It would seem ridiculous to give “The Sixth Sense” (1999) or “The Usual Suspects” (1995) a sequel. How can a story continue after an ending that fundamentally changed the premise of its fictional world? Can characters grow in their new reality without watering down or feeling stuck in what made that final twist feel so revolutionary?
Like these movies, “The Good Place” (2016–) redefined its entire premise in the last episode of its first season, and as an ongoing television show, has the immense responsibility of answering those questions this season. The writers now have less leeway for mistake. Last season, any time something felt contrived in order to add suspense and push the plot forward, it only added to the genius of the final twist, as the characters themselves manipulated the narrative in order to create the most misery and conflict for each other. Inconsistencies became clues, adding cohesion and acting as meta-commentary on the process and pitfalls of writing a sitcom.
This season likely cannot pull the same move twice, so there’s no fallback for the writers. Any mistakes they make are final, but the amount of sheer successes just in these first eight episodes prove that the writers and cast are more than up to the challenge.
“The Good Place” has never been afraid of speed, and in this season that emerges as a significant strength. Plot points that could be dragged out over seasons are condensed into single episodes which come across as subversive rather than rushed. The show even fits hundreds of years in an episode! No second of run time is wasted. Jokes are tightly packed and extremely detailed, and the show executes sight gags like few others currently on television do. However, these are rarely at the expense of its heart or high concept.
The show heavily bases itself in philosophical ideas but chooses to convey these ideas in brilliantly comedic ways. Since this season bases itself on the idea that the main characters are ethically flawed, they therefore can explore moral philosophy without an air of pretension, or at least by balancing out pretension with silliness. These philosophical ideas aren’t flawless conclusions the impeccable characters have come to but instead are a step-by-step guide to becoming better people, and this functionality and optimism serves the ideas well.
Many of the actors have also begun to fully embody their characters in ways they could not last season. Specifically, Ted Danson shines giving Michael more layers than a well-meaning, bumbling fool, and D’Arcy Carden as Janet gives a breakout performance as an overly positive heavenly informational system that’s slowly gaining human emotions. Kristen Bell as Eleanor and the rest of the main cast continue their outstanding work from season 1 despite the fact that they had to erase any character development from that season. Portraying characters unaware of their complicated histories and relationships requires a deft balancing act that the show pulls off. Every actor imbues his or her character with likability, which is especially important because even as different experiences change them, their core characteristics are constant and well-defined. The actors ground the show, allowing it to continuously rewrite itself and experiment.
The show’s breakneck speed and willingness to reinvent doesn’t come without consequences. In moments where the show returns to an average pace reminiscent of its beginning, it can seem slow and less funny in comparison. Also, creator Michael Schur’s trademark genuine moments occasionally end up feeling overly saccharine or suspicious because the audience is now looking for twists. It’s also necessary but lamentable that certain interesting relationships in the first season are eschewed in this one (specifically Eleanor and Tahani’s (Jameela Jamil)).
Nonetheless, there are few comedies as wildly inventive and detail-oriented as “The Good Place,” and all of these issues are minor compared to what it consistently achieves every week. The characters may struggle to deserve the good place, but if the show continues to deliver quality, viewers are already there.