The Good Place is back this week with its third season, and it’s in tip-top form. It’s delightfully magical, it’s riddled with culturally-aware jokes (even one about Jason’s beloved and suddenly adept Jacksonville Jaguars), and above all, it’s beautifully, unabashedly sweet.
There’s been a notable shift, as of late, in the pervading mood of television. Things have been becoming, for lack of a better word… nicer. Might this be a reaction to a certain administration? Who can say? (But probably yes).
Whatever the cause, tv is becoming sweeter and more emotionally open. And while The Good Place might not be the nicest show on tv (that title goes to Michael Schur’s other baby, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) it may be the one that pairs its niceness best with its genre, and that uses it best as a vehicle for originality and creativity.
The Good Place is an excellent exercise in fantasy writing — it’s a universe in which there are, technically, rules, but what those rules are is constantly being built upon and amended. This makes for some wonderfully pure comedy, as well as some genuinely shocking twists and turns that the show has used to excellent effect.
But at its heart, The Good Place is about people, and those people have been moving steadily, throughout the show’s run, to the forefront. When we first met our heroes, the focus was entirely on Eleanor, and the other three humans were paradigms of piety — Chidi the moral philosopher, Tahani the aristocratic philanthropist, and Jianyu the Buddhist monk. It took the first season to break down those stereotypes and expose the other humans as real, confused, and deeply flawed people. It took the second season for us to care about their fates as it became clear that their very souls were in peril.
And now, in the third season, we’re getting a chance to see them even more as human beings. That’s because they’ve finally left the Bad/Good Place and returned (at least provisionally) to Earth. They are, for the first time, technically actually human beings. The kind with bodies.
It makes sense. This is, at its core, a show about being human. It’s moved beyond the trickery of the first season and become something else. Something sweeter. Something more vital. And season three, with its move to Earth, makes that all the more evident. There’s still a good amount of afterlife trickery and hocus pocus, of course, but the heart and soul of the show is, now more than ever, its humans. (And “humans” is a term that’s ever-broadening, as Michael and Janet, both decidedly un-human, learn from and take to acting more like their friends).
In its third season, The Good Place is becoming more and more about its characters, their interactions, and the goodness that’s inside them.
You could almost read this as another of the show’s tricks, another chance to dupe us, as in its very structure it creeps further from the giant giraffes and clam chowder fountains of its early days, and closer to real human connection and the universal desire to be purposeful and good.
It’s a lovely move for the show as a whole, and it works very well.
That’s not to say the new season is without the old magic. The forces of Evil and Reformed Evil are still hard at work, and we get a few more peeks into the inner workings of the afterlife. If anything, it’s more exciting to see worlds collide, as some of the new episodes’ deadass funniest moments come from Michael and Janet’s bemusement with life on Earth.
The Good Place has always been great at balancing comedy with heart, and the comedy is still in top form. I swear every time I see Jason, he’s a little dumber, and I love it. A real highlight is seeing how Jason changed his life after his now-near-death experience — how exactly does one live one’s life to the fullest in Florida? An unkind person might call Jason’s character one-note… and they might not be completely wrong. But gosh it’s a funny note, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing it.
But while the comedic balance is still there, the deeper examination of humanity makes for some moments of genuine pathos the show has mostly steered clear of until now. You’re going to laugh like crazy this year, but you just might tear up, too. So prepare yourself accordingly.
The new season of The Good Place is just as charming, funny, and magical as ever. But it’s also evidence of a marked shift toward its protagonists’ desire and need to grow together.
More than ever, it’s clear that this show about being dead is really about being alive. And it’s lovely.
The Good Place premieres on NBC with a special double-episode Thursday, September 27 at 8 pm EST.