As an atheist/agnostic I've been surprisingly amused by The Good Place. It's hard to discuss the series without touching on the religious fundamentals but there is one thing you can't argue: It's well made and FUNNY.
I was worried that we'd spend a few episodes rehashing the first season with minor differences. I needn't have worried. Seeing behind the curtain with the Bad Place villains was a great new addition -- especially the former "real" Eleanor trying (and failing) to recapture her connection with Chidi, while overburdening her new underdeveloped character Denise with a surplus of backstory and affectations.
And right out of the gate, Michael makes some crucial miscalculations:
He again underestimates Eleanor. First, by not anticipating the note. And, more crucially, by continuing to misunderstand how Eleanor responds to adversity. She lived a selfish, negative life that created chaos for everyone around her. But she was a survivor, resourceful and self-reliant. It's the reason she trusted the note so completely when she recognized her own handwriting, and it's the reason that she was able to disassemble the lie of "The Good Place" so quickly with only one scant clue to go on.
Chidi's inability to make decisions is his fatal flaw, but Michael again made the mistake of thinking that's his sole defining quality. He's also smart and committed and good at adapting his knowledge in constructive ways. He and Eleanor bring out the best in each other, and that unanticipated truth would seem to ultimately doom any iteration of this scenario that has them both in it.
If Michael underestimated Eleanor's resilience in the face of adversity, he overestimated Tahani's resilience in the face of adversity. She lived a life of privilege and comfort, and her fragile facade of humility and selflessness depends on those underpinnings. By making her new scenario TOO unpleasant, he set her on the path to prematurely self-destruct.
With Jason, Michael failed to account for his inexplicable special connection with Janet. He also seemed to think Jason would demonstrate far more commitment to maintaining the Jianyu identity. Jason wasn't thrilled with being paired with Tahani the first time around, but the Jianyu persona was a useful way to avoid conversations with her. Without that incentive, he had no reason to stick with the lie.
Eliminating the note addressed one of those issues, but did nothing to address the others. Keeping the four of them apart unbalances the scenario and causes more problems then it solves.
I don't know what comes next, but I'm no longer worried about a rehash. Each new iteration reveals intriguing new facets of these increasingly rich characters. And the demons don't have their minds wiped, so it's not a complete reset.
I do have a feeling that we're going to find out this is actually Michael's Bad Place.
Based on the premiere, I think they’re setting up Michael cutting a deal with the group around midseason where he will let them be happy together in exchange for them pretending the torture is working during a visit from Shawn, or whenever the other demons are watching to avoid being "retired" because it just isn't working. That way, we can get "genuine" interactions between Michael and the group again while Shawn, "real Eleanor," and the other actors take over as the true villains.
I really like that some of the growth for each character seems to stick even when they get reset. Eleanor didn't drink, Tahani was actually being more honest about her motivations, Chidi was ready to make a choice about the soul-mate within a day, and Jason and Janet found each other again almost immediately. Jason even did something moderately clever with taking apart his fake soul-mate's bike.
Maybe we eventually find out that this is neither the Good nor the Bad Place, but actually a Medium Place/Purgatory that tests whether someone has the capacity to grow, allowing the group to eventually earn their way into the Good or Bad place in the end. Michael could be a part of that as well, similar to the idea that this is his Bad Place.
Really happy this is back. Whenever an episode starts it just flys by and I immediately want more.
I'm so glad I stuck with this. Because I had many reservations about the premise of the show initially. But I quickly got hooked and then it turned out that all the things that bugged me about the premise were for a good reason ... it was The Bad Place, and I was right to have issues with those things! And those that didn't should have!
I'm not sure if the S2 premiere was forking brilliant, but it certainly was far from the shirtball that a second season might bring.
I've got slightly mixed feelings. The opener was very fun and interesting. I liked it start to stop. But, it feels like they discovered they'd boxed themselves into a corner with the S1 finale and had to scramble to undo that and get a full reset for S2. That's not unusual for these high-concepts shows: Mr. Robot S1 was a sublime single-season story, but it was clear they had little forethought on where to go for S2 after it was renewed.
With The Good Place, I hoped they had a longer arc already in mind. But it appears that they had only the first season exquisitely crafted and weren't sure what would happen for a Season 2.
Or...I'm completely wrong. Because S2 premiere could be the critical first step in a pre-planned overarching story. It makes sense: deal with the scenario that Eleanor sends herself a clue, eliminate it, and simultaneously put Michael in peril as well. This is smart: it takes the obvious criticism "if only she'd done this sci-fi trope thing, then all that nonsense wouldn't have happened. Worse. Show. Ever.", and turns it into the reason why the stakes are so high for everyone.
I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. Unlike most everyone else, I didn't love S1 from the start. I thought the writing and humor was weak to start. But it got better every episode, with a stunningly involved and subtle story. And it stuck the landing; a fantastic ending always makes up for a wobbly beginning.
It was very interesting but I don't know for how long they can sustain it. Depends on how far they want to go.
Now that you are in the know, it's uneasy to watch. It's not pleasant to watch them trying to torture people.
Unless they play it like the Great Escape and they break down everything and escape, that would be fun.
Tonight's episode was directed by executive producer Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods), who also directed the pilot.
Jason musing about whether his talent for giving good advice was the reason he was in the Good Place moments after Michael had explicitly told him that he was in the Bad Place was that hardest I've laughed in quite a little while.
Nice to get confirmation that the Medium Place is real.