To acquire wisdom, one must observe

‘The Good Place’ goes from good to great in a phenomenal second season

In the second season of any show, there’s always the fear of the sophomore slump. Even the most robust and energetic series can lose momentum in its second season, after the showrunners and cast have proven themselves. Case in point: the second season of “Heroes” was catastrophic, and nearly nobody made it through the second season of “Mr. Robot.” Sure, there are exceptions (“The Leftovers”), but it is rare to find a show that actually improves during it’s second time at bat.

I am happy to report that NBC’s “The Good Place” effortlessly avoided the sophomore slump. In fact, it got even better, becoming must-see TV, and NBC’s best comedy since “Parks and Recreation.” Confident, funny and smart-as-hell, “The Good Place” is a crowd pleaser with a philosophical aftertaste, and a rare show that has something for everyone. If you have not done so already, you can stream the first season now on Netflix, and then come back here to get my take on season two. Major spoilers follow!

After a perfect season finale twist that our afterlife inhabitants Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are actually in The Bad Place, season two hits the ground running. The show has already revealed that the comforting Michael (a devilish Ted Danson) is actually a demon, tasked with finding a way to get the four humans to torture each other. The first few episodes of season two follow Michael’s continued attempts to organize endless agony for our protagonists. This is some energetic storytelling, and it leads to whole potential seasons of the “The Good Place” happening over the course of just a few episodes. No matter how many times he “resets” things, Michael can’t get these four terrible people to destroy each other, which leads to another beautiful twist: Michael and the group teaming up.

Turns out, “The Good Place” is a great antidote for much of the anti-hero drama that dominates the “Golden Age of Television.” More than any other medium, a show can do long form character development, like the type you would need if you wanted to make a chemistry teacher’s transformation into a drug lord seem reasonable. But while most shows use their abundance of time to depict a protagonist’s descent, “The Good Place” uses its episodes to show the characters improving. Much of season one was used to craft a believable arc for Eleanor (Kristen Bell), but she is not the only one in need of improvement. A stellar supporting cast–made up of characters Chidi, Tahani and Jason—are all deeply flawed individuals, and the show excels at slowly but surely leading these compelling characters to the point where they can address their problems. In season two, Michael becomes yet another individual trying to improve, an earned transition that gives each member of the cast a cohesive goal.

I worry that I am not selling just how funny this show is. A lot of the philosophical babble is easily undercut by the great interjections of Bell’s character, Eleanor, or a really stupid observation by the Floridian, Jason (Manny Jacinto). Aside from the dialogue—which is quite good—”The Good Place” is great at doing visual comedy. The premise of the show promises a universe where anything is possible, and for the most part, the creators make good on this. The immediate example that comes to mind is Michael kicking a dog into the sun in the second episode, or the revolving door of restaurants that populate the faux-Good Place. It is no surprise that the show is hilarious: “The Good Place” comes from Michael Schur, the mind behind “Parks and Recreation” and “Brooklyn 99,” as well as the actor who played Dwight’s cousin Mose on “The Office.” Nevertheless, “The Good Place” manages to outdo all of Schur’s prior work by marrying Schur’s comedy with a brilliant story.

If you haven’t already, I highly encourage everyone who watched the first season of “The Good Place” to check out season two. The show confidently abandons its mistaken identity plotting of season one in favor of an unpredictable and constantly funny evolution. The jokes land, the characters have depth and there is no reason to miss out. The whole second season is streaming now for free with Xfinity on campus, in-lieu of an upload to Netflix in the fall. It’s forking great!

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