In the second season of NBC’s “The Good Place,” hell is heaven and heaven is hell. The series once again proves its credentials as both cerebral and silly as well as sincere and cynical in its investigation of what is good and what is bad.
The viewer enters the second season after a major twist. The first season’s setting—a version of an idyllic afterlife called the Good Place—is revealed to be a smokescreen for The Bad Place, its hellish opposite.
The four human characters—Kristen Bell’s Eleanor, William Jackson Harper’s Chidi, Jameela Jamil’s Tahani and Manny Jacinto’s Jason—are being tormented by Ted Danson’s demonic architect Michael. The show is a sitcom created by Michael Schur, a writer for “The Office” and co-creator of “Parks & Recreation.”
While they weren’t murderers or thieves, the humans’ time on earth was morally mediocre. Jason is sweet, but malignantly stupid; Tahani is self-aggrandizing because she was under-loved by her family; Eleanor is selfish because the people in her life failed her and Chidi is so concerned with behaving ethically that his indecision hurt everyone he cared about.
Entering the second season, the show asks the audience whether goodness is something decided divinely or something that can be learned and achieved.
“The system by which we judge humans—the very method by which we use to deem them to be good or bad—is so fundamentally flawed and unreasonable,” Michael declared in the season finale. “Hundreds of millions of people have been wrongly condemned to an eternity of torture.”
Danson’s demonic bureaucrat makes the explosive claim after he himself learns about morality and sees each of the humans become more self-aware, considerate and good. In an age where people are reduced to their posts on social media or where the world seems on the precipice of apocalypse, Schur’s optimism is refreshing.
Beyond the moral platitudes, “The Good Place” traffics in plenty of refreshing absurdity. One plot line revolves around how the omniscient helpful computer system named Janet—played by D’Arcy Carden—creates a defective man who calls her “mommy-girlfriend.”
Every restaurant in the faux Good Place similarly boasts a pun-based name—"From Schmear to Eternity” for a bagel place, “Lasagna Come Out Tomorrow” for an Italian restaurant and “Chicken Soup for the Mouth” for a soup restaurant.
The only failures the season faced involved a lack of content; the season’s 12 episodes only ran about four hours in total. If the show lasted a few more episodes, some of the character and plot development may have made more sense. For example, the viewer is meant to believe a sadistic demon reformed his ways after a couple lessons on human morality, which seems unlikely.
All in all, the program’s second season showed viewers why “The Good Place” is the best comedy—if not the best show—on television right now. Schur proves that humor and authenticity can fit together in the same half-hour. “The Good Place” transcends the traditional sit-com format, but also includes sincere themes about what it means to be good, while not taking itself too seriously.