Hailed as a brilliant comedy in its first season, The Good Place’s second season has jumped the shark and abandoned the simplicity that made it great, says James McCann.
SPOILER WARNING: This review is loaded with spoilers that will ruin The Good Place if you haven’t already watched the first season. For your own sake, no matter how excited you are to read another Stream Time review, make sure you’ve watched season one before embarking past this disclaimer.
The Good Place is the cool new TV show. If you’re at a party this weekend and some guy is trying to swing his cultural discernment around, he’ll mention his love of The Good Place. It’s what Game of Thrones was way back before everybody’s parents got hooked.
The Good Place was different. Formulated like an old fashioned sitcom, it harkened back to a simpler time in television history. The streaming age has sparked a paradigm shift in TV viewing: serialisation. The norm used to be that, aside from a few dramas and soap operas, episodes would stand alone; you didn’t have to watch every preceding episode of Law and Order or The Simpsons to understand what was going on. Now, in an effort to keep binge watchers hooked, TV plot tends to be made in season-long arcs. This is especially notable in shows like Arrested Development and South Park, which exchanged the old model for the new.
The Good Place seemed like it was going to buck this trend. Sure, it was high concept —Eleanor (a sinfully selfish woman played by Kristen Bell) has accidentally gone to heaven and must learn how to be good again, without letting the angel-type guy (Ted Danson) in on her secret — but it was comprehensible. A neophyte could start watching in the middle of things and understand everything that was going on. The show won much praise for this: The Good Place was a feel good, accessible, extremely funny show. It remains as humorous and uplifting as ever, but with the start of the second season any sense that it might be an easy, casual watch has gone out the window.
To recap: at the end of the first season, Eleanor and a few friends figure out that heaven – the good place – is actually hell, and that almost every character is actually a demon that has been pretending to be a good person, and almost every piece of information you’ve picked up as an audience member has been a lie. Ted Danson is actually a demon who designed this particular hell, but because Eleanor and her intrepid chums have found him out, he faces being eternally tortured by demons further-up an evil bureaucracy.
Only by Eleanor, her friends and Ted Danson colluding together can they keep the knowledge from the lower-down employee demons, and live day to day. There are also important sub-plots that involve a woman who lives in limbo, and a love interest between a man who seemed like a monk (but isn’t actually a monk) and an unfeeling robot, who seems like a woman, but is actually just a computer program, until she is actually a robot with the capacity to love like a human being.
Good luck just casually watching an episode of that.
The Good Place is now being praised by critics again, for only having seemed like a breezy sitcom, but actually being a tightly-plotted M. Night Shyamalan-style shock-fest with more twists than a pretzel factory. Yes, it still makes for wonderful viewing and, yes, I’m going to keep watching, but could somebody out there, please, just for old times sake, put some light entertainment on television?