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'The Good Place' Season 2 premiere recap: Total reset

For The Baltimore Sun

Welcome back to “The Good Place”!

It’s actually The Bad Place!

Spoiler alert!

If you haven’t seen Season 1, go do it now, for the sake of your comedic well-being, or just read my nifty summary that slides seamlessly into the Season 2 premiere.

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kirsten Bell, perfect, as is her natural state) was a terrible person on earth, ruining the livelihoods of local dry cleaners, drunkenly crashing quinceneras, LITTERING. She waltzes through life indifferent to, if not resentful of, other people’s feelings, until one day when she is killed after being struck by a rogue line of shopping carts, pushed into oncoming traffic, and crushed by a mobile billboard for a male enhancement pill.

She wakes up in The Good Place, a perfect neighborhood with an abundance of frozen yogurt options and punny retail stores** designed by a sunny archangel named Michael (Ted Danson). She is given a soul mate in the form of Chidi Agononye (William Jackson Harper), a former moral philosophy professor whose inability to make decisions eventually ended up killing him — if only he had picked Dave & Buster’s, that falling AC unit may have hit another confused academic — as well as a friend in the glamorous but insecure Tahani (Jameela Jamil), whose soulmate is Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), who is not actually a Tawainese monk sworn to a vow of silence but rather a moronic DJ named Jason, who is actually not Acid Cat but is definitely in love with a robot named Janet.

Anyway.

Eleanor quickly realizes she is not the selfless Eleanor Shellstrop that was supposed to be in The Good Place and, with Chidi’s help, has to keep her true identity hidden from Michael. Chidi tutors Eleanor in ethics (No, Jason, not “ethnics”), and they work to make her a person worthy of paradise so she will not have to be sent to The Bad Place, where she’ll have to endure Adam Scott telling her to smile for an eternity. Series plot hole: you would always go where there is Adam Scott. That is always a good place.

In the holy mother forker of all twists, it turns out The Good Place is actually not so good: Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason have been brought together to torture each other for eternity, and Michael, that cheery, paperclip-loving architect we’ve come to know and love, is the satanic mastermind behind it all. Just google “Ted Danson evil laugh” and that should sum things up.

With a snap of his fingers, he presses reset on the entire operation, and at the conclusion of Season 1, we see Eleanor begin her first/second day in The Good Place, her brain wiped of any memories. Except one — she still has the note she wrote to herself about finding Chidi, which she assumes is a kind of soup.

Season 2 picks up in Michael’s office, where he’s Skyping Sean, the all-knowing judge of all matters now and forever, and reassuring him that Good Place Take 2 will go much better than Take 1. Sean has his doubts, though, and predicts that Michael will fail and be tortured on the face of a thousand suns. Oh my, do I detect a hint of allegorical reference to the show beginning its second season … and maybe some lavender?

Determined to surprise his critics, Michael rallies the frustrated demons acting as extras in The Good Place scenario. In lieu of mundane torture, he believes there is a better way to make people miserable, mainly through getting them drunk and having them expose their deepest vulnerabilities to large crowds of people.

Eleanor, still in possession of the note to herself, walks through town and tries to find Chidi, though she doesn’t really know who or what she is looking for. Mid-search she runs into Jianyu, who solemnly presents her with a metal gear, and Michael, who gifts her with a sash for being the highest point collector in the neighborhood: It reads “Best Person” and I only hope Kristen Bell wears it in real life like she deserves. Michael also informs Eleanor she will have to give a speech in front of everyone, not too long, maybe an hour or so. No pressure.

At the welcome party, the Good Placers attempt to get Eleanor drunk, but she is more cautious than the Eleanor we saw in Season 1. No longer downing cocktails and mocking the locals, she is circumspect of everyone.

The Good Place Demons nearly trap her when she gives up on propriety and starts pouring double shots of tequila, but then she overhears someone being referred to as “Chidi” and she passes the shots to some poor schmuck at the end of the bar.

“Chidi! I knew you weren’t a soup!” Eleanor exclaims, and as funny as that line may be, it is William Jackson Harper’s now-perfected “WHAT?” that steals the moment.

This episode takes a Robert Altman “Short Cuts” approach, starting with one character’s point of view from day one and then cutting back to see how another fits in. It flows extremely well, and the longer you watch, the more you realize that nothing previously shown should be taken for granted.

Chidi wakes up in The Good Place hoping to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with all of his favorite philosophers but is disappointed to learn they are all being tortured downstairs with ethical puzzles. And hammers.

Worse yet, there has been a strange calculation in The Good Place Soulmate Generator, and Chidi, the guy who suffered a panic attack at a sundae bar due to overwhelming topping selection, has been given two soulmates and must make a choice between them. It’s uncommon Michael says, as rare as “a double rainbow or someone on the internet saying ‘you know what you’ve convinced me. I was wrong.’”

Three notes there: 1. Ted Danson is a national treasure a 2. Searing but gently delivered remarks have become a staple of “The Good Place” and along with the whimsical elements they make it the comedy highlight of the year. 3. Did I mention Ted Danson is a national treasure?

Chidi must go on dates with his soulmate potentials, and he immediately connects with Angelique, a fellow scholar who wrote a paper so intensely erudite it makes Chidi squeal like a tween at a “Twilight” premiere. But of course, Michael rushes in at the precise moment he is about to choose her, and announces that the system rebooted and his soul mate is actually the really boring person he didn’t connect with at all.

