The Good Place S02E01&E02 Recap: 'Everything Is Great!" [Season Premiere]

Last fall, The Good Place charmed the motherforking pants off us right off the bat because it immediately felt fully formed. In an age where the attention span of the viewer is getting shorter and shorter, shows can't risk turning people off with growing pains. The Good Place didn't have that problem, for a good number of reasons. Its leads, Ted Danson and Kristen Bell are among the most respected and well-liked actors in modern television history. And beyond those two, the casting department deserves to be awarded for doing a tremendous job hiring a talented, diverse group of relative unknowns able to bend at the will of the story. What's more, the show had an incredible concept and execution on the side of the writing, and a surprising amount of goodwill and support from NBC, if its production budget is any indication.

As it turns out, those reasons barely scratch the surface of what makes The Good Place so great. This show, its leads, and its creator, Michael Schur (of Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine fame) were keeping a dirty little secret from the viewers this entire time, in the form of a plot twist so well-prepared that pretty much no one saw it coming that moment Danson's character Michael smiled evilly to reveal his true nature. It turned out that the show about a woman mistakenly sent to heaven was not at all about that. Instead, this was a show about Michael, an architect of hell, looking to make a name for himself by creating a new form of torture for four people that were actually in a disguised version of The Bad Place.

The twist was brilliant. Not only was it impossible to predict before it happened, and so well-crafted that, if Schur is to be believed (listen to him discuss the twist and the new season on this week's episode of The Watch), the writing staff worked tirelessly to ensure that no plot holes were present and that they didn't leave any obvious clues to what was happening in their wake. For example, we never see Michael in a room without one of his four torturees, because then he wouldn't need to pretend to be the mild-mannered nice guy we thought he was.

In hindsight, the twist was also brilliant because it ensured the longevity of the show. Early skepticism about The Good Place involved concern that they wouldn't be able to keep Eleanor's charade going for very long. It turns out, they didn't need to, because there wasn't actually a charade. Eleanor's situation was designed. And the twist changed the show in such a way that, at least for another season, Schur can do whatever he wants, maintaining the goodwill of his viewers as well as the integrity of the show. If "Everything Is Great!" - the two-episode season premiere of the show - are any indication, the theme and the general structure of The Good Place remain the same. This is still a celestial, posthumous game of cat and mouse. Only instead of Eleanor's secret being the mouse, trying to evade perception, the mouse is now Michael's secret.

The premiere introduced us to The Good Place 2.0, which looks very similar to the first version, with a few adjustments to make sure it doesn't go south for Michael like it did in last season's finale. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are no longer paired up as soulmates, instead separated and assigned to various Bad Place actors. Eleanor is with a hot dude who escapes to the gym every time Eleanor tries to confide her secret to him. Chidi is the subject of an elaborate torture in which he's faced with a choice of soulmate, a choice stripped of him just as he's about to decide. Tahani's soulmate has all the superficial flaws that will constantly grind her gears. And Jason is basically just given a chaperon to keep a constant eye on him. But Michael underestimates his prey, and by the end of the episode and no more than a day or two in his new playground, Eleanor figures out that Michael is forking with all of them and he's forced to reset his world once again.

Michael figures that the source of his frustration is merely a note that Eleanor left for herself with Janet at the end of version 1 of The Good Place, but I have a feeling that this won't be the last time Michael will have to reset things this season. Eleanor and the gang are smart, Michael is over-thinking his attempts to torture them and leading them to one another. Shortly, he'll be balancing too many plates, not only with trying to keep the group at bay, but also in keeping secrets from his superiors and trying to keep his staff satisfied. It's a subtle shift from the tone and structure from season 1 that will keep the show at a high level, all while giving us more of Ted Danson and Michael, which, if anything, was possibly the one thing lacking about season 1. Now we know who Michael is, what his story is, and he has nothing to hide from the audience.

The only thing that might possibly be concerning about this new season is the expectation that the first season's twist set with the viewers. I don't know if I'm expecting another huge twist this season, but Schur and the gang have established that, at a certain level, we should expect big things from this show. This two episode season 2 premiere at the very least keep things at a high level, so the season premiere of The Good Place gets 9 Butthole Spiders out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • It's very obvious that The Good Place is once again going to be the Community kind of show of the fall where we're constantly worrying about its performance, but it's nice to see NBC give it a vote of confidence by sticking it behind what's sure to be a highly rated America's Got Talent finale, before shipping it off to yet another attempt to bring back Thursday night comedy. Sandwiched between decent performers like Superstore and a potentially highly anticipated Will & Grace reboot will hopefully be a good thing for the show.
  • The episode spends a lot of time establishing that Real Eleanor/Denise might be a foil for Michael in this upcoming season, or at least a source of disgruntled hell employees.
  • Easily my best laugh of the episode was the last time Eleanor's new soulmate angry rips off his shirt and tells Michael, as he did so many times Eleanor, "I'm going to the gym."
  • "You're not soup."
  • "And I was gonna get a new best friend and live in a yogurt." "A yurt." "Right, yurt for short."
  • "Fire up the ole penis flattener."
  • "People are like nature's apps."