The Good Place Season 3, Episode 1 (“Everything Is Bonzer!”)

NBC

Sep 28, 2018 Web Exclusive
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So, here we are: for its third season, The Good Place, a show about the afterlife, is taking place on Earth. Alrighty then.

Although this setup may seem paradoxically self-defeating, or maybe just plain confusing, to those unfamiliar with The Good Place, those who have followed steadfastly since the show's deceptively wholesome introductory season will see that this newest location shift is the exact right move. The first season appeared to take place in heaven, but towards its end, it was revealed that The Good Place was The Bad Place all along. The second season thus didn't need to physically change its location to ensure plot, tone, and character development, but could another season have gone down in the afterlife? Not really. Season three's two-part opener picks up where season two left off: It shoots the characters down to Earth, a place we all know is truly hellish.

Earth happens to function incredibly well for The Good Place's special kind of humor, a sardonic wit that examines the simple, ordinary, tiny bits of human life with the ironic innocence and rapidity of a tweet (much of the show's writing and production staff rose to comedic fame on Twitter). Real life provides an ideal backdrop to continue milking jokes from protagonist-turned-antagonist-turned-demon-turned-humanoid Michael's (Ted Danson) obsession with the way humans live and interact. Among the best jokes in "Everything Is Bonzer!" are Michael's excitement about riding buses and bikes and eating (yes, eating) a gumball. In his ecstasy, audiences realize how strange the most familiar of scenarios can be.

Michael's time on Earth, were he less impulsive, should have been limited to the episode's early scenes, in which he saves the show's four human protagonists-Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto)-from their embarrassing, character-fitting deaths. Instead, he, as ever, endangers the already precarious situation he's crafted and chooses to make another appearance in each human's life. He approaches each one as a different mysterious, borderline unbelievable character who guides his subject to where Eleanor and the gang all ultimately wind up together. His frequent trips to Earth from The Land Above (The Good Place, The Bad Place, whatever) allow some of the episode's best jokes courtesy of The Doorman (Mike O'Malley), a self-described "frog guy" and decaf anti-matter lover who guards the portal between Up There and Earth.

A major strength of The Good Place is how deftly its plotlines enable its jokes and the presence of creator Michael Schur's (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation, The Office) deep cynicism about human nature, products, and routines. In "Everything Is Bonzer!" physically relegating Michael's interactions with Janet (D'Arcy Carden) to one room, we hear her (or, it-"not a girl") talk almost exclusively about the humans, their fate on Earth, and the status of her and Michael's secret mission to redeem them. In this space, it's clear that she's acting and sounding more human than ever before, perhaps ringing an alarm on how far virtual assistant technology is advancing. In Tahani's redemption timeline, her life of monastery and quietude is unveiled by a journalistic crew that's an amazing satire of VICE, exactly the kind of organization The Good Place might parody. Early in Chidi's interactions with new character and romantic interest Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), another instance of the show's recurring "That's why everyone hates moral philosophy professors" joke appears.

The episode is also rife with foreshadowing. Think back to Eleanor figuring out that The Good Place was really The Bad Place. It was during a convention of the four humans. "Bonzer!" has them uniting under eerily similar auspices that don't immediately register as suspicious to them, nor would they to a first-time audience; three seasons in, though, viewers are smart enough to see that the protagonists will eventually figure out that the men who convinced them to convene all the way in Australia are actually the same person: Michael (whose truly awful Australian accent is amazing recurring joke material and will prove a dead giveaway for when the protagonists eventually make their inevitable discovery). It's safe to assume they'll quickly realize it was also him who saved their lives. This reveal has the potential to be just as exciting as the first-season ending.

It seems likely that Eleanor and Chidi will reach this conclusion first. The first half of "Bonzer!" is far more focused on their stories than on those of Tahani and Jason; the scene in which Chidi confesses that he's helping Eleanor because he too had a recent near-death experience might be another moment of foreshadowing. There's another great Eleanor-Chidi moment that acknowledges The Good Place's audience too: Remember how the show's very first episode revealed that Chidi is a Senegalese-born French speaker, but all language is the same in The Good Place (well, The Bad Place)? As Chidi is speaking to Eleanor, on Earth, in perfect English, a question immediately arises: How? Maybe 15 seconds after a viewer might ask this, someone pops into Chidi's office while he's seeing Eleanor, and Chidi exchanges French with this guest. He explains that, although he's from Senegal and French is his native language, through his intense schooling, he also learned English "and German and Greek and Latin, just in case it ever comes back," the last part spoken as he crosses his fingers, in true "Chidi is the world's most lovable nerd" joke lineage.

The Good Place's third season opener is packed, as usual, with laugh-out-loud jokes, and it does an amazing job at setting up this new Earth-bound season's potential path (Bad Place leader Trevor's appearance at the end, as head demon Shawn's proxy to cunningly destroy Michael's mission, is another fantastic and hilarious plot point). Where it falters is in the telling of Jason's post-near-death-experience tale. Jason's background in dance music and petty crime has always been a slight weak spot for the show; the character's strength is how his well-intended but incredibly stupid commentary-seriously, he's an actual idiot, though we love him-can never quite derail the ideas that Tahani, Eleanor, and Chidi come up with. Of course, for the character to be this believably inept, he has to have the background that he does; the issue is, watching someone lead breakdancing crews and, in his own words, "go do crime" just isn't very interesting. We're not likely to see a ton more of looking back on Jason's story this season, though, since we generally haven't throughout the show's run; The Good Place is in, well, a good place kicking off its new string of episodes. (www.nbc.com/the-good-place)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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