He believes that the dancers can thrive on their skills and win competitions without resorting to crimes to pay for this life. When that doesn't pan out, he is more than willing to just drop the morals because he needs to keep this studio. He gets arrested for stealing which only sends him spiraling further about whether any of this is what he should be doing with his life.

And so, Michael makes the decision that this experiment needs to get the four humans back together on Earth. It's not good enough to send Eleanor to Australia to meet up with Chidi. Michael also has to ensure that Chidi will say yes when Eleanor knocks on his door. He also has to make Tahani and Jason want to take the trip as well in order to sign up for philosophy lessons from the teacher learning how to make decisions. It just means Michael keeps going back down to Earth. His luck is going to run out sooner rather than later. The Doorman isn't too suspicious. He is just stamping the same order from the Judge over and over again. It works for Michael. Moreover, it's fascinating to see the two of them actually start to form a bond through all of these various trips. At first, the Doorman is just laying out all of the rules and not really caring about Michael's jokes. He doesn't find him funny. Sure, Michael is amused by everything he experienced on Earth. He didn't even get to try everything that he wanted to do as a human. That may also be a part of the appeal to Michael to keep meddling in the lives of the four humans. He wants them to succeed because there is a lot riding on this experiment proving his theory. He told the Judge that there is a flaw in their system. Since the start of time, they've operated under the assumption that humans can't change. And yet, these four humans in Michael's experiment proved that it was possible. They are capable of being good people who deserve to be in the Good Place. This experiment is their last shot to get in. Of course, Michael continuing to tamper with their lives could invalidate the entire experiment once the Judge finds out. She reserved the right to change her mind at any time. She isn't aware of everything that Michael is doing. He's just having a lot of fun going down to Earth and putting on different disguises to convince everyone that going to Australia is in their best interests. Sure, the show doesn't produce another homage to Ted Danson's time on Cheers. But it's delightful to see how ridiculous his aliases are as he manipulates the humans once more.

Plus, all of this is happening with a purpose. Chidi walks away with a greater understanding of what his thesis should be. When he died, it was just a rambling mess. No one could make any sense of it because he hadn't locked in on something of immense value. But now, he is intrigued by the idea of how near-death experiences inform decision-making skills. That's the new study that brings the group back together. Eleanor is part of the inspiration for it as well. She sees the chemistry between Chidi and Simone. She pushes them to go out on a date together. Sure, that can also be awkward considering the season finale just featured Chidi and Eleanor getting together. Chidi had complete clarity over that relationship. He was willing to make that decision even though the humans were all fated to spend the rest of their lives in the Bad Place. And now, he has this new connection that Eleanor helps spark to life. Moreover, Chidi is able to use both of Eleanor and Simone's influence to come up with this idea. It was near-death experiences that brought him and Eleanor together. And now, it's the thing that leads to Tahani and Jason joining as well. They present a wide range of humanity who are bound to have different reactions to this study. It once again means that Chidi will be teaching in the hopes of getting the group to understand the philosophic arguments that can be applied to any given situation. However, it's also ominous to note that the humans will still be influenced by those in the aftermath. Michael has a vested interest in how well the group does. He brings them together with the understanding that this is the last meddling he will do. And yet, he is already concerned about Chidi and Simone as a couple even though Janet can point out that there were plenty of simulations where Eleanor and Chidi weren't soulmates. It's much more dangerous after learning that the Bad Place has also figured out what's going on and has sent someone down to Earth as well. It's so surprising to see Adam Scott return as Trevor. He has a history with the group and enjoys messing with them. He could taint this entire study. That's an exciting way to leave things at the end of the premiere. There is hope that goodness and decency will win out. But there's also the fear of relapse at any moment for anyone because of bad influences.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Everything Is Bonzer!, Part 1" was written by Jen Statsky & Michael Schur and directed by Dean Holland.
  • "Everything Is Bonzer!, Part 2" was written by Jen Statsky and directed by Dean Holland.
  • Michael takes on some fantastic and ridiculous aliases when he's on Earth interacting with the humans. When he's a potential investor with Tahani, he's Gordon Indigo. When he's a dance talent scout meeting with Jason, he's Zach Pizazz. When he is simply submitting people for Chidi's study, he's Charles Brainman. All of these are fantastic names that show that Michael really does have a lot of fun on Earth. However, Michael doesn't nail the Australian accent as well as he thinks he does.
  • Moreover, Jason's new dance troupe is named after one of the strongest episodes from the second season - Dance Dance Resolution. It's such a solid pun. Like that episode, it's Jason trying to find the best version of the troupe for his lofty ambitions. And just like Michael, he finds that no formula exists for this to function as well as he would hope. It just leads to him spiraling out of control with no real direction moving forward.
  • The premiere also has to explain why Chidi is speaking in perfect, non-accented English. When Eleanor first met him in the series premiere, he mentioned that he heard the world in French because that was his native language. And so here, he explains that he went to American schools. Moreover, French and English aren't the only languages he speaks. He also knows German and Latin, should it ever come back in style.
  • Simone is very intrigued to see the brains of the group of humans. She wants to know if any of them are claustrophobic. Their responses are very telling to her that this is about to be a very fun study. Jason thinks she is referring to someone being afraid of Santa Claus which is so ridiculous to him. Tahani won't have a problem because it's the same size as Nicole Kidman's rejuvenation tank. And Eleanor will have no issues because it's the same as the tanning bed she lost her virginity in.
  • Janet hasn't made it down to Earth yet. That was always something that seemed likely of happening just because Michael made the trip. It remains easy for Michael as well. Of course, it should be interesting to see what Janet is like down there since she is very concerned about Jason and whether he is still cute. Moreover, she is starting to see the Judge as her mother and Michael as her father. And yet, those titles really don't apply to the situation either.