A CGI penguin waddles in a Blake Bortles jersey during season three of 'The Good Place.'

Courtesy of Fremulon

A CGI penguin waddles in a Blake Bortles jersey during season three of 'The Good Place.'

January 27, 2019

Fast-Paced Philosophy: ‘The Good Place’ Season Three

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Mike Schur has done it again. We all said he was too old, too slow, had no skill players, had no defense . . . wait, no, that’s the New England Patriots. Well, just like the unending football dynasty, Schur has added yet another trophy to his collection — season three of his brilliant television series, The Good Place.

Kristen Bell and Ted Danson star in the NBC psychological-comedy, playing an “Arizona trash-bag” and an architect respectively. At first glance, the only thing these two actors have in common is an irrationally sharp jawline, but their talents have meshed beautifully through the series’ three-year run so far. Together, along with William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil and Manny Jacinto, they explore ethics and the afterlife while trying to outsmart demons en route to sneaking into the Good Place.

Season three begins with the human quartet  — Bell, Harper, Jamil and Jacinto, but if you are reading this review, you should really know that already — on Earth, bumbling through a medical study about near-death experiences. Then Schur floors it and races through a series of plots that cover everything from a timeline that physically looks like “Jeremy Bearimy” written in cursive to corner pieces of cake in afterlife accounting offices.

As entertaining as the show is, I find myself nearly dissatisfied with the sheer breakneck speed with which the season progresses. Schur and the cast limit themselves to a mere 13 episodes per season because, as the creator puts it, “doing [more] for a long time gets kind of exhausting.” He figures he can squeeze every drop of entertainment into half of a normal television season, but in my opinion, he sacrifices the opportunity to fully develop storylines and characters.

It feels like forever ago that Jacinto’s character nearly stole a bunch of body spray cans and energy drinks with his dad and best friend in Jacksonville, but that was episode six of this season. Compare that pace with Schur’s past masterpieces like my all-time favorite anything Parks and Recreation, which stretched out a plot about a stupid neighborhood pit for six years. Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt meet in season two and don’t get married until season five. Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop and Harper’s Chidi Anagonye fall in love literally hundreds of times over the course of the first three seasons of The Good Place. Maybe Schur is trying to pander to our (admittedly) short attention spans, but I’d rather see fewer plotlines given proper screentime and development.

Amidst all of this insanity, we were blessed with a five-second shot of 71-year-old Ted Danson flossing, as in the dance. Give me 13 episodes of that and I’d be over-the-moon elated. But no, Schur rushes past that as fast as Chris Johnson in his heyday.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved this season, just like I’ve loved almost everything Schur has graced us mortals with (crucify me, but I don’t love The Office). The Good Place is practically too well-written and kinda-sorta-maybe teaches its audience something new each week about philosophy and ethical theories. One of my favorite tropes is Jacinto’s unbelievably stupid character saying something, erm, unbelievably stupid. D’Arcy Carden, who plays a superintelligent being named Janet, delivered a stunning performance, portraying each of the other characters in the ninth episode. Another Thursday highlight is writer Megan Amram’s zany food puns scattered throughout the show. Memorable examples from this season include “We Crumb From a Land Down Under,” a muffin cart in Australia, and “Foot Lager,” which sells beers in boot-shaped glasses.

Schur’s brilliance is perhaps best displayed during his manipulation of the clip-show style so frequently utilized by other television series. Normally, when a TV show writes an episode comprised solely of short scenes, it’s a lull in the season. Yet Schur and his writers consistently produce entertaining, meaningful clip shows on par with those from Community and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. This season’s episode, “The Worst Possible Use of Free Will,” is one such example. Audiences are treated to a CGI penguin wearing a Blake Bortles jersey and a punny restaurant named “Kabob Patch Kids” in previously unseen flashbacks.

The season finale reintroduces the trolley problem, an ethical dilemma established in the first season, through which characters are forced to make a choice between actively sacrificing one person or passively condemning many others. The gut-wrenching decision ends the season on an emotionally turbulent moment, setting up an extended break to be filled purely with obsessive speculation and unhealthy amounts of rewatching past episodes. A long eight months separate now and the premiere of season four. It’s going to be torturous. Wait a minute … this is the bad place!

 

Jeremy Markus is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at jmarkus@cornellsun.com.