THE GOOD PLACE Review: “Existential Crisis”

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There are many reasons why “The Good Place,” now 4 episodes into its 2nd season, has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s inventive, but (generally) follows the rules it’s established for its own universe (more on that later); it’s sends a thought-provoking message on the importance of goodwill and ethics without ever becoming cloying, and its actors are a perfect match for a witty, brilliant script. But the star of last night’s episode (and truly, most episodes) was far and away its most experienced actor: Ted Danson.

A long, lustrous in comedy with plenty of experience on sitcoms–“Cheers,” most notably, and “Becker,” and even a recent foray into the totally weird world of Tim and Eric–shows that Danson has the chops to be not only funny, but remarkably versatile. This time, it’s that seamless flexibility between modes that serves as the main course of the humor. He shifts expertly between the standard nonplussed, unfeeling demon-lord that has no notion of such petty human notions as death or ethics; then, suddenly, shellshocked and traumatized existential-crisis Michael (“you broke Michael!” says Eleanor to Chidi after the latter has helped the former to finally grasp the concept of not existing); then, perhaps Danson’s funniest iteration yet as a desperate, Vegas-hungry, midlife-crisis jackass, towing a particularly naive and subservient version of Janet (“Jeanette”) around on his arm. Probably the best moment this week is watching him slide from faux-amphetamine-addled restlessness to “thinking about death,” and letting the frantic giddiness momentarily fade from his face, then return a few seconds later. Michael is finally becoming human, and the idea of a soul-torturer becoming just another a tortured soul in denial is just so rich.

The few downsides of this episode, however, are mostly related to some unclear boundaries Schur has established in this universe becoming a little more obvious and bothersome. For example, how Danson’s character has  never actually contemplated the concept of not existing is a little strange. He knows, for example, that “retirement”–an immortal torture-architect’s version of death–would be very painful, but somehow, he’s remained detached from imagining it for thousands and thousands of years until Chidi explains it to him in stark detail. It’s bit of a stretch, and thus seems a bit forced. And while the show touches on its own lack of clarity about Danson’s–and any of the demons’–status in their own “human” bodies (“Do you eat? I always forget”, asks Eleanor”), it is in fact confusing, especially considering that humans in their afterlife form here in the Bad Place can apparently get gratification out of sex. How anyone can actually experience bodily pleasure or pain in this metaphysical purgatory needs to be explained a little more clearly and carefully before these incontinuities become irksome.

Still, I’m eager to see where the new Tahani-Jason pairing (“from one eight to another”) goes, and if Michael can actually begin to redeem himself and avoid “retirement” now that he’s beginning to empathize (gasp) with human emotions and understand the purpose of ethics. A few more flashbacks to Eleanor’s sordid and sad past life would be appreciated, too–toilet plunger crying sessions and all.

TB-TV-Grade-B+

Season 2, Episode 4 (S02E04)
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 830PM on NBC

Read all of our reviews of The Good Place here. 
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