During the party, he attempts to describe his feelings to Angelique, which is when Eleanor overhears his name at the bar and runs over to him. In private, she confesses that she has a note written from herself to find Chidi, and while she doesn’t know why, she knows she trusts herself.

Chidi insists he has too much on his plate to discuss notes from an alternate reality, but before we can find out Eleanor’s next move, we cut back to Tahani’s first day and find that her expectations have come up … short. Her diminutive soulmate only went to one of those third-rate medical shorts, her house is no longer a palace, and there is a giant picture of her superstar sister hanging on what little wall space there is. AND she feels obligated to wear cargo pants to a formal event!

So who did Eleanor hand off those unused tequila shots to? Turns out it was Tahani. She pulls an Eleanor and gets plastered, crashing Eleanor’s speech and ripping away her Best Person sash before falling into the table full of shrimp. It catches fire, because shrimp are very flammable, and Michael is infuriated that his master plan has gone off the rails.

We are next shown Jianyu/Jason’s arrival in The Good Place. It begins with the standard backstory: Michael asks if Jianyu intends to keep his vow of silence here in heaven and Jason, fluent in stupid but smart enough to know there has been a mistake, nods most wisely. Instead of being tortured by Tahani’s talkativeness, though, Jason is paired with Luang, a fellow monk who will remain by his side at all times, through thick yak’s milk and thin. This pairing would be a great scenario if they were actually both Buddhist monks in a froyo nirvana, but as is, they have a silent odd-couple relationship epitomized by Luang creating magnificent stone sculptures and Jason using the same materials to spell out BOOBS.

On a bike trip into town, Jason tricks Luang by stealing the gear on his bike. He presents it to Eleanor — remember that moment of ancient, mystical presentation? Yeah, that was Jason bike jacking — and rides away. Of course, Luang is a supernatural demon, so he doesn’t need a bike to beat Jason back home, and Jason is forced to continue spending time with his silent counterpart.

With all of our leads’ arrival stories accounted for, we catch back up to the disaster at the party, Tahani crying on the floor and picking shrimp out of her cargo pants.

Michael has clearly lost creative control, and now even the demons are getting restless. Former Real Eleanor is having an actor’s crisis, having been demoted to Denise the Pizza Lady for Torture Scenario 2, and the other demons can’t get Eleanor drunk. It doesn’t help that Eleanor’s new soulmate Chris has continued to rip off his shirt and run away to the gym every time she comes close to revealing herself as an imposter, approximately nine times. No, Chris, that was a suggestion of the kind of thing you could say, you idiotic hottie, you.

As they discuss the ways the plan is failing, Michael realizes the four humans have disappeared, bringing him another step closer to his early retirement.

Amid the commotion, Chidi secretly meets with Eleanor and reconsiders his stance that having two soulmates is his biggest problem. There’s something fishy going on — and it’s not just the shrimp in Tahani’s pockets. Chidi comes close to figuring out they’re all in The Bad Place: In life, he was prone to using almond milk in his coffee despite the known damage to the environment, a great callback to Season 1 but not quite the answer.

Jason escapes the party and wanders the lonely streets of the neighborhood. Friendless, he calls the only person he knows that will be supportive and possibly provide him with Stupid Nick’s chicken wings. Janet appears, and he shares his difficulty adjusting to life in a “yogurt” (a yurt). Might she know of a place where he can feel safe and comforted? Well, she can’t bring him home to a boundless void, but she can bring him to a place where he knows someone.

With Jason guided by Janet and Tahani feeling remorseful about her actions at the party, the full group reunites at Eleanor’s. One by one, their soulmates rush in and gush that they were “worried sick” about them, which tips Eleanor off about the true nature of the realm. Thanks to her note, in one night she has reached the same conclusion it previously took an entire season to build to.

Michael is furious that Eleanor has once again foiled his plot, and he pushes the reset button on the experiment. This time, though, he knows to admit failure to Sean would mean a project shutdown and early retirement on the face of a thousand suns. When Sean asks how Scenario 2 is panning out, Michael lies and says everything is on track. It looks like he’ll join the ranks of residents keeping a secret this season.

With the expectations for the show turned upside down at the end of Season 1, the show truly feels as though a reset button has been pressed. Michael is now openly nefarious, the townspeople are more involved, and we are rooting for Eleanor to figure out the truth rather than hoping she doesn’t get caught. As viewers we are faced with a different, slightly darker tone, which may be a turn off to some. Ultimately, though, the characters we’ve come to love are still there with all their quirks, and now they the chance to move outside of their boxes — Eleanor is sober, Tahani is a drunken mess, Jason quits his vow of silence early — and play with those traits in all new settings.

And hey, reset or no, at least there is still froyo.

**If I could have any job in the world, I think it would be to sit in a corner office and come up with names of the stores in The Good Place: The Good Pace – an athletic walking shoe store! The Good Case – a legal office or bookshelf supplier! The Good Brace – an orthodontist! The Good Bruce – Bruce Campbell does book signings 24/7! The Hood Cape – a store for capes and hoodies!The Good Lace – an antique market!

The Good Lines

“Humans are nature’s apps.”

“Eleanor’s not drinking? She brought a flask to her driver’s test!”

“You look like a nerd trying to get his personal best on a fit bit.”

“Feel the air through your toes: that’s why Crocs have holes in them.”

Tahani’s descriptors of a female plumber: Plumberess, a toilet sweep, a clog wench

Thank God Glen is back as a garbage man from Winnipeg. Cargo pants buddies!

“Thank you wizard!”

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