NBC’s The Good Place is a show built by reinvention. At first, it was about one less-than-perfect woman (Kristen Bell) hiding her identity in a version of heaven. Then it was about four less-than-perfect people hiding their identity in heaven. Then we all learned heaven wasn’t heaven at all — it was the Bad Place, aka hell. And that was all just in season 1. In the seasons since, our heroes have faked their way through hell, fled the Bad Place, found themselves reborn, failed at living once again, died while entering a v0id, and saw the door to the actual Good Place, among many other capers.
The Good Place’s cast is on the run more than Jay Z and Beyoncé, which sometimes makes it difficult to find the actual point of Mike Schur’s beloved comedy. Is it a simple joke factory with metaphysical undertones? A dimension-jumping love story between Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) and the secretly very buff Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper)? A lengthy thesis on the magic of D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet? The center of the Good Place maze has always been a mystery.
However, Thursday night’s “Chidi Sees The Time-Knife” finally puts The Good Place into focus. The sitcom’s entire aim is prove just how difficult it is to be a good person in this wildly complicated day and age.
“Time-Knife” quickly starts to delve into this idea when the Judge (Maya Rudolph) agrees to meet with Michael (Ted Danson) over his recent alarming findings. As we first learn in “Janet(s),” it has been 521 years since any human obtained enough lifetime points to get into the Good Place. Michael originally believes this shocking fact can be blamed on Bad Place number tampering — who knew, our lives are really just one giant game show? — but that’s not the problem. Last week’s “The Book Of Doug” proves it’s the consequences of even people’s most thoughtful decisions are what's keeping them from eternal paradise.
Back in the day, giving your grandmother flowers would result in a net of 145.1 points. Now, you’ll lose 4 points for the same actions (by inadvertently supporting sweatshops, pesticides, and one CEO who committed crimes against an ill-fated racehorse and many people).
Actual humans might immediately realize the merit of Michael’s worrisome evidence, but the Judge, an all-powerful, all-knowing being, is sure silly humans merely aren’t thinking things through enough. To prove her hypothesis correct, she goes to earth to live the harm-free life she is positive is attainable in 2019. It goes horrifically awry from the moment she arrives (don’t Google “big, juicy natural tomatoes,” unless that’s your thing of coursed). She returns convinced the unintended consequences of even the supposedly “best” choices are far more damning than any afterlife accountant or council member had realized.
This is how The Good Place reboots itself one more time, heading into the season 3 finale airing next week, a very optimistically-titled “Pandemonium.” In their own ways, Michael, Chidi, and sweetie Jason Mendoza (Manny Jacinto) persuade the Judge to letting them try to test their theory — that many humans are inherently good, it’s the modern day butterfly effect that’s dooming them to hell — on four new humans.
So, Michael creates a new town modeled off of the OG season 1 neighborhood. Again, the newly dead inhabitants will be blandly “bad,” rather than genuinely evil. They will go through challenges like the original four, and our heroes hope they will become better people throughout the process. That is what Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani Al-Jamil (Jameela Jamil) did when the “booby traps” of the real world were removed. It's a deeply promising endeavor.
Right now, it seems like The Good Place was leading us here all along; to realizing just how good we could all be if it weren't “terrible everywhere, and always in a different way,” as the Judge complains. But the comedy’s entire rosy mission statement rests on whether its newbies can evolve like its core four did over the last three seasons.
Because it’s either that, or the The Good Place becomes the most cynical show on TV — and that’s a twist worthy of the the Bad Place.