The Good Place Season 3, Episode 8 (“Don’t Let the Good Life Pass You By”)

NBC

Nov 15, 2018 Web Exclusive
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The Good Place is losing its footing somewhat, but at least it's having fun doing it. In "Don't Let the Good Life Pass You By," Michael and Janet travel to rural Canada to visit the man, the myth, the legend himself: Doug Forcett.

For the uninitiated, Doug Forcett is an ordinary guy who, during a major mushroom-induced trip, had a near-perfect vision of how the afterlife and its points system works. New to the series, as of this episode, is that he's now quite old (as played by Michael McKean) and adhering to the rule system so strictly that he's the ideal of a good person. Or, at least Michael and Janet expect him to be; after he serves them water that he informs is recycled from his own waste, the facade begins to crumble.

Forcett's existence is far from the blueprint of an ideal life. He lives alone in the middle of nowhere, solely on homegrown, organic radishes and lentils, due to their minimal carbon footprint. He adopts all animals that wander onto his property. His only friends are snails. A local teenager bullies him, because he'll do anything that makes other people happy, all so that he can earn afterlife points. Maybe he's achieving the maximum number of points possible for entry into The Good Place, but at what expense? It's not like Forcett knows the afterlife exists in the way he envisioned it; he's just taken a lifelong gamble that it does indeed work that way.

It's actually not so lucky for him that he is, in fact, correct. "Don't Let the Good Life Pass You By," named after the song that Forcett plays (on cassette, of course) during the opening scene, is very literal in title. The episode's major success lies in how well Doug's far-too-subservient, self-inconveniencing lifestyle illustrates the criticism of utilitarianism (defined as actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority) known as the "happiness pump": someone who does too much to help others, at huge cost to his own well-being. Doug's story ranks among The Good Place's strongest uses of plot to explore philosophical questions.

Doug's story is also not that funny. Many of the jokes in his side of "Good Life" come at his expense (though Michael and Janet get a solid number of funny, but not-as-funny-as-usual, lines as they pose as ordinary, human journalists from a local paper). There's more cringing at Doug's actions and their consequences than there is laughing at (not ever with) him, although watching Michael and Janet ask Doug to unknowingly replicate the photo of him that hangs in Michael's Bad Place office is absolutely golden. The Good Place uses his existence for philosophical debate while somewhat sacrificing humor, and since the show is a sitcom, this is a glaring imperfection.

And then there's the episode's other plot. On this side of things, the laughs are plenty and heartwarming moments abound, but the plot eventually becomes frustrating. The Soul Squad is, at first, just relaxing at a local bar while Michael and Janet spend time with Doug at his house. Jason, who brings laugh after laugh in this episode (seriously, the last couple of episodes made it easy to forget how over-the-top funny his character is), teaches Chidi "special Jacksonville style pool," in which there are roughly no rules and the points are made up (sound like the afterlife system, anyone?).

Eleanor, as this happens, can often be seen smiling lovingly at Chidi, whom she hasn't yet told about their afterlife love. Even before "Good Life" initiates this conversation between the two, Eleanor's behavior towards Chidi is as wholesome as The Good Place gets. The show is no stranger to touching moments stuffed with hilarious one-liners, and Eleanor and Chidi's conversations (and Eleanor's conversations with others about Chidi) are among this episode's many examples of them.

When Eleanor seeks Tahani's advice on her situation with Chidi, and Tahani balks at first, Eleanor then considers asking Yahoo! Answers for...advice on an afterlife romance that only one person remembers. You know, just the ordinary fodder of online help forums. Tahani eventually sits down with Eleanor for a deeply moving chat about the current feelings Eleanor has for Chidi, after which Eleanor compliments Tahani's advice and tells her that she made a super hot centaur. Tahani, who doesn't remember the afterlife at all, is confused. Later, as Janet is fighting off the demons that have come to drag the Soul Squad, Michael, and Janet back to the Bad Place, Eleanor comments, "It is just me, or is Janet a straight-up hottie right now?" Chidi, of course, asks why she's horny even on the verge of death.

Oh yeah, by the way: The demons track down the Soul Squad, and a major brawl breaks out. It's all a little bit much. As Eleanor is about to tell Chidi about their afterlife love, she sees Bambadjan (Bambadjan Bamba), whom she recognizes as a demon. She immediately realizes the bar is full of demons, including Vicky (Tiya Sircar) and Chris (Luke Guldan). Before she can gather the Soul Squad and rush them to safety (but not before Jason, as always, conjures a Molotov cocktail out of thin air and shouts, "Bortles!"), Shawn (Marc Evan Jacobs) appears. Once Michael and Janet return, a literal physical fight between the demons and the Soul Squad breaks out. Janet, of all characters, starts the fight, cheery as she initiates it and maintaining her unbreakable joy even during the fight.

The fight sequence is, for lack of a better word, exhausting. The Good Place doesn't particularly benefit from a massive action sequence, and the Soul Squad miraculously sending all the demons back to The Bad Place by constantly summoning The Door and kicking demons through it is far from believable. The entire viewing experience feels out of place, but we do get Shawn back for it, and he remains absolutely incredible. "I'm Shawn, you are very scared of me," he introduces himself to the Soul Squad, most of whom don't remember him, of course. Marc Evan Jacobs is a brilliant comic actor, particularly when it comes to playing characters as stolid as they are condescending and ostentatious (see: Kevin in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, another Michael Schur-helmed half-hour sitcom). Even though the demon fight sequence is totally out of place, Shawn's return and the constant outpouring of hilarious lines we get from him (he says he does all he does for the looks on people's faces; he calls Michael a hemorrhoid; the list goes on) somewhat redeems it.

But really: Why are these demons so fixated on getting the Soul Squad back? Sure, the Squad is property of The Bad Place, but they're back on Earth, and Michael and Janet are stuck there, devoid of their afterlife powers (although when Janet is even partway through a door back into the afterlife, she can access her full powers). Michael and Janet not having their powers must be challenging enough for them, and there are plenty of other people that the demons can torture in the afterlife, as Michael points out. The demon-adjacent plot that The Good Place has crafted this season doesn't really add up, whereas last season, the demons' pursuit of the humans fit the scenario and was vital to the characters' development (particularly Michael and Janet's). Right now, though, the good life seems to be passing The Good Place by. (www.nbc.com/the-good-place)

Author rating: 6/10

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